Featured Writer: Angelique Dube
ANGELIQUE DUBE shares her experience of following in her mother’s footsteps, and how the service industry has given her the freedom to explore the world and the most incredible lifelong friends.
For better or for worse, the service industry has been woven into the very fabric of my life since birth. I spent the first five years of my existence growing up in hotels my folks owned and operated. Of the first one, Hotel Deschaillons, I have no memory. But of the second, the Hotel Del Monty, I have many. I can remember running with my brothers up and down the burgundy red carpeted corridors, wearing nothing but our brand new superhero underwear. Ricky was Superman, Norm was Aquaman and I was Wonder Woman! I remember being very cross and accusing the lovely Chinese family who ran the second floor restaurant of murdering our pet chicken, a poor creature we had stumbled upon and tied up to a pole in the parking lot. (As it turns out, they had in fact killed the chicken, but only after my parents had ordered the hit. This information would only be declassified and released nearly thirty years later by my mother, who admitted letting the lovely Chinese family take the fall for the killing). I remember rollerskating downstairs at the bar, showing off to the patrons of relative sobriety my mad skills, and my pride and joy at the time - my brand new 1981 Strawberry Shortcake roller skates. I learned how to shoot pool by the age of four and, unbeknownst to my parents, picked up English as a second language while I was at it. I briefly mingled with off-duty strippers (my father's idea, while my mother was away; when my mother came back, just like the pet chicken, the strippers were gone.), the jukebox was a good friend of mine and on the weekends I fell asleep to the sound of muffled tunes played by the various rock bands that came through.
My parents worked tirelessly, especially my mother, who was the more straight-edged part of this dynamic and, at times, explosive duo. I guess to a certain degree this is still the basic view I hold of the service industry; a lot of hard work, a bit of the Rock n' Roll lifestyle, and a healthy dash of circus-crazy. What else can one expect? Where there's a watering hole, the wildlife will gather...
I didn't mean to follow in my mother's footsteps (at fourteen she became the main bartender at the hotel my grandmother had named after her). But at the tender (and illegal) age of twelve, I joined the work force on the weekends as a "busser" at a local diner near my house, under the stern rule of an embittered middle-aged woman, an unfortunate but not uncommon condition in the work force anywhere. They paid me $2.50 an hour, no tips, and at the end of my shift I got to eat poutine. I'll put up with ALOT for free poutine, but even poutine fell short against her less-than-sunny disposition, and after a few months I bid them farewell.
Life moved along and so did I. When the time came to decide what I would study in college and the deadlines were aggressively nearing, I found myself at a complete loss as to what I wanted to become. One afternoon my friend Élise looked at me dead in the face and in all seriousness said: "You'll be a philosopher. Or a clown." At the time I knew nothing of philosophers and I already knew too much of clowning, so I began to study philosophy, along with some art and human sciences, with an axis on third world development. A cashier job at a takeout KFC and later a job as a barista in a trendy café kept me afloat during those four years. In the midst of all that I decided I wanted to become an actor and after being denied, two years in a row, access to such schools in Quebec, on a whim I decided to go and study in NYC. I applied to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts summer program, auditioned and got in.
Now all I needed to do was to come up with the money, so I took a more lucrative job as a waitress at a diner in downtown Montreal, run by a couple of Greek gents. Here, friendly misogyny was rampant, and one day one of them threw a hard boiled egg right past my head, smashing it to pieces on the wall right behind me because he couldn't discern the difference between "bouilli" and "brouillé" (boiled or scrambled). That was my first introduction to a common occurrence in this industry, which is straight-up abuse hiding under the guise of passion.
I got the money together and headed down to New York City. It wasn't long before I fell in love with it and decided to stay. I couldn't afford to study any longer at AADA, but I thought I'd figure something out. In the meantime, I got another waitressing job at 'The West End', right by Columbia University, a place where Jack Kerouac used to come drink and pass out in the bathroom. There I honed my skills and sharpened my already sharp tongue into a lethal weapon. A weapon I have since then mostly retired, although I have to say there is something extremely satisfying to the ego when one swiftly cuts down to size someone who, while staring at you condescendingly, says to her seven friends: "Awww... Looks like someone spent a 'little summer' in Paris and now thinks she can speak French!", just after you've told her which wines you have by the glass...
In the end (yet still ongoing), the service industry has been the great financier of my explorative nature. And no place would allow me to do just that, nor embodied more in my mind the spirit of Rock n' Roll and circus-craze than the famed West Village gastropub that hired me in 2005, when I returned to NYC after a five-year stint out West. It was most definitely a 'scene' at the time. We worked long and relentlessly busy hours on a battlefield where one had to be careful not to get trampled by massive egos and irrational demands. Like most intense work environments, it was a place where mismanaged emotions were let loose like a pack of wild dogs. A solid sense of humor coupled with the support and camaraderie of one’s coworkers, along with the occasional shot of whiskey were all part of our survival kit on any given night. But it was great fun and we were spoiled. We were treated to major music shows, great dinners and even stays at a rental house in the Hamptons. We mingled with celebrities, even got some of them to help us with sidework duties while having a chat and a beer. Long nights often ended with all of us singing along to Billy Joel, with more beer and more whiskey... It's easy to get lost in a place like that and forget why you were there in the first place.
I worked there on and off for nearly ten years, forging friendships as deep and long lasting as the Grand Canyon. I was surrounded by some of the most creative, intelligent and hilarious people one could ever hope to meet, people brave or foolish enough to risk a life of slinging burgers and booze to pursue their dreams. Not all of us will come out on top, but many already have.
That place, along with all the other gin joints I've called home, allowed me to pay off what remained of my student loans and afforded me the opportunity to retreat to India to study yoga and mend a shattered heart. It enabled me to travel to Argentina to perfect my Spanish and learn how to tango, to walk over the Pyrenees and straight across Spain just to think things through, and to study Tibetan Buddhism in a monastery in Nepal. All and all I have travelled to more than fifteen countries with an average stay of two months in each one.
I'll forever be grateful to an industry that has given me so much freedom to pursue my spiritual curiosity and explore the world. I can't think of any other business that would always, upon my infinite returns, take me back in with open, loving arms.
But now, having reached the ripe age of forty, I would be lying if I claimed that from time to time I haven't felt self-conscious about the state of my nonexistent career, or my lack financial stability or the fact that I haven't had health care coverage since leaving Canada. In need of a change of scenery, I've recently moved to Seattle, where I've been pounding the pavement in vain for employment. I take this difficulty as a sign that perhaps I've overstayed my welcome in an industry better served by youth, and that perhaps it's high time I moved on to something else; or maybe that's just how I really feel. But I'm afraid I need one more dance, one more chance to ask you how you want your burger cooked, because there's a seven month long silversmith apprenticeship I've had my heart set on that's awaiting me down in Mexico, and I'm afraid it won't finance itself...
To be continued.
Angelique Dube, Traveler/Waitress/Yoga Teacher…