Pour Wine for Your Dinner
One of my favorite things to do is to give people food. I’m so happy at my new job, chatting and giving delicious pastries to strangers. Yesterday, after working a sleepy sunny brunch, I remembered I had volunteered to tend bar at a Strengthening Local Economies Everywhere dinner that night. I was not looking forward to it. The sleep I had interrupted early to work was not a good one. The sky was blue and I wanted to hide in the grass with a book. Why couldn’t I be the kind of person who just wouldn’t show up? But I am not, and so I did.
After a ride to the U District, where I briefly saw young pledges duckling after their new sorority sisters, I locked up my bike outside a church and went into the huge, white-table-filled room in the basement. Orange and green pennants cross-crossed the high ceiling. Small groups of people conferred in the back. Smiling in a cheetah print dress, I walked over to introduce myself. I was the first bartender there.
What do you need, they asked me. I was taken aback. I had planned on showing up and being told what to do, not setting up a bar from found materials. I need ice, I volunteered cautiously. Ice! they shouted. Ice! The jets were scrambled. A car was found. Off to Safeway he went.
I set up, a case of white was missing, other bartenders showed up, they found it. There were four of us, women all, a mix of restaurant workers and food justice volunteers. I liked best the metal artist who just returned from Burning Man. Her friends kept popping over to visit all night.
I knew people too! It’s still a shock for me to see familiar faces. They were mostly people from my old internship, which is how I heard about this dinner and came to volunteer — I was making their event page and read they were looking for bartenders. I got to meet the intern who replaced me and the foster baby of the friends whose Whidbey wedding I attended last weekend.
We served a ‘good’ and a ‘fancy’ red; both tasted the same to me. The fancy was French and the good from Idaho. A more disparate discrepancy surfaced with the whites. The fancy was a crisp pinot blanc that I loved (I brought home half a bottle at the end of the night and finished it with my roommates), and I disliked the good chardonnay. But my tastes don’t speak for everyone, and we sold almost everything. We served a lot of beer as well, Mac and Jacks and Elysian Men’s Room Red, but still had more than enough to share with the kitchen crew at the end.
The purpose of the dinner, the Strengthening Local Economies Everywhere dinner, was to raise money for the Community Alliance for Global Justice, a group I’m now so excited to get more involved with. Last night I danced along to fandango music, poured wine, listened to inspiring speeches about food sovereignty and food workers rights, savored an incredible dinner of salmon, kale, polenta, roasted potatoes, wheatberries and more, and sampled more desserts than I could name.
But I felt guilty. The keynote speaker, Saru Jayaraman, spoke about injustice done to food workers. Sick people serving food. People living off their tips. People forced to cover mistakes and walk-out checks with their tips. I felt bad. I’ve worked in restaurants for almost ten years and I’ve always been treated well. Many restaurant workers, especially people of color, especially people working in chain restaurants, are treated horribly. I was always respected. I was never sexually harassed.
The night ended with a dessert auction, organized by table, and everyone shared the desserts not chosen. High off rich food and fancy wine, I helped clean a little at the end. I cleared tables, stacked chairs, shook off tablecloths. I bore one woman’s gratitude on behalf of all the volunteers, and I loved it. And when the brooms came out, I grabbed my wine, grabbed my backpack, and biked on home.