Sunday, May 13, 2007

Galaxy Diner

Once upon a time I was a waitress*. The summer after my senior year I was one of the first people hired for Galaxy Diner, a 50s theme place.

The place was all decked out: stainless steel bar with quilted backsplash, red and white décor, a soda fountain, a jukebox, checkerboard run amok, and a menu full of cutesy theme named foods. Try the Bark at the Moon Burger! Blueberry Hill Pancakes! Hound-dog Hash!

My favorites were the college students that would come in and ask, “What can we get for free?” My hell people, I’ll give you a straw and all the napkins on your table.
I didn’t mind the work for the most part. I became a regular expeditor when we discovered my talent at charming the recalcitrant and the anti-social (cooks.) It’s a talent I still use on engineers. I liked serving customers a great deal. I once made four hundred dollars in tips on one Saturday morning. I loved getting a ten dollar tip on an eight dollar check. I hated getting a one dollar tip on a hundred dollar check by a group of Zz-Top rednecks and their ugly girlfriends.

The most famous thing about Galaxy Diner was that if Greased Lightning came on the jukebox, all the soda jerks and serving staff would have to stop and perform a little dance. Those of you who know me know that I’m not above a little show for the folks. However, when you’re trying to keep six tables happy on a Saturday night, the last thing you want to do is stop bringing drinks and start a dancin’.

The diner didn’t always require us to dance like monkeys; it started a year after I started working. Our manager thought it would be a good idea for us to dress in 50s gear and walk the route of the Orem City Fourth of July Parade. In order to not just walk the route, a couple of the soda jerks came up with a dance routine to Greased Lightning. Back at the shop one yahoo decided that we should do the dance in the diner every time someone played the song.

Look, I’m all about customer service in a job. If I was at a table waiting for my entrée or my root beer float, I wouldn’t want my waitress hand jivin’ to a stupid song from a stupid movie, I’d want my food! I would find every excuse not to dance. Mostly those excuses involved actually serving my clients. I’d go make salads. I’d deliver their lime and vanilla cokes. I’d happily harangue the kitchen for new fries on a burger. I know, how crazy of me. Most of my clients were happy I was putting their food above spectacle. The only ones disappointed would be the teenagers, but they didn’t tip well to begin with, so who cared?

I’d gotten tired of waiting tables by then. Every night people would play Billy Joel’s Piano Man on the jukebox at least thrice, more on weekends. Hearing that song to this day sends me into a Pavlovian foul mood of doom. For a time I hated The Carpenters. For PETE’S SAKE, the soundtrack to Grease gives me the dry heaves to this day!

One afternoon Greased Lightning came on the jukebox. I had had it. I’d given my two weeks notice already and just wanted to help my customers. I went into the back and started making my clients’ side salads. Our jerk of a manager, Malcolm, came into the back to herd us out to dance. He came up to me, all 6 foot 5 of him, and said in his vaguely southern drawl, “Get out there and dance.”

I said, “No.”

Malcolm, never a patient man, started breathing a little heavier as his ears went red,

“I said ‘Get out there and dance’.”

I decided right then and there that I didn’t care what happened. All 5 foot 2 of me said,


Malcolm breathed in sharply while I said,

“I want to serve my tables. I don’t want to bring them cold food. I want to refill their drinks. I am not going to dance. Don't you think that's more important than dancing? Are you telling me that dancing is more important than serving our customers?”

Malcolm said, “You can go home.”

I said, “Fine.” I probably said it with a little attitude.

Ok, a lot of attitude.

“In fact,” Malcolm the Ogre said, “Don’t come back for three days.”

I said, “Fine, I already gave my two weeks notice” and I walked away. He was so angry it was a little scary.

I think I went back for one more shift, but that was the end. I called it quits over Greased Lightning. I didn’t waitress again.
It wasn’t all bad; I picked up a love of Chuck Berry and really early rock n roll that hasn’t abated. I know how to make an amazing shake—use only hard ice cream, your flavor, and a little milk.

I found out that the reason breakfast isn’t served all day long everywhere is that pancakes take up too much griddle space. I learned that ordering a side salad in a restaurant is a dicey prospect; you do NOT want to know what the salad assembly station looks like; I didn’t eat croutons for years.

