The students began filing in. They had obviously taken the same bus to have arrived en masse the way they did. All of them milled about, not talking much; it was obvious that something new had begun. Mimi made that clear within seconds.
She kicked off her shoes and jumped up on the bread station by way of a handstand. She now had everyone's attention.
"Hello, cheflings! My name is Mimi, but you can call me Mimi. Or Mistress, depending on your inclination and personal feelings towards me. I may or may not be your new general manager. If you arrive tomorrow and there is a cross in lamb's blood marked on the door, I probably won't be your new G.M. Otherwise, it will be my job to ensure consistency, teach shortcuts, provide answers to questions, petition the owners into purchasing patent leather whites for those working events, and, as the job title suggests, generally manage how things are run. Now, is there anyone here who is not a culinary school student?"
I waved my hand in the air.
"You're up to five bottles of Astro-Glide, Lenny. It'll be like sleeping on Teflon."
She looked around the room. "Okay, cuties, let's do a real quick introduction and then go over the menus for the night. As you can see, we've moved things around a bit in here; we'll be explaining the rationale behind this momentarily. Also, we've got four events, and all of them are heavy volume, like over one hundred seats per event. So, start introducing yourselves."
There were several moments of shy silence. Then a skinny kid, who looked about fifteen, raised his hand and said, "Umm.... I'm, uh, Matt."
Mimi asked, "So, Uh Matt, I'll forgo any jokes about you lying on the floor so people can wipe their feet on you and ask what you do here." There was light laughter at the "lying on the floor" line.
"I mostly work meat."
"Really?" Mimi gasped. "Ooooh, do I get to watch? I'm surprised they pay you to do that in food service." More laughter followed.
Mimi went through the room, collecting names and somehow managing to get in a ribald crack at each foodie's job ("Tossing salads.... Nah, too easy. Next!")
I let Mimi continue on with her comedy routine and went outside to see how Roadie was doing. He'd finished one van and had dived into the second one; he was glad to see me. "Lenny!" he cried, "got one for you to test drive. I figure you're the one who's spending the most time behind the wheel of these girls, you should get first crack, see if I missed anything, how they handle, and the like. Ready to test her out?"
"Absolutely," I told him. He handed me the keys, as always kept in his pocket: working on cars in West Oakland had taught him to never leave a vehicle with the keys in it, even if you're under the hood, lest some wannabe car thief try to take off with it. He'd had some crackhead drive a car off the jack stands and onto the rotors --- and try to keep going --- one afternoon. He'd caught the guy and dispensed of him by jogging alongside. No sense in calling the police; the purposefully savage beat-down Roadie and his partner gave the crackhead, along with instructions to leave a five block berth around the warehouse, was a more effective deterrent than jail ever would be. Still, having to replace the rotors (it was a customer's car) was an unwanted expense.
I went back in to retrieve Paul's ATM card so I could fuel up. He was glad to hear of the first van's completion; depending on available time, we could return one of the (paint-spattered) rentals that afternoon.
I've always been a firm believer in keeping vehicles fully fueled, and it was especially important with the wide range the vans saw. The "all-organic" pitch Stone Soup made attracted customers from all over the Bay Area, so any given night could see events in Novato, Pescadero, Blackhawk (ptooey!), or Clayton. Obviously I couldn't drive three vans to three locations, so the foodies who did drive the vans were instructed to notify me of how much fuel a van had at the end of the night, even in the form of a note when an event ran late and I'd gone home. I'd told them, "No one wearing whites should ever be standing at a gas pump," and they'd been good about helping me keep the vans gassed up.
I decided to pour myself down the west side of the hill, get gas at a discount place I knew on 19th Ave., then jump on I-280 for a run at freeway speed for a few miles. I'd return the same way: I had great faith in Roadie's skills, but I had an ulterior motive for wanting the vans to be perfect: I knew I could get Roadie a nice fat bonus if Paul, Anise, and myself were all equally happy.
