There comes a time in most careers when no matter how hard you try - its just not good enough and you are destined to fail. For me that was public radio.
In college, at our full fledged public radio station, I had some outstanding teachers. Chuck & Charlie knew the business, the technology, the industry and had connections. This was valuable to an upcoming graduate trying to get his or her foot in the door somewhere after getting their degree.
As my grad school days were winding down Chuck & Charlie kept me updated on openings and offered to put in a good word if needed. After graduation that's exactly how got the job as assistant news director at WKMS Public Radio at Murray State University. This venture lasted an entire five months.
WKMS Public Radio: http://www.wkms.org/
You would have thought I was absolutely ignorant. Outside of my immediate boss, Gary (who is still a good friend and radio colleague to this day), the rest of the staff told me in one way or another everyday that I couldn't write, had a poor on-air delivery, my story ideas were not adequate and that I needed to improve. Now I'm sure a few of these had some truth to them, but the more I tried to fit their mold the more I disappointed.
Thus, after starting in June of 2001, I was told in that November I was on the way out. At least I was given the notice that instead of a two week deadline they would work with me in finding employment elsewhere. That was cool, but I was already too frustrated and annoyed. I really didn't want their help.
What really ticked me off was the fact that the one idea they allowed me to really dig into was a piece documenting the Tennessee River Freshwater Mussel Relocation Program. And what was the result? I won a regional award for it!!! And in the category in which we submitted entries my project received an award of excellence and two other pieces put together by those who fired me received a lesser award of merit.
Council For Advancement And Support Of Education Awards: (FYI: Scroll down to Category 44) http://www.case.org/Content/Miscellaneous/Display.cfm?contentItemID=2153
Fed up with radio at this point (fired for the second time in two years) I just wanted out, as well as a change of scenery. As it was my high school friend, Kim, was living in Dallas, Texas and was interested in getting a roommate. Two weeks later was I cramming what belongings I could fit into my 1997 Ford Taurus and the rest went out to the street corner in front of my apartment where starving Murray State students could fight over it.
On the morning of December 1, 2001 I drove my light blue sedan from Murray, Kentucky to Dallas, Texas. If you aren't keeping track that's passing through Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas with visits to Memphis, Little Rock, Texarkana & every little burg and town in between.
In a new state, with new people & a new culture I was determined to put the wreck that was Murray behind me...FAR behind me. After few days of exploring Dallas I began filling out job applications and I believe I hit every restaurant in North Dallas (Addison). Trust me...that's a lot and if you've been there...you know exactly what I mean. I could have swore I gave myself carpal tunnel with as many applications I completed.
Addison, Texas: http://www.addisontexas.net/
What's Carpal Tunnel: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/carpal_tunnel/detail_carpal_tunnel.htm
Finally a few days later I received a call back from The Macaroni Grill. Following some casual greetings and small talk this is how the stellar interview evolved:
Interviewer: "Have you ever worked in a restaurant?"
Interviewer: "Have you ever worked in food service of any kind?"
Interviewer: "Have you ever been employed as a server, bus boy, dishwasher, host or in a kitchen of some type?"
Interviewer: "How did you come to apply for a position here?"
Since I couldn't say it was because I had no job, no money, slept on the floor of my apartment because I had no furniture and was recently fired...I had to be as creative as I could. So I said, "I have come to enjoy the food at your establishment and believe I would enjoy assisting others enjoying it as much as I have." I was promptly thanked for coming in and sent on my merry way.
Discouraged to realize getting a job in any restaurant was as distant as working in public radio at this time - I still had to deliver another completed application. About ten minutes later I walked into a three-ring circus that went by the name of "Pastazios".
Pastazios (pronounced: Puh-stah-zee-ohs) is a New York-style pizzeria run by Brooklyn native Danni Deari. His list of employees included Joey (a real live born & bred N.Y. pizza man), Rufki, Bahdi, Jose, Flavio, a Hispanic kitchen prep crew that spoke little to no English and manager Abdiraman Jakupi.....we called him "Ray"...for obvious reasons.
Wanting to make a good impression I asked to see the manager in order to hand him the application myself. Directed to a tall, skinny, pale man sucking down cigarettes like a meth addict being forced into detox I stride on over faking as much confidence as I could. Ray, from the former Yugoslavia, spoke halfway decent English but unless you had been around him and were used to his thick accent he was hard to understand at times.
My favorite pizza place.
To my surprise the moment he took my application, my interview began and sounded eerily similar to the one I had just failed ten minutes before. He would ask me questions only to hear me reply, "No" over and over again. When he got to asking me why I wanted to work there my defenses broke down and the truth came out. "Look", I said, "I just moved here on a whim after losing my job and I need an income. I've been searching for a job with no luck. I'm not here to waste your time, but I'm ready to learn and work."
I must of hit a cord.
After asking me if I had a car and if I wouldn't mind delivering, both of which I was way to excited to say "Yes" to, Ray told me to come back in three hours.
"Yes, come back in three hours you can work now (a Friday) through the weekend," he said. In a matter of five minutes I handed in an application, had an interview to which I made it perfectly clear that I know jack about restaurants and/or the food service industry and was hired to work starting THAT DAY!
Excitedly confused, and unsure of what I had just gotten myself into, I was at least happy to know someone was interested in employing me.
My uniform was a black t-shirt that had our logo on the front and a tongue-in-cheek New York-ish comment on the back. I was given my allotment of three each with a different saying which included: "I've got your four stars right here!" (Pastazios had received a four star rating from the Dallas Morning News) and "Grab a slice and shut your pie hole!". Family friendly sayings they were.