I learned to look around when you think your server is being slow, did they get two other tables at the same time as you? I know that the stupidest person in the place is probably the seating hostess as they are too young to be serving and too stupid to figure out how to cashier. A good hostess is a rare, rare thing. I learned that the hardest working guys in the kitchen come from south of the border.

I know that if your chicken arrives at your table in five minutes or less, you’re getting an old bird. I figured out which items you can order on a menu and have them arrive at the same time. If someone orders a steak well-done at your table it will probably be partially micro waved so it doesn’t hold up the entire food order.

I discovered that your food is handled, literally, by several people before you eat it. You should see the people.

I learned a lot of other lessons that would take me a year to tell. Let's say that I was not as naïve when I left the job as when I started it. You have to either decide not to care and continue eating out, or you should never eat out again.

I still eat out.

*I know, I know, the correct term now is the gender neutral ‘server.’ I just like ‘waitress’ better.


Sarah Anne said...

Hey, did you know Emily Lambson? She's a really good friend of mine and worked there for a few years. I'd love it if we had her in common.

Azúcar said...

I'd have to see a picture. It's been so long that I can only remember a few people.

Tiffany said...

I think the whole singing/dancing bit is why that freak place Joe's Crab Shack went out of business.

We went there once when it was new because I married a crab-devouring Marylander. I was so annoyed with all the silly dancing I wanted to leave. The crab was nowhere near fresh and the food took FOREVER to come out. Wonder why?

I think everyone should waitress at one point in their life. It's like a rite of passage.

Oh, and I agree about my south of the border coworkers in the back. We were like BFF's at the Pizza Factory. Loved those guys.

~cari~ said...

We used to take my kids there a lot! They really liked it. I always thought the singing and dancing was kind of fun but I didn't realize they made everyone do it. I guess I just thought it was a bunch of theatre majors or something that enjoyed doing things like that. That's awful that your jerk of a manager treated you that way. Good for you for standing up!

I choose not to think of who touches my food. I enjoy eating out way too much!

April said...

I'm picturing you as Monica from "Friends" when she worked in the '50s-themed diner. And yes, that includes gigantic foam boobs under your sweater.

mander said...

I agree - everyone should have to waitress at one point in their lives. Now I don't feel bad complaining about poor service because I'm much more tolerant than before. If I'm complaining, it's got to be bad.

I, too, have a friend who used to work at Galaxy. Was it just me, or did that place always smell like urine?

Azúcar said...

It didn't used to, but after I left the place started really going downhill. More teenagers, less patrons, low price specials, gimmicks, lots of questionable practices, new management all the time. So it's entirely possible that the place smelled. I think I was last in there in 1998. It closed down soon after.

sue-donym said...

I only played Piano Man once...I swear.

compulsive writer said...

Been there. Done that. Well, except for the dancing part.

You just have to not think about the food handling thing and your new knowledge that the handling that goes on is literal.

(But still, don't ever eat at that Chinese buffet place on University. Ewwwww.)

The other thing I learned was that if you're not careful when changing into your much too short "Wench" (barmaid) dress behind the manager's door at a certain pizza joint in Oregon the stupid 19-year-old assistant manager can box you in and try to make a pass at you.

But if you are careful to handle it just right he'll learn not to EVER mess with you again.

Oh and if the long-since gone night manager at Sizzler in Orem (back when people your age actually used to eat there) asks too many questions about your boyfriend he's probably gay and eventually going to make a pass at one of the dishwasher boys and get his butt fired.

All in a day's work.

Kiki said...

I suddenly have an intense craving for french fries and an oreo milkshake.

love.boxes said...

Loved that you stood up to the dumb boss, no-one should be commanded to dance.

I was a banquet server for awhile mostly working weddings. The kitchen did not make me nervous to eat other places, it was all white and steel and scrubbed every hour.Still, I know what you mean about a lot of people handling the food. I didn't get tipped very much at all, weddings are already expensive I suppose and so they don't really want to tip you too, but I still loved my job. People are really having a good time at wedding usually. Except one day when the bride family and the grooms family hated each other. That sucked. But, when the pastry cook made a new recipe for cake or somthing sweet I always got to try it. And, I could drink all the soda I wanted for free! Love that.
Actually, even after I graduated and felt that I was going straight for a "real" job. It took me a long time to find one that I honestly liked as much as being a banquet server. Pathetic, but true.