Hell, I was happy just sitting behind the wheel. When Roadie and I had gone shopping for supplies, he'd bought four bottles of Goo-Gone. I didn't question him, he'd have his reasons.... And now I saw them. All the stickers and graffiti was gone from the interior. While not detailed, the interior was nice and clean, the floor mopped, probably for the first time in nearly four years. I decided I'd assign the foodies the straw-drawn task of weekly washing down the interiors with me: we carried food, and keeping the inside of those vans filth-free seemed like the right thing to do. He'd even cleaned the steering wheel, too cool.
I fired up and couldn't help but smile. The engine caught immediately and settled into a smooth, quiet idle. There was no clunking when shifting into gear, just a drop in RPM going from Park to Drive. Leaving the driveway, I purposely waited for a short gap, one that would require sharp use of the throttle. If it hesitated, I'd get honked at, and that would be test number one....
.... And the 350 small-block, a motor GM has built nine thousand kajillion of, did exactly what it was told. I was able to get into traffic and match speed with no hold-back, no indecision on the part of the motor.
General driving was a dream, night and day compared to what Roadie had started with. Sitting on four new Toyo tires, the van's handling was as tight as you could ever expect from a van, and that was fine. The ride seemed much smoother, too: possibly why Roadie spent so much time on his slider, adjusting the suspension to keep the bouncing to a minimum. Classic Roadie, right there: nobody had mentioned the smoothness of the ride, but he'd fixed it anyway, knowing that the vans' cargo was fragile and needed a Lincoln-like ride. I'd have to ask him about that, as I didn't want him eating the cost of new shocks or struts just because he was trying to help out. When he'd made good money from a tour, say, from working for Epitaph or Touch & Go, he would sometimes treat himself to a few nights in a motel room in Berkeley: quiet, solitude, privacy, an ice machine (he wasn't diabetic, but would consume ice water by the gallon, he simply loved ice water), and clean sheets every night. I wanted him to be able to spend a week, if he wanted.
I filled the tank, got going south on 19th Ave. again, and let it slide me onto the 280. The van took well to the acceleration, working its way through the gears without the slightest bumpiness. It handled freeway speed and lane changes as easily as my Honda, the only intrusive sound being road noise, unavoidable in a cargo van. If you'll pardon the expression, the van ran slicker than greased cat shit on a linoleum floor. Roadie had earned himself an A+.... And unless his brains fell out over the next few days, he'd earn two more. Stone Soup would have its small fleet back again, and Roadie would see good recompense for his work. In the meantime, it was time to get back to the kitchen and see if we'd return the rental or not.
I walked over to a Chevy van that appeared to be in the process of eating a skinny black guy. Roadie was engulfed up to his ass in the engine compartment; both boots were two feet off the ground.
"Roadie!" I called, not wanting to startle him.
"Just a minute!" came Roadie's muffled voice. I patiently smoked while he finished whatever sorcery he was accomplishing. With a grunt and a lunge, he landed back on terra firma.
"Hey Lenny, how's the van you drove?"
I stared at him blankly for a moment, then grabbed him by the head and kissed his forehead. "You, sir, are a goddamn wizard!" I told him. "It's like it just came off the showroom floor."
He gave an aw-shucks smile and said, "Thanks." Then his expression darkened and he said, "I still want to get my hands on whoever touched these poor girls. I seriously want to set them on fire."
"Well, you did scare the shit out of them at least. Why, what did we miss during diagnostics?"
Roadie was cursingly angry again. He growled, "I figured out why those assholes drove like shit. Check this," he said, walking to a rubbish pile he'd started from cleaning out the vans, plus broken parts. He thrust his hand down into the pile and retrieved two zip-loc bags full of marijuana.
"You want it? I don't smoke this damn stuff."
I told him I didn't either. Mimi might want it, but I wasn't sure.
"Oh, they were clever hiding these. One was--- well, you know how there was no coolant in these poor girls? They took advantage of that by hiding one bag in the reservoir. The other bag was in the air filter."
"They'd cut a huge chunk out of the air filter and put the bag in the empty space. It's like they were really intent on always having weed, so they had emergency stashes under the hood. Of course the engine couldn't breathe and ran hot, but so what? They had their lousy weed with them, and that's what was important."
