I saw two guys this morning, sitting on a loading dock behind a grocery store. It is cold this morning in Tallahassee. Their breath rose from laughing faces, protected deep within hoodies pulled forward against the wind, white aprons fluttering. I saw this scene in my periphery as I turned onto Lafayette street. The sun was breaking across their cardboard desk, and one of them tapped the ash off of a cigarette. Before that ash could flutter into the parking lot I was transported back to all of the places where I did not work when I was working.
At the Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant we called it “Lopez” as in, “Meet me at Lopez in 5, I just need to drop off these Mudslides.” Lopez was where the broken chairs would go, still serviceable, but unfit for the general public. A wooden slat fence separated Lopez from the restaurant deck on the bay, where tourists sat disappointed over sweaty grouper sandwiches, cold french fries, and a million dollar view. At Lopez, a server could smoke a cigarette and spy on their tables. Dishwashers could bum cigarettes from servers, and managers could tell everyone to get back to work before smoking a cigarette. A Great White Egret we called “Guapo” served as the bailiff at Lopez, and he worked for leftover calamari and sweet tea-soaked lemons.
At Little Baja, the NW UNITED STATES LARGEST TERRA COTTA IMPORTER we had two places. On rainy, cold Portland days we would sit in a 15 ft. travel trailer around a space heater, playing chess and thinking murderous thoughts about customers who summoned us out to dicker over the price of a cracked chimenea. On sunny days, we sat in a private Shangri-la hidden within a maze of strawberry pots where smoke could waft and dissipate through a thousand cupped holes before mingling with the Burnside air. They still use a slogan I coined, “WE GOTTA LOTTA TERRA COTTA.” I never see a royalty check.
At the Tallahassee Rock Gym it was all down time, but at sunset we would step outside to lean on the rail and watch the colors spread over the oaks beyond the train tracks of Railroad Square. We had a worn-out hoop in the corner of the parking lot and there really wasn’t much to keep us inside monitoring the boulderers and nose-picking children instead of playing a heads-up, elbowing round of every man for himself twenty-one.
In Barcelona, I took breaks between explaining the difference between “make” and “do” to drink wine and eat tortilla de patata at a place across the street called Bar Michigan. They liked me. I believe they thought I legitimized their American bent. I never told them I was from the South, and had never been to Michigan.