It was February, 1993, and I couldn’t find a job after graduating college. The early 90s were a lot like 2008 for college graduates. Atlanta was booming and New York was in a rut. I decided to give Georgia a shot and live with my friend Heath in Athens, where he was finishing his degree.
On February 26, I wound my way out of Long Island in my 1987 mica blue VW GTI 16 valve. Gorgeous and fun car.
The radio was all abuzz with a bomb going off in the basement garage of one of the twin towers. Lots of smoke and chaos but no real structural damage. I thought to myself, what kind of idiots think they can take down the twin towers. They are too massive, they are indestructible.
In Athens, I shared a house with Heath, his friend Winston and Winston’s very mean and hairy Alaskan malamute. We think Maya was part wolf. We know that she was 100% psychotic and protective of her master. Why Heath and I would taunt Maya by pretending to hit Winston, I don’t know. We laughed. We bled.
Not having any better luck in Atlanta finding a real job, I hit all the Athens restaurants and bars for any type of gig. I was offered two and took them both.
By morning and afternoon, I was the food prep guy at Schlotzsky’s on Broad Street. Evenings into 4am, I was the bartender at the Frog Pound Lounge at the Ramada Inn.
Schlotzsky’s was the original Quiznos, toasting their sandwiches. Smashing the hell out of black olives to make tapenade sandwich spread was my main and favorite job. The olives came in 20 pound drums. I ate about half of them.
Every day at 4 PM, I would take off my apron and gloves, change into a polyester tuxedo, and drive a quarter of a mile to open the bar.
In New York, I took a bartending course at the sketchiest bar in the seediest part of Huntington Station. The teacher was a 1000 years old and taught us to make modern and contemporary favorites, such as grasshoppers, gimlets, Manhattans, and pink squirrels. Basically any drink you would find on the placemat of a Howard Johnson’s.
At the Frog Pond Lounge, no one ever ordered a pink squirrel. In fact, no one ever ordered anything except Budweiser or Crown and Coke. That’s Crown Royal, the Dom Perignon of the pick-up truck set.
Everyday, while prepping the bar, I would pop in a greatest hits of the 70s CD. To this day, hearing Brandy (she’s a fine girl), makes me want to cut lemons and fill something with ice.
Heath and Winston would show up with their girlfriends du jour for free drinks and the free happy hour food. I would eat it but I had no idea what it was. Best I can guess, we were giving people overcooked rice mixed with Velveeta and peas, served on Ritz crackers.
The other bartender, Drew, was the son of the owner. He would let me know what “daddy” likes. That’s a uniquely Southern thing that would trip me out. Grown ass men referring to their fathers as daddy. “Now Jeff, daddy likes everything in its proper place. Daddy worked hard to build this place so you should make sure to do what daddy says.”
He sounded like dialogue from older man/younger man gay porn.
Then there was DJ Dave Prince. He would spin country music. My job was not to let him drink so much Crown that he would pass out. I was successful nearly half the time! He owed so much money on his bar tab that we stopped paying him and he had to give me money before we would let him play.
That was six months of my life and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My successful and extremely cultured aunt Mary and uncle George were horrified that their nephew was slinging beer at a honky-tonk in the middle of Georgia so they arranged for an internship at a bank in New York City.
While I romanticize preparing cold cuts and opening beer bottles, I am eternally grateful to my aunt and uncle because working in a restaurant or a bar is the hardest way to earn a living. Once I was hired permanently by the bank, I was paid double what I was making in Athens, with benefits, and working half the hours. And all I did was sit on my tush, write memos and attend meetings that had no expectations for results.
Nothing will ever be as satisfying as giving someone a Budweiser.