Loved your post, it brought back a lot of fun memories. I really like The Galaxy Diner. There was one in Bountiful Utah that was very fun.

Emmie said...

Wow - I had totally forgotten about the Greased Lightning dance!

During 1995-96, Galaxy Diner was a hip-hop-happenin' place. I dated a boy who worked there (you know the one), and sometimes I got free vanilla cokes.

Ah, the memories . . .

Azúcar said...

I DO know the one to whome you're referring because that's where I met him. So funny Ems, I'd forgotten that that is where I got to know him.

Welcome love.boxes. I wouldn't say that the kitchen made me nervous, it wasn't filthy or anything, it was just, well, we have this idea of food preparation as almost sterile and it's NOT.

Elizabeth said...

Being the germ-a-phobe that I am, I have to say that this post has left me questioning the whole eating-out prospect. The comment about food handling and the salad assembly line, etc. Yuck. But, I'll probably still eat out, too. I would have been thrilled to have had you as my waitress, for exactly what you listed. I want my food! :)

La Yen said...

I hated the dancing, but I loved me the gravy fries.
And I would have left you at least a $10 tip.

b. said...

I think I ate lunch there once.
I don't know if I'll ever eat out again though. You made me throw up a little in my mouth.
(Uh...thanks c-dub,I just ate at the china fortune the other day---blech!)

compulsive writer said...

b. sorry. Someone I know has a lifetime obligation to do a little side work there. Once a year he ends up walking through the kitchen. That's all I can say.

Geo said...

Why aren't you writing books? This excellent story made my day.

miggy said...

So your manager Malcom? What are the chances that he was the same Malcom who managed Tucano's and got fired for sleeping with a hostess? I'd say pretty high.

I also think everyone should be a sever at some point in their life--that I think everyone should be fired at least once. Builds character.

Azúcar said...

The chances are 100%. I chose not to disguise his name because let's behonest, I don't care for the man. It's not just what happened between us or the Tucano's thing, but also a really bad experience that my Other Half had while he was employed by Malcolm. The guy is just scummy.

Emily said...

I'm with Geo on this one; you're a great story teller.

wynne said...

"Get out there and dance."

Suprised he didn't pull out his gun and start shooting at your feet.

DANCE WHEN I SAY DANCE, WOOOMAAAN!! *bam! bam! kapow!*

I think I ate at Galaxy once. But never waitressed there. I waitressed at *shudder* Johnny B's, the comedy club in Provo.

Liam's Mom - Gina said...

I miss the Galaxy Diner... it was a fun place!

Lindsey said...

And this is why I could never bring myself to be a sisters were and their stories are the same. They worked at Lonestar. Never will I eat there again.

We would frequent Galaxie ever Saturday night when I was in high school and junior high. The last time was the last day of my senior year. We had the fries and an ice cream soda. Those were the days. I admit I was a little sad to see it go. And I'm not sad to admit that the dancing annoyed me as much as it annoyed you.

emily said...

Hey! This comment is almost two months late, but I used to work there too.... "Bambi". Did we know each other? Do we know any other mutual folk from there that we actually keep in touch with? That'd be spooky.

Man, that was a phase of my journey. Weird.

Disco King said...

One day I was working the fountian with Steve the Disco King. We had come in early for promotional shoot with the UPS attendance group. What a HOOT. While we were cleaning up, the Phone Rang.
" Hello Baby, this is the Hip Hoppin' Be Boppin' Galaxy Diner, Where there is always fun, and ALWAYS Coca Cola. Michael here, how can I help you?"

"Yea, this is Jason with coke, calling for your order." The voice on the other end said, in a not so exciting tone.

"Hey, Great! I'll take a coke, hang on..." I said to Jason on the other end. " Hey Steve," I yelled over to the disco king as he wipped down the counter, "it's Jason with Coke, calling for our Order, want anything?"

"Sure, I'll have a coke, do they do sandwiches?" Steve replied.

"Let me check." I responded and then turned to the phone, "Steve will have a Coke, and do you do sandwiches?" I asked.

The Coke guy wasn't impressed and didnt even ofer up a chuckle. "Let me talk to Jeff (who was our manager)" he said.

Which makes one wonder...If there is always Coke, is there always fun?