Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Growing Up New York

BY Mike Gramajo
New York is the greatest place on Planet Earth. Now, there's a lot to tell about my life in New York, and I pretty much can't tell it all. However, I will try to put as much depth into this story once I start. I lived there for about 13 years, and spent those years playing one thing or the other. But like many boys my age soccer was king. New York is more than just the skyscrapers, landmarks and the touristy type places. But to be completely honest, everywhere you turn and look, the panorama never gets old.

Migrating to Florida at age 13, I go back occasionally 2-3 times a year. Like most of my conversational "former New York Residents" in Florida, is to visit my family that's still there. A majority of my family live in Westchester, Queens(notably Far Rock away) and Long Island. I always make sure I visit my friends who are found pretty much everywhere in New York, whether they're chillin' in front of a bodega, park or in front of their apartment building/actual home. And of coarse, squeeze an even amount of time to visit my love who lives in Long Island.

The place, itself, is a melting pot of mixed cultures, which as a result, forms New York's identity. The identity, most certainly, is defined by the deeply rooted mix of cultures that live in the area. When I was growing up in New York, the daily life would be how most people say it is, "fast." Patience was, or still isn't, a "virtue," and I might get bashed for saying this, but New Yorkers don't take their life for granted. I too, am a victim of this regard because the minute I say "I hate New York and I want to leave," then eventually leave, I miss the life I had in the Empire State. Now, when I'm back in town, I can never get enough. And when I leave back to Florida, I leave more inspired than the last time.  

I hope whoever reads this can somewhat relate to it, as for me, this is a living testimonial of my life growing up in New York.

Like Rice & Beans 
Futbol, Football, Soccer is a sport that I love and will forever follow. My father introduced me to this sport when I was barely a year old. "He was born to kick a ball," my father would always tell my aunts and uncles. I remember being 6 years old, and my father would take my younger brother and I to the park just to kick the ball around. Blissful memories that still stay stored in my mind.

I was raised in a red brick shabby building in the skirts of New York City, and an alley that laid in front of the building was my venue to continue playing soccer. I would end up establishing forever lasting friendships with many of the kids I grew up with in the building.

"El Callejon", which we refer to as the alley, was the mecca of playing soccer in my town. Blood and tears were shed in that alley, but in a humorous way. Whether I kicked the ball straight into someones face, or someone just busting their ass because of a failed trick, which by the way was always hilarious, the ambiance in the alley was just innocent.

On hot summer afternoons, my friends and I would run across the street just to devour Italian ices. This routine would occur mostly every afternoon after we played a game or two of soccer. I grew up with three best friends: Bill, Erick and Edgar. We would play until we heard a window opening. which after the opening one of our mothers would yell, "ya es hora para entrar!". The next day, we were back at it again.

A local flower shop had its distribution factory at the end of the alley, and every weekend morning, we would just piss them off because the ball would usually hit their parked trucks and vans.

However, there was more than soccer growing up in New York. When my mom didn't feel like cooking breakfast she would give me about $5 dollars to go to the Avenue Bagel Shop and buy a bacon, egg and cheese bagel. Yes, those bagels were out of this world. True New York continuity I like to call it because if somehow New York was to get nuked, just like cockroaches, the bagels were bound to survive. And I don't mean to sound disgusting, but its true!. New York has the best food PERIOD! Save money, and instead of going around the world, try the world in New York. Its a melting pot like I mentioned before, and I mean that in every good way. You want Irish?, New York has it. You want Mexican? Yup, you'll find it there too. Any race, culture, ethnicity and a mix of all of the above can be found in New York.

Now you're probably heard this before a lot, but New York has the best pizza. However, my town, yes my town, has the best pizza slices in the world. "But Mike that's sounds so opinionated," you may say. Well when it comes to pizza, I'm a proud pizza fascist. Mamaroneck Ave, the avenue where my building resides holds the best cuisine in the Tri-State area. However, when it comes to pizza in Mamaroneck Avenue, there is a big debate on which pizzeria has the best pizza. I personally love both of the disputed pizza champions on the Ave. because besides the large clientele they have, they're unique in their ways.

