It was only a matter of time. The pushing and shoving was getting too intense, too personal for it to continue before it escalated to the next level. I had been watching it unfold since the beginning and years of doing the work, I knew it was a matter of when not if.
If your first thought was a couple of toolbags in Affliction shirts ready to take off their watches and go swinging at each other, you’d be wrong. Instead of perched behind the bar, I was on the sidelines watching a high school soccer game.
I was standing with Adam Spencer of the Park Record watching Hillcrest and Park City boys’ soccer go at it in a heated match. Both teams were getting increasingly “chippy” with each other and I told Adam to watch three players on the field. Not because they were playing exceptional but rather they were exhibiting the clear-cut signs that they were ready to start fighting.
Within five minutes of pointing out what players were going to do what, it broke out. I’m not going to single out what boy did what—I don’t think that’s appropriate. Instead, I’ll tell you that all three players found themselves on the wrong side of a whistle after committing hard fouls. Want to read about the game, here it is: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/tribpreps/56110171-190/gunderson-park-stray-ball.html.csp.
Adam asked me calmly how I knew that was going to happen and I told him it wasn’t hard to see. Bartend in enough clubs for enough years and you just get a sense of when the fight is coming.
Very few people know I write for the Salt Lake Tribune. I am a freelancer or stringer and I cover high school sports. I am guarded about telling people I work for the Trib simply because I never want to misrepresent myself as being a fulltime employee. While there are weeks I put in close to 40 hours, I’m still just an independent contractor. Don’t believe me? I should have you look at my 2012 tax return.
For somebody who wrestled for only a year in high school and spent more time in theater than the football field, it’s wild to think that I write about kids more than half my age. Overwhelmingly, most of the kids are fantastic. They are what you’d want them to be: smart, engaging, bright and energetic and on the brink of starting a new chapter in their life. The reason the guy who captains the football team and is the salutatorian of his graduating class is because they are hardworking, driven young people.
Some are turkeys: cheap, dumb, selfish and a little bit crazy. Fortunately, they are few and far between but they usually make for better stories.
A lot of them are nervous talking with a reporter and others sound like they have been watching SportsCenter for a lifetime preparing for their first interview. They come in all shape and sizes from all financial backgrounds. Some talk firmly about upcoming LDS missionary work and others look longingly towards the freedom of college and leaving their parents houses. I struggle what I felt when I graduated from high school but it isn’t too different what most of these kids are going through.
Because I define myself as a bartender and I make my living selling booze, I don’t tell the kids know what I really do for a living. What good can come from me asking about a particular play on the field in a postgame interview and they come back at me with what dry vermouth makes the best Manhattans? Besides, one shouldn’t be drinking whiskey based drinks after exercising—that’s what beer is for.
What I do bring to the table from years behind the bar is my casual conversation style. When the mics are hot, I envision myself meeting a customer for the first time and try to get them to do the talking. While I can dominate any conversation, the best bartending is letting the guest do the heavy lifting. Have them talk. Have them tell you what they want to talk about. Chances are they are going to focus on what they just experienced. Get a 16-year old kid who just scored the winning goal and I doubt he wants to discuss anything else.
In a phrase: stay the Hell out of the way and let them talk to you.
Bartending requires multitasking like a mofo. There is no way you can pour drinks, take money, wash glassware, stock and be constantly cleaning if you are single tasked orientated. Want to watch a bad bartender? Watch for the ones that use only one hand. Want to watch a horrific bartender? Find one that looks at their cellphone. This skillset has actually helped me write stories. You have to look at more than one thing, keep score and take notes. Getting interviews at the end of the game is like the 10 minutes before last call—frantic.
But on one occasion, both of my worlds intersected. I was writing a story on West High’s ProStart program. ProStart is home economics on steroids where kids get to learn the basics of working in a kitchen while still in school. All of the kids I met are either going to work as line cooks after graduation or go to culinary school. They were tough, focused and natural cooks. Working in kitchens most of my life, I know what a cook looks like and these kids had the routine down flat.
They destroyed the meal. The lamb was ridiculous, the dessert was good enough to take a bath in and I honestly believe that I ate the best crab cakes in my life at West High’s main hall. Read the story for more details: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/sports/56125708-77/gomez-west-prostart-crab.html.csp. After they got done cooking, we went out to the front steps while they cooled off.
The only thing missing in their hands were cigarettes and long neck beers. There isn’t a harder life than line cooks. The grunts and heart of any restaurant, it is a job reserved for hardcore people who live in a meritocracy. Dishwashers are revered while waiters are scum. As a bartender, I am not on equal footing but there is always a mutual respect. These kids just had that seasoned feel to them and when I told them that I actually bartend for a living, they opened up. They went from being guarded to some of the best kids I’ve talked to since I started working at the Trib.
They turned the table on me asking questions about life behind the bar and what it is like working in real restaurants. I gave them the best answers I could, trying to focus on the work but I knew that wanted the dirty secrets.
You’d have to ask them what we talked about.
At West High, sitting on the stoop with kids about to embark on a career in the culinary arts is where I found my place at the newspaper. I am a hack at best at the typewriter and a competent bartender on my best day. Some days are better than others between my two jobs but in the middle is an interesting rock I’ve carved out for myself. The money could always be better but the experiences more than provide adequate compensation. I probably have the most unique Venn diagram in the state with W-2s.
Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Serving up The Sidecar shortly. No, he has never traded beer for stories.