"Shown that to Paul and Anise yet?"
"Nope. I'm uncomfortable going into that kitchen area, as filthy as I am."
"Let me get Paul out here, I need to talk to him anyway."
Paul was now thumbing through invoices from distributors at the counter. I didn't see Mimi, but given her minuscule size, she could be anywhere, simply out of sight. She was certainly somewhere on the floor, helping beginners become professionals.
"Hey, boss," I greeted him. "the first van? It drives like it's straight off the showroom, wanna come look?"
"Yes, I can use a break from numbers. I owe you another damn extra paycheck, by the way. Comparing the invoices from last week's to now is a one-eighty." He was pretty peeved, and it showed. "Our food costs seem to have been cut in half. No matter that our event schedule hasn't really changed, and our distributors haven't dropped their prices out of the goodness of their hearts.... A lot of food was walking out of this building, enough to measure at a glance. I'd say a certain phrase to you but it pisses you off, and at this point I can't blame you. We were running a business based on emotion, on heart, and not on intelligence. It hurts admitting you were wrong, but we were."
"Well.... At least you finally caught on."
Paul rose from his chair and looked me in the eye. "No, we didn't. You did." He cleared his throat and continued. "We ostensibly hired you to drive vans. A week or so later our whole methodology of running this place is different, and almost entirely because of you. Anise asked you once, and I'll ask you again:who are you?"
I shrugged and said, "A guy who's worked for enough independently-owned businesses to know how to spot mistakes as they're being made. A guy who is emotionally, and fiscally, separated enough from the business that I can be totally objective. Don't get me wrong, I like you and Anise as people. But when I drove that first van, it was obvious y'all were getting played for suckers, and that pissed me off... So I started looking around for other places you'd get played, like your beer and wine, and your food, and payroll, and how the staff behaved at events: sources of loss for Stone Soup Organic. Not you, not Anise, but Stone Soup. Heh, it's the nice thing about being able to think like a criminal, you can catch out real criminals because you can identify the thought processes and stamp on 'em. That's why I suggested you fire the whole staff: they were all thieving scumbags who abused your equipment and knew they could play your emotions to keep from getting fired. Screw them, let 'em go on food stamps for a while. Maybe they'll learn some humility.... But I doubt it."
"You do have a talent to see trouble before it hits."
"You mean the little visiting party the other day?"
"Ah, that was expected. They probably had a good beer buzz and were bitching to each other about how they got screwed, so they showed up with revenge on their minds. Seth's presence would have been highly useful, but me and Roadie have found ourselves in enough punch-ups that I wasn't too worried. C'mon, the three of us versus five hippies? No match."
Paul said, "I, uh, don't know how useful I could be."
"Well screw technique, grab a wrench and go head-hunting. Or use the box-end to tear up some faces."
"No, I mean, I've never done anything like that before, ever."
"Ooohhh....." I considered this, then smiled. "Don't worry, I'll bet instinct would kick in real quick. About the same time as you first get your bell rung the anger-adrenaline would have you ready to go."
As we went out, I told him, "Roadie found more gifts left behind by the former employees."
"What kind of gifts?"
"What they were smoking instead of working."
Roadie had disappeared into the van from a different angle this time. He was on his slider underneath the van. Only a pair of greasy black denims and a pair of 14-hole oxblood Doc Martens were visible. I called to him again (never attract a mechanic's attention by touching him or her, it can startle and the mechanic ends up putting their head into whatever is above them, like the drive shaft) and he came scooting out. I asked, "Hey Roadie, where'd you put the hippie fuel?"
He stood up and said, "Back with the rest of the garbage. You want to make a slingshot and see if we can hit Telegraph Avenue from here? Manna from heaven."
"Nah, I just wanted to show Paul how industrious his former employees really were."
Roadie pulled out the weed and the air filter, showing how the engine compartment had become a stash box. "I still want to set them on fire," said Roadie. "They're rapists."
"You've, uh, said that before about our former employees. Why?" asked Paul.