Let me break it down, Sal's Pizzeria, which I'll admit has the popular vote, is forever busy. I remember going there with my friends after a game of soccer, and I would order a regular cheese slice and a Sicilian Slice. The slices there have an equal amount of cheese, however, its tomato sauce has a sweet die-for taste. As soon as I would fold the slice, the oily grease would make its way down to the bottom tip of the slice, and that, to me, makes it a true Sal's pizza slice.

However, Joe's Pizza, which is just down the street, has a more in depth Italian cuisine menu, not that Sal's Pizzeria doesn't because they do. But if you walk into Joe's Pizza, looking for a Sicilian slice, then you came to the right place. "Grande Cheese," which is the cheese mostly every pizzeria in New York uses is a plus to a pizza. Joe's Pizza, however, somehow uses its "Grande Cheese" with steroids(there cheese is mostly thick). Along with its tomato sauce, Joe's Pizza makes a tough opponent towards Sal's.

Still, everywhere I went, soccer came along. The constant juggling of the soccer ball in front of a pizzeria with the daily life of a New Yorker was, in stereotypical terms, my rice and beans.  

Sadly, those day's are now gone. I mean that is what life is about. Nothing really lasts forever. Even when I go back, and I come across the symbol of New York(The Empire Sate Building), I am reminded that what I once had is still there and always will be there waiting for me to come back.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Line: Stories of a Runner

As I drive down U.S. 192, I can only think about what type of Friday night will it be at the Grilling Company. I guess the bad thing about Orlando is it relies so much on tourism, as much as I hate to admit it. There are slow nights, however, when peak season arrives, it's madness all over the damn resort.

Just as I get passed the entrance gate of Orange Lake, I see the parking lot full of cars, only to indicate that it might, just might, be a busy evening. Of coarse with the damn heat and sun, that will only attract more business. In the end, I can only acknowledge that's the nature of the business.

I enter the Grilling Company and just before I clock in, I see the prep cook finishing up, only to hear someone singing a Lady Gaga song, which in that case, it's none other than Johnny Gaga, or we can just call him Gaga for the remainder of the story, since he's the one I usually work with on the line.

I'm glad I get to work with great people, most of all, the expeditor, Ms. Kathy. With her strong, general like, approach, she makes sure everyone in the line does not fall into the weeds when business is kicking our ass.

Don't get me wrong, I love what I do. I don't see myself working at a restaurant all my life, but I'm thankful that I'm able to live this experience because it will shape the person I will be tomorrow.

Gaga and I, well mainly me, run into the dish pit to get all the plates, ramekins and cups that will be needed for the night. Gaga just finished working a lunch shift and is due to work dinner, so the floor is filled with dropped fries, tickets and napkins. Ms. Kathy makes sure her runners are on tip-top shape before we get slammed by the hoards of Disney's tourists.

A line sweep is conducted and as the hostess opens the doors, the damn coyotes enter the restaurant looking like they never ate before. Of course, we're known in the resort for our "all you can eat ribs," so it makes sense that these pigs have no brain, but do think with their stomachs.

Two parties of 6 and a couple 4 tops. Oh, I can't forget to mention that we have an outside patio, which is connected to the pool, so that will only attract more people. Two runners and a restaurant that seats overwhelmingly 250-300 people. Think about it, if its a busy, busy night, forget the servers, the runners are leaving pretty happy after the shift.

On top of that, I do room service deliveries, so thats more money on the side. However, my boss planned the evening right by calling in another runner, just in case we get our asses handed to. It's not that we can't take the heat, cause we can, but the damn patio is like the gambling pot of the Grilling Company. One fuck-up from a server in the patio, and there goes some revenue flying out the window.

I like to think of the patio as a war zone. There is no control of seating, even though there is a hostess, but the cliche "the customer is always right" throws that fucker out the window. Servers have their own sections of the patio, so if one six top decided to set way back in the patio, which lets say thats section 2, then another 6 top sets next to them, same section, and then a 10 top right across, also same section, then the server is fucked!

