Saturday, June 26, 2010

No retirement package

Barmaid in a dive, it's a job
You wonder how people end up in some situations, and being the barmaid in The Wheel Bar is one of those situations. To briefly sum up the situation, I had just completed 2 years of Fine Art at the Community College... receiving a degree meant for transfer to a 4-year college, but zero job training or career prep, and I had no money to continue with school. The fact was that I needed a job, had no job skills, and did not want to become a hooker. This bar was similar to all the other dive bars that I spent time in growing up (not voluntarily - my cousins and I had to amuse ourselves with the jukebox and such while our folks drank). I was a drinker, and had not worked in a dive or tended bar, so I was open to adding that to my life experiences.

When I walked in, the owner leered at me (as a young woman I was used to that), and said "God damn it. You wanna tend bar?" I did. "Ahright, get yer ass behind this bar afore we take you in the back room and check you for hemorrhoids." Yes, that's really what he said, and I didn't think it was funny, it was just typical old drunk in a bar low-class humor, and I had been sexually harassed on just about every job I'd had, so it was not a deal-breaker and I figured I could withstand it. Funny thing, he didn't even ask me if I was of drinking age (I was 21 [actually I may have been as old as 23], but he didn't card me. Whaddya think? Wouldn't you card me?).

The job paid $15 a day for about 9 hours of work, and it was 6 to 7 days a week. It was paid in cash. I was also allowed to serve myself alcohol, as much as I wanted, and I could have a frozen Tombstone pizza for dinner but had to eat it during the shift. There weren't breaks. Also, there were almost no tips. I'd get maybe a dollar or two during a shift maybe, but I remember one night when we were well into the night and I still hadn't been tipped. I told the owner, and he pounded his fist on the bar and yelled "God damn it!! You sonsabitches tip the god damned barmaid!!" Then a couple of people put quarters on the bar, and not without a grumble.

See, this was the kind of place where it's all regulars. Every night around 5-ish, the same people came in. I knew what their usual drinks were. I had to learn the signals, like the one guy, when he put his empty in just a certain place, that meant he wanted another one. The jokes and banter were the same every night. I heard the hemorrhoid joke nearly every night. I drank all night, and got through it, learned to roll with the punches (it wasn't recommended to go through a night in there sober, I tried it once). Some stayed until closing every night, and if somebody passed out, head on the bar, we could joke about them being "Asleep at the Wheel." The owner and his wife sat all night at opposite ends of the bar, glaring at each and sometimes arguing. When they weren't in the bar, they were upstairs (they lived there, literally).

Next door to The Wheel was a Sunday bar, which they also owned, called The Hub (I think). This was when MO still had the Blue Laws where you couldn't serve more than .03% beer on Sunday, so that's what they did. Hardly anyone would be around other than the most hard-core regulars, just the people who practically lived at The Wheel (or actually lived there). Both places had a jukebox well stocked with hard-core country music, and a pool table. The Wheel also one of those bar shuffleboard machines. One night, some black people came in. They were waiting for a bus or something and came in to play some shuffleboard. It was not the best idea for them to step into a bar that was as rednecky as this one. At The Wheel, they HATED people of color, and when they walked in everybody got a little nervous and jumpy. Pretty soon, the owner's wife told me to reach under the bar and hand her the gun. I refused. Guess I was the one with the risky behavior then, but guns are always bad news. Fortunately, they caught the bad vibes from the hostile stares and walked out. Sigh of relief. See, on that side of the highway it was mostly white and on the other side it was very mixed, and some of those old-timers are not big on diversity, to say the least, and can go over the edge over the smallest thing (just look at the Tea Party).

After a few months, they hired another barmaid. She was going to work days mostly. They really liked her even though she was kind of fat, because she had a pretty face, laughed a lot, had really big boobs and liked the skimpy sundresses. They really liked her, that is, until they found out she was dating a black man (although they never used polite terms) and she got fired on the spot. I was getting pretty tired of that place by then, and got myself hired as a cocktail waitress in a restaurant lounge with a piano bar, where they made me wear itty-bitty shorts with Budweiser logos all over them. I went from serving drinks to food, and then got notified that I'd been hired to work assembly at the GM plant that was in north St. Louis at the time. One of the foreman was a semi-regular at The Wheel, and had helped me get hired there and moved me into the next phase of my working life [I blogged that phase under the tag Autoworker].

I love Google Street View. I looked up this place and it looks like some kind of warehouse now, and except for the lack of bar signage, it looks the same.
There's the Sunday bar on the left, the little beige building.

6 comments:

Dr. MVM said...

I would have tipped you like crazy.

Blueberry said...

Thanks, Dr. M.
I am a good tipper now because I know how much it sucks to work for tips, esp. in a shitty venue.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

You're a braver man than I, Gunga Din (as the saying goes).

Mando Mama said...

Holy mackerel. I think the package is that you got the heck out of there in a hurry! Wow.

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

sounds like some of teh bars i worked at in new mexico...where we gave our customers 'togo' cups at closing time..or when they just wanted to leave and go bar hop..

Blueberry said...

I was in quite a few of those New Mexico bars as a kid.