"Because they are!" shouted Roadie. He closed his eyes and counted silently to ten, moving his lips. In a calm voice, he said, "Rape is a brutal act committed by design, perpetrated to hurt and injure. It is cruelty, distilled. I'm sorry, but I can think of no other descriptive word to sum up what was done to these gir--- vehicles. They were purposely abused. So I describe your former employees as rapists, and mean it." He smiled. "The good news is that I seem to have done okay with the first van. Lenny drove it and seemed satisfied."
"He's happy with it?"
"Well, he kissed me, so I'll take that as a yes."
I said, "Paul, take it for a drive. You won't even believe it's the same vehicle, it's like it came off the showroom floor an hour ago. For chrissake, he even cleaned the interior! All those fuckin' stickers and scribbling are gone!" I pressed the keys into Paul's hand.
He smiled and said, "All right, all right! I'm going!" He fired up and drove to the driveway.
We watched Paul pull into traffic, and Roadie asked, "Do you think Paul and Anise would mind me working here at night?"
"I don't think he'd mind, but it's pretty dark. There's just the one light over the side door, and that's where they do their loading. Why, you wanna wrap up the vans and take it easy until you leave again?"
"Oh, I've got work lights I can bring here. And it's.... I've got a bug in my brain, and if Paul lets me, I want to try installing one of those lifts I thought up. I scavenged up the steel I need, I already welded a platform together, Rice at the warehouse loaned me the money so I could buy the hydraulic cylinder.... I could pretty much bolt the thing together in a few hours. I just don't want to use daylight to work on that project, when I've still got two girls to heal," he said, gesturing at the two vans. "Besides, I'd be running a compressor, and they probably don't want to hear that thing during the day."
I thought about all the friends in the neighborhood he wouldn't make running the compressor at night, but kept silent on that subject. "I guess you're pretty sure Paul will let you install the lift, then?"
"I hope so. I'm not sure what I'll do with a 700lb. hydraulic cylinder if he says no."
Paul said yes. The next day, Roadie and Rice hauled over equipment in Rice's panel truck: compressor, work lights, air tools, a small welding set-up just in case, and all the pieces of the lift. Paul and I were returning from dropping off one of the two vans. Because of the paintball gun stains, Enterprise was not happy with us, but we had full damage waiver coverage, so they couldn't say much. "Watch your credit card statements, in case they decide to try to fuck you over and bill you anyway. Rental places hate having to obey their own paperwork."
"Why do you say that?"
"I used to work for one."
Since he was a mechanic and I barely knew which end of a spanner to hold, Rice stuck around for a while and acted as surgical nurse for Roadie. Almost all the equipment was Rice's --- it was his warehouse --- but it was all loaned to Roadie with an air of casual trust, the kind that most everyone held in Roadie. Rice had no doubt that his stuff would be returned in working order, when promised.
Roadie finished the second van late that afternoon.... Too late to test drive or return the rental, but I trusted his work enough to not be all itchy for the test run. Besides, he was eager to start on his lift, which was going on the van he'd just finished.
He was setting up to work by floodlight when I returned from my first run, moving food and workers to a rather sharp-looking union hall in Tiburon for a seventy-top reunion party. Next was a company dinner in Burlingame, right down the block almost. I purposely left the loading of the van to the kitchen staff working the event, so they could pull trays in the order they needed. It gave me a chance to check out Roadie's project.
It was an oversize Erector Set to me. I identified the rack platform and the hydraulic tube, and the rest was just hunks of metal to me. He was laying everything out carefully, so no parts were out of order.
"You wouldn't believe the debt I owe to the East Bay Rats," Roadie told me. "They let me root through their parts [read: junk!] pile and take anything I wanted. They even let me cut up an old Kawasaki frame for the metal. I hope I can pay them back somehow."
"Roadie," I seethed, "you've mended more of their motorcycles than you could even count, and for free.... Maybe a can of fuckin' beer or something. Come on, if anything, they still owe you!"
"Yeah, well, I lent them a hand a couple times.... If they ask for help, I'll give it, okay?"
"Fine. You know, it's not possible for one weirdo black guy to fix every car, truck, motorcycle, airplane, skateboard, and wheelchair in East Bay. Seriously man, breathe every now and then."