Dallas Morning News: http://www.dallasnews.com/
From 5pm till midnight I was schooled in the art that is the food industry. It was fast-paced, you had to learn on the fly (sometimes the hard way), decipher how to communicate with those who did not speak the language and figure out for yourself where to find whatever it was you needed without assistance....and I LOVED IT!! I did everything from deliver, to food prep, bus tables, take orders, to some minor cooking.
Once the night was over Ray was apparently satisfied that his gamble had paid off and asked me to comeback the next day work open to close, 10am to 11pm. I agreed and was able to relax a little now that I some income. For each of the next four days, at closing, I was told to come back the next day and, again, work open to close. Curious to know if I was still just part-time after working nearly a full week I asked Ray through a half-cracked smile, "So, I'm part-time?" Through the cloud of his smoke break Ray laughed, "I"m just kidding your full time."
For the next nine months I was part of the ever sacred fraternity that was the restaurant business. I could navigate through Dallas like I had been born there, could help manage the place when the boss was gone (Joey and Rufki were great teachers) and we made the atmosphere in that place so off the cuff and in your face that customers came in just to watch & listen. That's despite the fact the food was phenomenal, especially the pizza. Joey was magic with a pizza pie.
We worked six days a week (open to close), basically living at the restaurant and eating like kings. Since we were there all day and had to eat sometime we were given full access to the food. When business would slow down we treated ourselves to whatever Joey made up or to some sort of concoction our "Spanglish" speaking prep crew threw together. I never had a bad meal - those guys made sure of it, I was one of them...I was a member of their fraternity.
There were some crazy times & great practical jokes at the expense of one another. Joey enjoyed taking his loose change from his pocket and placing it on the ridiculously hot oven stones. After removing it with a spatula and scattering it on counter he'd tell one of the unsuspecting busboys it was theirs if they wanted it.They had imprints of quarters, dimes and nickles on their hands for days on end.
We had this one kid who would challenge you to anything. Knowing he hated seafood with a passion we chose to rig a cannoli eating contest. His flaky shell, mascarpone cheese and chocolate chip dessert was riddle with bits & pieces of the kitchen crew's day old fish stew. It took maybe three seconds for him to scarf it down and have it come back up in one lump sum. Big joey was on the floor laughing through tears, his contest cannoli still intact, as the rest of us were being chased out of the store by a pissed off delivery man.
What's a cannoli?: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannoli
Speaking of delivery. We took plenty of them outside of our immediate area with most of those being large corporate lunch orders. We fought over these to see who would get the big tip that was usually associated with them. Though some of those companies turned out to be pretty damn cheap. If it was a typical delivery in the neighborhood (a radius of three to four blocks) our method of delivery was on a Schwinn bicycle pulling what would amount to a two-wheeled a cart a parent would use for their child. The cart contained the order and we pedaled the orders around the neighborhood. I quickly learned, being 26 and single at the time, that wasn't the greatest impression when crossing paths with the ladies. Riding on the back of Schwinn or in a pizza cart to the nightclub wasn't too exciting. (Though in a big, powder blue sedan with one side view mirror wasn't much better)
My time came to an end when I met a girl at a wedding back in Ohio early that Spring and moved a few months later to the Buckeye State taking another radio job. This time I was going to try my hand at commercial radio in the city of Newark. I was glad to be getting a job with fewer hours and an actual weekend. My brother flew down to Dallas (from Columbus) to help me move. That calamity entailed driving 26 1/2 hours straight from Dallas to Ohio's capitol city. Yeah, we're idiots I know.
Newark, Ohio: http://www.ci.newark.oh.us/
I left Texas, Pastazios and all that Big "D" had to offer and wouldn't you freakin' know it; that girl I met and moved back to Ohio for - yeah that relationship didn't last a year. Well partly due to my own undoing, I am a guy you know. We do, and don't do, some stupid things sometimes. But, hey, commercial radio loved me and so did Newark. It was nice to know I could do radio professionally. I just could not be forced to purposely sound dull & boring. Eat that NPR!
Though I couldn't help but realize I had been bitten by the food & restaurant bug. I knew it was always there - my mom could see when I was growing up. But it was brought to life by Pastazios, Joey and Dallas. I think about it constantly and ponder whether this is something I need to do. That would mean giving up 13 years, two degrees and my fight from broadcasting outcast to radio respectability. I don't know...but I feel its an itch that needs to be scratched in one way or another.
Dallas was six years ago. I've found that Danny now has as least three Pastazios locations. Joey left to open his own place in Arlington near the baseball stadium called The New Yorker and took Rufki & Bahdi with him. Unfortunately I haven't heard anything from those guys or their restaurant in two or three years. I was told Abdiraman, or "Ray", left to open an ice cream place, but his venture lasted only a few months.
Joey & The New Yorker: http://www.guidelive.com/portal/page?_pageid=33,97400&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL&item_id=14030#
Despite discovering a review of Joey's restaurant from 2003 with a picture of him and his goofy-ass grin while surfing the web one night, I could not tell you what those guys are up to today. I'm sure they recruited many a new fraternity members and have planted the seed in a number of unsuspecting wanderers & recently unemployed drifters. Whether or not that seed is germinating, I don't know.
For me - that seed might as well be a vineyard. It just needs to know if someone will be tending to it or plow it under and see what the next season will bring. Sour grapes or not, I'm ready cultivate.