Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The White Tower Way

There was a specific technique for everything you did when you worked at the White Tower Restaurant.
Even though it was just an all night hamburger joint, the White Tower ran this business as carefully as you would run a military operation.
I remember the White Tower Way like I remember the Baltimore Catechism Q&A and the Ten Commandments from Catholic School.
Mandatory dress code included perfectly cleaned and pressed red polka dot uniforms and apron with a hairnet for the women,topped off with a combination comb/barrett for the hair and polished white shoes. The men's attire included a white shirt, black bow tie with black pants, a white half apron and a v-shaped cap with a hairnet top.

White Tower Coffee- 10 cups to a pot
Pie -8 slices
Eggs -60 to a crate
Ham -8 pieces to a pack
Hamburgers -5 to a pack
Take out Coffee Cups -60 to a plastic sleeve
Tomatoes -5 slices to each

These items, along with others, were inventoried every day and shortages or overages were tracked every day to a specific shift. Shortages were met with stern warnings and threats of a "pink slip" to follow if the shortages continued. Overages of course, were welcome.
The White Tower was like a fish bowl, open windows on 3 sides for all to see in. These windows also displayed, along with the glass pie cases, several bullet holes from drive by shootings. Luckily no one was ever harmed. I was once the proud bystander of a bullet literally whizzing by my head. Amazing sound.
Behind the counter, which separated the staff from the customers were stainless steel appliances. Beautiful, shining, pristine refrigerators, coffee maker, the Bun O'Matic, and windowed pie cases lined the floor and walls. Posters of "Whitey" adorned the porcelain enameled walls above the pie cases. "Whitey" was a comic figure composed of combining a W and a T with the W part being his torso and the T part becoming his arms and chest, with his arms outstretched holding a hamburger in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other and a stupid grin on his face.
How I hated this imbecilic figure.
Three sinks sat underneath the counter that separated the staff from the customers. One was for washing, one for rinsing and one for sterilizing the dishes. The rinsed dishes were placed in a wired basket and lowered into the third sink, heated from beneath with a gas flame and adding sterilizing tablets that turned the water blue. My mother prided herself on the fact that she could submerse her hands in the hottest of waters and not feel a thing. Not feeling was her forte.

My mother was a soldier in the White Tower army. She obeyed their commands, orders and requests as though it were her sworn duty to uphold some secret hamburger oath I visualized her pledging.

She "worked the grill" and was known for her speed. Like an army drill, she would toss the meat on the highly heated grill, grab a bun from the drawer, cut it, squirt ketchup and place two pickles on the bun, turn the hamburger over,slap a piece of cheese if warranted, wait a minute or so and then place the hamburger on the bun, whip around and hand it to the customer, wrapped if it was take out, on a plate, if it was to be eaten there.
Her movements were like the rhythmic beat of a drum.

Behind the counter, she would greet her customers with an official White Tower greeting, "How may I serve you today sir"? or ma'am. "Would you like this here or to go"? "Would you like onions on your hamburger"? "How would you like your coffee"?
After the meal was finished, "Would you like some pie ala mode for dessert"?
The same routine over and over. That is unless you were a "regular". She would have the coffee or drink ready at the counter with the hamburger already on the grill.
She was quick, intuitive and caring, often times telling a "regular" how she was looking forward to seeing them again and asking where they had been, and how they were doing.

Customers loved her. She was professional, polite, clean and at their service. Her care and concern over her customers was always a role model for new employees.
She never faltered in her service to White Tower, or to her customers, only to her family.

Mary was a company woman.

I watched in amazement. She thrived in this environment. She came alive. I almost didn't know her. This caring, ready to please, one step ahead of anyone's needs woman, had 2 different personalities, maybe even more. Customers would often tell me how lucky I was to have such a great mother. Little did they know this White Tower Warrior was forever on the warpath at home, taking no prisoners.

How I longed for any attention from her, any sign of acknowledgement that I existed and wasn't a plight or blunder in her life. I imagined she would smile at me and ask me how my day was or tell me that she missed me when she was at work.
But the White Tower was her family. No outsiders welcome.

She would arrive home late, smelling of the sweet sickening combination of Coty's Emeraude perfume, fried onions and grease, too tired to talk.

She had to regroup for the next day and her White Tower family.

No one was more important, no one.


Blogger Carrie Wilson Link said...

Such great descriptions, I'm totally there! LOVE "not feeling was her forte", wow, take an A, Suzy!

11:57 PM  
Blogger Learning Lollipops said...

What a terrific piece of writing. I felt I was sitting at the counter at The White Tower. Brought up memories of a soda fountain drug store I hadn't thought of in years. The starched uniforms, how they take me back...

12:56 AM  

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