He gave a shy shrug and said, "C'mon Lenny. I just like helping people. If I know how to fix something that's broken, I feel selfish if I don't. People have said I'm gifted. Okay, fine, I'm gifted.... But I'll share my gift. I'm a decent mechanic--- "
"Decent!" I yelled.
" --- and I love machinery. Helping someone broken down on the freeway isn't a chore to me, it's fun." He smiled widely. "And I've met some very nice women on the sides of freeways."
It suddenly struck me that I wasn't hearing any movement behind me. Sure enough, the two foodies had finished loading the van and were standing there, patiently waiting for me to quit gabbing. I told Roadie I'd be back shortly, the apprentice chefs got in, and we hit the road, a skip down to Burlingame. (For reference, the San Francisco International Airport is located in Burlingame, so it's a quick shot down the 101 from the city.) I told the foodies to saddle up and let's roll.
About hafway down, one of the two --- I think the guy --- asked me, "What are East Bay Rats?"
I chuckled and told them, "The world's dorkiest motorcycle gang. If it's got two wheels and an engine, you're cool with the rats, with one caveat: you work on your machine yourself. Their collective knowledge of motorcycles would fill fifty volumes, since unlike most clubs, they're not beholden to any particular style of bike.
"Okay, the Hell's Angels ride almost exclusively chopped, souped-up Harley-Davidsons. The Rattlers also ride fast Harleys, but their bikes have a lot of comfort built in: they like soft-tails with cut-down windscreens and saddle bags. Still, watching a Rattler, which is an all-black club by the way, cut through traffic is total poetry. The Booze fighters stick with fairly stock Harleys, with a good number of old BSAs and Triumphs, serious show bikes just because of their age. Generally the Booze Fighters are older, like in their fifties.
"The Rats are totally schizophrenic. You'll see a 500cc crotch-rocket parked next to a Harley Sportster parked next to a '72 Honda. The real commonality is that the owners could take their bikes apart down to the frame and reassemble them again. I think you could show up on a 200cc Lambretta, and if you know every bolt on the thing, you're in with the Rats.
Yeah, they party hard and will ride like maniacs, but they're geeks for their machines. They're happier woking on them than riding them, I swear.
"That's where Roadie comes in. With his supernatural talents for anything mechanical, they know they can get a hold of Roadie and 'ask a favor,' i.e. 'We're lost, can you please help us?'"
I chuckled again, chewing on my unlit cigarette. If Roadie has fixed one motorcycle for the Rats, he's fixed fifty. And keep in mind they pride themselves on their mechanical knowledge. So if something has them flummoxed, there's a serious rift in The Force. Fortunately, they've got Roadie Wan Kenobi to make things right. Assuming he isn't on the road, of course."
"On.... The road? Does he travel a lot?"
"Where do you think the name came from?"
"Oh. Oh yeah."
I helped them unload, then turned around and headed back for the kitchen. Roadie was wrenching this and that to the other. Mimi was back from helping set up the first event, and was preparing to go stick her nose in at the second one. I'd just dropped the third, and the fourth was being trayed even as we spoke: the answer to "What's the word?" was "Fifteen minutes!" I backed the van up to the door and got racks into appropriate places. Trays started to be handed over to me, and I slid them into the rack, bottom to top. The first one full, I jumped up, pushed it back, and moved another into place. This routine continued until we had five loaded racks, two of which had to be grunted and struggled up into the van. Due to their ungainliness, it took me, Roadie, and one of the male future chefs to get it in. It wasn't the weight, it was the bulkiness.
Except for getting the racks in, Roadie sat against the wall, smoking a couple Camels, and observing the loading process. When they were finished (desserts being loaded last by people cleaner than me, in case they slid onto a thumb), Roadie stood, staring at the inside of the van, and muttering, "I can fix that. I can make everyone's jobs so much easier. I can do this." Then he went back to his bolting.