"But Mike, can't another server come and help?" Well, let's say the other server is in the same predicament, theres no chance at all. The good thing about it is the menu in the patio is short and simple. Yet, theres always the one screw head who wants the actual menu from inside the dinning room. You can be a six top and all 5 of them order chicken tenders and wings, which makes it an easy order to take out, but one dumb ass wants to order a well done filet mignon, theres goes a quick ticket out the window. And trust me, most tourists are not very patient.

The patio is full and it seems like there are about 45 open menus, not counting whats inside the dinning room. The kitchen is about get hit, real bad. David, the other runner comes in, and its show time. I like to say that he's my twin, but of coarse, I'm the good looking one.

Did I forget to mention we have a full sushi menu? Tourists love sushi, especially hipsters, no offense.

If theres one thing though that pisses me off during a busy night, its the table with allergies. Yeah, go ahead and take our sous chef away from the line as we're fighting a battle. Orange Lake seems to attract gluten allergy people because thats all we get when these fuckers ask to speak to a chef.

Looks like Kathy is going to need all 3 runners to take food to a party of 20 that sat not to long ago. Good thing the servers tell us before leaving who is at seat one, which will prevent us from auctioning out the food, good job servers.

As I lay my tray down on the jack, David and Gaga come just behind me. We take a glance look at the tickets and begin putting the plates on the table. A quick in and out mission, but wait did I just hear excuse me sir? Oh wait, I did. Looks like some of the guests needs some refills in their drinks. Of coarse, knowing the good person that I am, I try to remember every drink order. Just when they're done, I look for Chong, who is waiting on the table. I do a complete memory dump and run back to the line before Kathy chops my ass up. Too late. As Kathy chops my ass, David can't stop to laugh and Gaga is dancing and singing, not cool.

One of the hostesses run up to me to hand me a delivery order, which is good because I get to leave from the on going mayhem. Let's see, three medium rare NY steaks, Cedar Plank Salmon, Smothered Chicken, Coconut Shrimp, Grilled Mahi Mahi, and oh my favorite, Gator Bites. The check alone is about $100 something, so I'm looking at a $10-15 tip, guests don't usually tip me the full 20% unless I'm actually serving them, but $10-15 is not bad at all, and since I'm a full time journalism student, thats even better.

I set up my delivery because Kathy is too busy expediting the window full of tickets, and I just finished pissing her off, so I don't want a ticket with my name on it pissing her off even more, But the good hearted lady that she is, she boxes up my last steak and says, "hear you go hun" I love working with her.

Now the speed limit in the resort is about 23 mph. Kiss my ass, I want a good tip, so the sooner the better, and these guests better appreciate and value my speed and efficiency. I arrive to the room, and I realize these guests are from England. No matter how much tourists piss me off, I like conversing with people, knowing where they are from and just random thoughts. Now that sounds a bit hypocritical coming from me, but I'm a people person.

Dialogue is exchanged, with a nice $25 tip and a cheers to end my delivery. That's how its suppose to be.

I speed my way back to the Grilling Company, and I quickly pick up a tray full of ribs. I take it to table 41 and the in-and-out mission is as easy as it could be. Luis, who is serving the table, brings the ketchup and tells me good job. I help him pre-buss the table by taking away some appetizer plates and run the tray to the O'Neil, the dish washer. O'Neil asks me how the Madrid-Barcelona game went, knowing that I'm a hardcore Real Madrid fan, I tell him we won 2-1 and Lionel Messi is basura.

The business begins to slow down. Gaga was just cut, but I'm sure he'll be waiting to ask me for a ride to either Devenney's, a local Irish Pub, or the 19th Hole, another local bar. David and I begin to clean up the line and talk bullshit. A nice cold pint of Miller Lite at the Ale House sounds good right about now. Ms. Kathy leaves the remaining tickets in the hands of me and David.

I make sure I get tipped by the servers, and I make my way to the Ale House. The night in the Grilling Company has faded. A cold pint of Miller awaits me. Until next time, Saturday that is.

Story inspired by Anthony Bourdains novel "Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly"