Dec 21, 2006

They Say It's a Dream Job But...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: bartending is friggin' fun. What other job allows you to share a shot with your customers, listen to great music all night, shoot some stick and earn enough money to support yourself on part time hours? But it ain't all roses, either. There's the babysitting component, and the pukey bathroom component, and then there's the safety component.

I was recently reminded of just how dangerous the job can be while visiting a buddy and former colleague's shift at my old stomping ground. Now, I've broken up my share of fights but I've never been a target myself. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for J. Last month, he managed to find himself in the worst position a bartender can ever find himself in: face down on the mats with a gun pointed at him.

Now, J. is a unique individual. An anarchist punk, mycologist (our mushroom hunting field trip made me feel like Red Riding Hood, basket and all), musician and all-around sweetheart, J. is not the kind of guy who should ever be at the mercy of another human being.

Having locked the bar after his night shift, he headed to his car. But before he could get there he was approached by two men and a gun and ordered to re-open the gate. He, of course, followed orders—bartenders are not stupid people and few of us are willing to die for a single night's pocket full of cash. But what really freaked him out was his robber's insistence that J. join him inside. That is not what anyone wants to be ordered to do.

When recounting his encounter to me last week, he described pointing out the obvious to the robber: I'd rather not, man, I don't want to see your face. I really don't want to know what you look like. Regardless, the guy forced him inside, took the couple hundred dollars from the till and then ordered J. on the ground, face down.

What do you do in a situation like that, folks? After a long night of entertaining guests, changing kegs, sweeping up and washing surfaces, all you want to do is get home and unwind in front of the TV for an hour before crashing (well, when there isn't an after-hours, that is). You don't want to lie down on rubber mats soaked in sticky liquor, spit and probably stray shards of glass. You don't want to drive home with an empty pocket because your tips have been taken from you. And you most certainly do not want a strange man to shoot you in the back because he doesn't want the cops to know who he is.

J. got down on the mats. And thankfully, he is still behind the bar every week and is as laid back as always. Someone, somewhere, is $160 richer. But J.'s job hasn't changed: he is an entertainer, a cocktail slinger, and he is an enforcer. His job—the job of all bartenders—is to keep the customers safe. But sometimes the bartender ends up in the line of fire themselves. So lock up, keep yer eyes open, and stay safe.

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