I was ready to take off when the van was blocked by a police car with grey primer on the doors and the Bad Town Boys blaring from the inside. I jumped back out to greet Seth and Reba, who were "just droppin' by fer the fuck of it." I gave them both an embrace, and let them know I had to take off, but I was just headed to the Seacliff neighborhood, and were they hungry? "Shit, the food here is awesome, we won't turn down grub!" was the answer from Reba. I ushered them in and called for attention.
"This here is Seth and Reba! If they show up and are hungry, you feed them! Izzat clear?"
I heard a sharp squeal, and a tiny object shot through the kitchen and launched itself at Reba. Mimi hadn't left yet, attending to some detail she felt needed work. After untangling herself from Reba, she did the same to Seth.
"'Sup, little one! Still doing coffee?" asked Seth.
"Nope. Lenny got me this job, and I'm having a good time with it so far. Look at my crew! Aren't they darling? Oh, and Roadie is out in the lot building things."
"Roadie's here? Right fuckin' on! We gotta see that wrench-flingin' fool!"
I reminded him he needed to move his car on the double, but to hang around and help themselves to leftovers. "C'mon, I'll throw some dinner together for you guys," offered Mimi.
Seth moved his car and I took off for Seacliff.
"Even more odd friends of yours?" asked the girl in back. I had the impression she felt there were too many weirdos from East Bay around the kitchen, never mind they worked harder than anyone else, including Paul and Anise.
"Yeah. If it weren't for those two, none of you from the school would have jobs," I explained.
I got a "Hhmmph" in return, and brief silence. Shortly, though came a rather rude question. One that I would have love her to ask in Reba's, or even Mimi's, presence.
"So is everyone in East Bay weird and crazy?"
(I dunno dear, is everyone in the City snotty and pretentious?) "Yes."
"Cos I swear, everyone from East Bay I've ever met is a head case."
"Don't you talk much?"
We came to a stop sign, so I took the time to look at her, smile, and say, "To you? No."
"Why won't you talk to me?"
"Because.... You should! I'm not crazy like your friends are!"
The guy got fed up. "And one of his crazy friends is now your boss, Marissa! Why don't you drop your bullshit and stop trying to pick a fight with our driver?!"
"Yeah, and crazy as hell! You've seen how she acts over the last two days! She proves my point!"
I laughed at her. The guy said, "Mimi has been a complete professional when it comes to work. I can find no fault with her behavior as a manager. She's just.... eccentric when there's nothing going on, and I think she's fun."
"I think she's on drugs." I didn't respond except to laugh again.
"And those two who showed up right before we left. They're the reason we have jobs? I don't believe it. The girl would be beautiful if it weren't for the punk rock clothes; why is she around such an ugly guy?"
I answered. "They're in love, and have been for several years. Don't think it needs any more explaining than that. It shouldn't, anyway."
The guy chimed in, "The packaging is all that's important to you, isn't it Marissa? He's probably the nicest guy in the world to her, but that wouldn't matter to you, would it? A guy can be a total asshole, so long as he's good looking."
"Who asked you to talk, you----"
"HEY!" I barked. "We're gonna be at this address in about three minutes. Get the venom out of your systems now. A Seacliff address is going to expect pure professionalism from their caterers. They have a back loading door, so it's probably gonna be a walk to the kitchen. We'll have to hustle, a'right. So everybody take some deep breaths and get your game face on."
"Why the hell should we listen to you?" asked Marissa.
"Two reasons: first, we should all be trying to be professionals here, and second, I'm roommates with your boss. So are we professionals? All personal bullshit dropped until we clear the premises?"
" (*sigh*) Yes."
"Okay fellow pros, we're four blocks away."
Unloading went much quicker than I anticipated. The house staff helped --- yes, they had a butler and maids and two cooks --- and we did a bucket brigade to empty the truck. I left them to it, with instructions to call the kitchen when they were twenty minutes shy of being clear. I wished them both good luck, pointedly ignoring the vitriol Marissa was trying to stir up earlier. I'd have to chat about her with Mimi while off the clock. If she wanted, she could cause a lot of problems by stirring up disgruntlement for her own amusement.
