Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Banquet Captain Years: How's This for a Photograph?

I've got a week off from trying to entertain this great nation of ours, so I thought I'd prepare for 2007. Frankly, my ridiculous collection of tapes, notebooks, and boxes of old jokes, etc... was starting to bury me. I envisioned one of those stories where they find someone down in the basement under an avalanche of his own refuse. My humble cable access show produces one mini-tape a week but there must be more than a hundred of them floating around here. Then there's the endless drafts of movie scripts - or more accurately movie-less scripts. It was way past time to sort through everything and consolidate.

Besides, why not straigten up my papers to mark the end of an era? As faithful readers of this blog already know - just play along - I recently quit my extreme backup job and relinquished my seniority at the banquet department of a downtown hotel. It actually was a perfect ending. See, back when it was my only job, I took it really seriously, and got involved with contract negotiations. Hell, I became an expert on banquet theory, which to me means motivating a crew to want to go off. That may sound like a simple concept but you would be surprised how many hotel executives I've dealt with along the way, who did not get it.

Of course, diving into all your papers can put you through some major changes. I'd find myself reading a letter from my Dad or Mom and getting choked up. I also stumbled on some disciplinary problems I had in my wild youth at the hotel, including the 30-day suspension I received for threatening the chef. When I signed my name on that one, I drew a star before and after the signature as sort of a statement as to how I felt about it.

I'm proud to say the chef and I went on to be great friends, but this was when he first got to town. Things came to a head one Valentine's night when we had the Righteous Brothers in the ballroom. I got to hang out with them in their dressing room and that was quite cool, but when the function started, things melted down. The dinner-concert concept in a huge ballroom overwhelmed the kitchen. Couples were literally arguing over whose idea it was to come to it, and along the way, the new chef yelled at me one time too many. After all, we had the place running like a top before he got there, and he was in the process of blowing the Righteous Brothers gig right out his ass. It was known as the Valentine's Day Massacre from then on.

So I vented back in dramatic fashion and was given a month off. I'm not proud of my temper, but it only appears every few years. My wife has never seen it - I mean the real "it" where your blood boils and anything is possible. The hotel gave me a lot of leeway, in retrospect, to grow up and learn how to act. I appreciate that. They could have fired me several different times, and they kept me around. In exchange, I took it very seriously, and I did a good job. My goal was not to blow any functions. I've seen lesser banquet captains not be ready on time, and then crash the party into the rocks. I made a handful of major mistakes but I never slammed a party into the mountaintop, and for that I am proud.

The reason the job ended perfectly was that I had around a decade where I just worked maybe 3 or 4 times a year. Recently, it was up to 6 times a year to keep seniority. This was old home week kind of stuff, a healing period for all involved. Actually, that's not quite true. There was the Dalai Lama fiasco, where I was nearly fired for using my access as a waiter to write a Portland Tribune column about the spiritual leader. But basically things have been good. By the way, I stumbled on that little write-up today as well. The Dalai Lama was such a happy, joyous guy and it was great chatting with him, but his followers here in town sure got pissed off at my column. Whoops.

It points out something great: As banquet captain and waiter, I got to meet a lot of celebrities over the last 29 years. A day rarely passes when I don't see someone I served, on TV. Today I saw Howard Baker talking about Gerald Ford. I got to meet Howard when he was here, and also checked out Ford when he appeared at the hotel after his presidency.

Here's my favorite picture from the banquet captain years. I'll write the story part later. By the way, I use plastic containers to sort my stuff: Scripts, Jokes, Tapes....This time around there was a new container labeled "Blog Topics " The banquet stories are going to be fun. 2007 should be a good year for blogging.


At 10:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

despite ali's physical challenges i'm surprised he isn't taller.

At 10:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"2007 should be a good year for blogging. "
This dedicated reader looks forward to that.

Thanks Bill, and Happy New Year!

At 12:33 PM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

Happy New Year back at you!


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