Imagine his surprise…

I’ll share an amusing story from my youth to make up for the lack of posting here of late.

I worked in a Ground Round restaurant off and on between the ages of 16 and 19 or so, first as a busboy and ultimately as one of the line cooks. Cooking on a line in a busy restaurant can actually be great adrenaline fueled fun fun, especially if you’re young and irresponsible.

One weekend night I was one of the two closing cooks, meaning I had to work until ~1 AM and was responsible for some of the most onerous of the cleaning responsibilities. The worst cleaning job in the kitchen was having to mop behind the line of cooking equipment. You had to pull the equipment away from the wall and sweep then mop up a stretch of tiled floor about 20 feet long and maybe 4 feet deep that was super saturated with kitchen gunk. Sometimes the oil would be a quarter inch thick on that stretch of floor and extremely difficult to sop up. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that since we all hated doing it, we all found schemes to escape having to do it, meaning if you were unlucky you would end up mopping a stretch of floor that hadn’t been cleaned in several days.

On this particular weekend the regional manager had chosen to visit our restaurant. This was a dreaded event as he was wise to our various schemes to avoid cleaning things and he had a volatile temper, often flying off the handle and screaming at us when he caught us not doing our jobs efficiently.

One of the largest pieces of equipment, the broiler where the steaks, burgers, chicken and so on were cooked, had recently been serviced and we had noted that the emergency valve that would cut off the gas supply in the event of a problem had been installed backwards. We were all aware of this and were used to being careful when moving it because of this valve. The gas line it protected was almost wide enough to swallow a baseball.

As soon as the kitchen closed, the district manager came in the back and proceeded to pull the equipment away from the wall to expose our shoddy cleaning, shouting at us as he did so. When he yanked the broiler away from the wall he pulled hard enough that it caused the gas line to disconnect. Normally the safety valve would block the gas from leaking but since it was installed backwards it did not. The district manager was unaware of this fact, while we were.

You never saw two line cooks run so fast. Steve, my partner that night, had the presence of mind to run towards the back door where the emergency gas cutoff valve was – me, being concerned only with self preservation, ran to the bathroom, thinking the thick wooden door would protect me from the inevitable explosion.

Inevitable it was. I heard a muted ‘whooomph!’ and then shouting. When folks started calling my name I poked my head out and there, his bowtie singed, his face lobster red, and his eyebrows and hair singed and smoking, was the district manager, stunned into silence. I lost it, falling into peals of laughter. Steve, who had meanwhile shut the main gas supply off, came to see what had happened and followed my lead, and after a few seconds the two of us ran out the back door of the restaurant, still laughing our heads off.

Amazingly, neither of us lost our jobs. We had filed a repair ticket on the improperly installed safety valve several weeks prior and this plus the fact that Steve’s quick thinking protected against a worse disaster probably saved our jobs. The district manager was taken to the hospital and ended up being only minorly injured, with some serious but not permanently damaging burns on his face and hands. To my surprise this didn’t really alter his behavior towards us or the line – the next time he came in he went through his same procedure, yanking out the equipment and berating us for our inadequate cleaning skills.

I still chuckle every time I remember this incident.

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