I returned to a scene of merriment. Roadie was literally dancing and skipping around the parking lot, yelling, "It works! It works!" I got out of the van and he practically dragged me to the van. Then he called Mimi out from inside the kitchen, yelling, "We've got one more test!"
Roadie, Reba Seth, and myself all got on the platform. Standing to the side, Mimi began pumping a curved chromed bar with her foot, and we went up, an inch a pump, until we were even with the floor of the van. There were hinged flaps of metal on each end allowing the racks to roll on and off with ease, and fold out of the way during travel. The stainless steel hydraulic tube was sleek and unobtrusive. Really, all it needed was a few coats of white Rust-Oleum on the platform, and it would be flawless.....
.... And Roadie had me beat. I heard the ball knocking around the can. He quickly masked off the area with newspaper with the platform up and began laying down even layers of spray. Then he dropped the platform down and did the top.... Which would see a lot more abuse, so he spent a good forty minutes laying down consecutive layers of Rust-Oleum. Easy to care for: when it starts looking mangy, paint it again.
As a man who operated twenty-ton forklifts at work, Seth was duly impressed. "It's goddamn genius, man! You built a Tommy Lift that doesn't need power outta spare parts. Yer a goddamn genius, Roadie! High-fuckin'-five!" High fives were exchanged all around. Roadie, with his usual modestly was saying, "C'mon, all I did was reinvent the barber's chair...." To which we booed and demanded he take a bow. "Roadie, you rule!"
"I can't wait for Paul to see this. It easily lifted six hundred pounds with all of us on there, and could be operated by Mimi. That's an accomplishment. So can you build two more?" I asked.
As long as I can find another motorcycle frame to butcher, not a problem. Otherwise I may have to buy the steel."
Seth said, "Roadie, bro, you're forgettin' where I work. Is it those two pieces there?" pointing at the join between the platform and the hinge.
"Shit man, I can have one of the fuckin' foundry guys run those off for you on their lunch break, gratis. Heh, if the foreman squawks I'll just remind him of that bottle of vodka he thinks is hidden in the break room cupboards. You'll get your steel, gimme measurements and I'll have it for you tomorrow night."
"That'd be great, Seth. I'll pick up the other two hydraulic tubes tomorrow before I come over here. I just hope Paul likes it."
"What's not to like?" I asked. "It works like a dream it looks great with all the chrome and stainless steel and shiny white paint.... Class A winner, man. C'mon, let's stow equipment. I've got two sets of cooks to round up, then we can go home. We'll put that van into service tomorrow for the final test. Get the last van on the road, then you can put lifts on the other two. Right now though, sack out in my car, you look beat. There's no work left to do, so you can relax." You had to remind Roadie of this, or he'd pace around looking for something to do.... And like anyone, he'd make mistakes when he was tired, only he'd beat himself up for the mistakes.
"Hey Roadie! Yer stayin' at the Silo, right? Why don't Reba and I just give you a lift home?" offered Seth.
"Yeah, we'll take you to Quarter Pound Burgers for celebratory milkshakes and fries, if you're up to it!" Reba threw in, remembering Roadie was a vegetarian.
"With great appreciation, I'll accept your offer," said Roadie.
"Let's go inside and thank Mimi for dinner," said Reba. That was some great chow."
I told Mimi and the other kitchen rats I'd be in my car wishing I hadn't given up speed, and to get me when the calls came in. Paul was driving one van, a cook whose family owned one of those giant apartment-on-wheels RVs was driving the other. That left one newly-completed van, and one van left to rebuild. Hopefully Roadie would take me seriously and complete the vans, then worry about the lifts. He'd get more sleep that way.
I'd just closed my eyes and had them stay that way when a voice told me, Hey cutie, some kids in Burlingame need to be picked up. I took the newly modified van, just to show it off. It would go to Seacliff, too, so a snotty little girl could see what a head case from East Bay could accomplish with spare chunks of steel and a hydraulic tube.
The two foodies were intrigued by the strange device bolted to the corner of the van, surprised at its operation, and elated by it's performance. We'd dropped the loading time to one-quarter what it had been. The real test, I told them, would be when we were loading full food-laden racks in.
We unloaded back at the kitchen, the two still raving about the lift ("Mimi, you can really operate that thing by yourself, when it's full?" "Yeppa-deppers! Piece of halvah!") and I repeated what we did before: just as I was nodding off, Mimi tapping on my window to tell me two tired little children wanted to go home and go beddy-bye.... And was there any sort of conflict between me and Marissa?
I told Mimi that Marissa had tried to provoke bad feelings between me and her, that she inexplicably hated people from East Bay, and I'd reminded them both that we were to be the portraits of professional behavior, especially at Seacliff address. Why?
"She wanted to know if that weirdo would be picking her up. I asked if she meant the company driver and troubleshooter, a man who knows his way around the Bay Area like I know my way around kitchens, then yes. A fellow professional of mine would be driving her back to the kitchen."
"Watch her. I get the feeling she likes to stir shit for her own amusement. She spent most of the ride over trying to pick a fight with me."
"Mostly how East Bay is populated by crazies and weirdos --- you were used as a prime example."
I cracked the door, Mimi stood out of the way so I could exit. "Remember, Lenny: Two passengers. I expect the same number to arrive back here."
The two --- Marissa and Joseph --- were waiting at the back door for me. I hopped out and said, "I've got something to show you." I grabbed a couple racks and wheeled them to the back of the van. Pulled the safety pin on the platform Hit the release button on the hydraulic tube, dropping it to the ground. Flipped the ramp down and rolled a cart with a couple hundred pounds of trays on it onto the platform. Began pumping the foot pedal, raising the platform up to the level with the van floor. When that level had been reached, I flipped the van-side ramp and pushed the cart in, instructing Joseph to get the cart out of the way for the next rack, and to flip the ramp back up. I repeated this two more times: no hand-loading of trays, no wrestling racks up into the van.... And think how easy loading full racks would be.
"It's a project Roadie has been working on. He's gonna put one on the back of each van. It'll save you guys a ton of time loading and unloading at events."
Marissa said, "Roadie....He's that nigger friend of yours who's been hanging around? He did all this?"
Joseph beat me to it. "God Marissa, shut your fucking mouth! What is wrong with you? Roadie is the guy who's been fixing all the vans. And he did this in his spare time?"
"And with spare parts. Except for the big cylinder which had to be bought, and the platform, you're looking at mostly motorcycle parts, pieces of the frame he cut to spec. The pedal is part of an exhaust pipe. Roadie is something of a mechanical wizard: he can start with nothing and build something from it. And he's got a whole pile of parts and scrap metal to build the other two."
"So he's a trash-picker." You can guess who threw that in.
Joseph looked at me and asked, "You're not management, right?"
"Not the last time I checked, no."
"Good. Marissa, you are a class-A fucking bitch. Shut your hate-hole for once."
For my part, I simply gave Marissa a shaming glare, closed the cargo doors, and got behind the wheel.
The ride home was mostly quiet; Marissa asked a few more questions about the mental stability of East Bay residents (and "all those niggers in Oakland") which received monosyllabic responses.
Our arrival featured Marissa grilling Mimi about "the contraption that nigger had installed on one of the vans." She seemed appalled permission had been given to install the lifts, by both management and owners.
"You knew he put that thing on there?"
In her most sarcastic voice, Mimi replied, "Oh yes, in fact I helped test it out! Isn't he a talented coon, a gifted jungle-bunny? He'll be here tomorrow, why don't you congratulate him yourself? Others have including Reba, who's a mix of Thai, Filipina, and Irish. Don't know where to start there, eh? Anyway, I'm sure you're bushed, why don't you clock out and go home. 'Kay?"
Marissa, utterly clueless, thought it was a rockin' good idea, and left immediately. When she was out the doors, Mimi excused herself, walked into the walk-in cooler, and let loose with a screamed torrent of profanity that would have embarrassed Louis "Red" Deutsch. When she emerged, she told me that Anise would be teaching her the basics of the payroll software, so that Mimi could fire people on the spot.... As would have happened that evening, if only Mimi had the means.
Say what you want about "at will" employment laws, they do make it easier to get rid of someone who's a total dick.