Here is a little story about leaving Full Moon Cafe in Tulsa in 1994 and moving to company called Planet Hollywood.
As enamored as I was (and still am) of Tulsa’s charms, I longed to be part of a larger existence again. I felt like I could make the “circuit” in such short order: from our place on Cherry Street to the shops of Utica Square, from the bars on Brookside and down on 18th street to the chain restaurants crowding 71st and Memorial. Tulsa was closing in; I had run as ragged over a town as I ever have and I needed fresh looks, fresh experiences and a new story to tell.
My good friend Clint “Chewbacca” Chew from the Chili’s days called me out of the blue one day. He said that he had just been hired as a kitchen manager for a place called Planet Hollywood and that I should look into it as they were on a hiring spree.
Planet Hollywood started as the movie-themed answer to Hard Rock Cafe. I had heard about and seen the concept being blown up on TV, knew about the celebrity owners Ah-nold, Sly and Bruce. Watched footage of the grand openings featuring Hollywood’s A-list and the blues band headliner fronted by none other than WIllis himself.
I sent them my resume, not believing that they would hire a kid living in Tulsa toiling away at an unknown bistro. Yet, a phone call is what I got. I was to fly to LA to meet with the Director of Operations. The day before the flight I went sky-diving with some of the other workers at Full Moon, then closed the restaurant, not leaving until 3am. My flight was at 7am and I didn’t dare miss it so I stayed up all night, rose, dressed in a suit and flew to LA.
Once I arrived in LA, I was instructed to go to the Admiral’s Club and meet up with John. There were three other candidates there to meet John (one who would eventually become my GM); when John came out, we were told that we each had 15 minutes to interview.
As I entered the room, John gestured for me to have a seat at the table across from him.
“Tell me about the Full Moon Cafe”
“125 seat bistro concept, 3 full dayparts, live music, best place in town if you’re asking.”
“Why Planet Hollywood?”
“Tired of living in a small town – ready for the big time.”
“You seem awfully cocky.”
“John, yesterday I jumped out of an airplane, then worked a closing shift and didn’t sleep because I didn’t want to miss the plane. If I’m cocky its only because I cheated death so there isn’t anything you can tell me to make me upset” Then I disarmed him with a smile…
Somehow, I got the job.
A few days later I received a phone call from their HR department and was told that I would train in either Phoenix or NYC. Ma’am, I politely told the HR person at the other end of the line, send me to NYC and you have me for life. I had spent too many days camping in AZ as a young man, and was tired of rattlesnake wind and road runner sun. I got my wish, and found myself on a flight to Manhattan, NYC, NY.
Once in NYC, I decamped from the plane and into the night air, plotting my next move. I hailed a cab. The cabbie placed my gear in the trunk and then sped toward our destination, clutching the radio mic to his mouth, speaking a mish-mash of Persian, Arabic and who-knows-what-else. He would glance at me in the rear-view from time to time with a cock-eyed look, then back to the road as we barreled down the freeway. Over the Brooklyn bridge. Twisting down into the City. Finally in front of Planet, at the old 57th Street location we found ourselves. The driver unloaded all of my bags in front of the restaurant. I paid him and said hey man, thanks. He looked at me, paused as if unaccustomed to polite behavior, then spun and entered his cab and sped off to parts unknown.
I stood here, finally, at the crossroads of the world.
I didn’t make a move to enter the restaurant, unsure of my next move. I was parked on the sidewalk as a rube, waiting to be taken advantage of. I glanced to either side, feeling the weight of being in this city, of arriving but perhaps not yet being worthy.
“Hey”. I heard someone say.
I climbed down from the reverie in my head, and looked for the source of the sound. It was a large man perched in front of the doorway to Planet.
“Hey man – I think I’m supposed to be training here,” I responded.
‘What’s your name? I’ll check with the Manager.”
“Ok…wait a sec”
I stood there as he went in to the building, hoping that he would come back at some point. Soon, he did with a manager named Sean in tow.
“You’re late”. I would soon recognize this as typical abrupt NY speak.
“Yeah, my plane was delayed and then it took forever to get here”.
Finally: “Ok follow me”.
We picked up my gear and then he took me on a walk a block over to an apartment building on 58th, across from Essex House. He gave me instructions on how to get upstairs. I carried my many bags of belongings upstairs to the corporate apartment and passed out.
The next day I reported as ordered for orientation. The day was spent filling out new hire paperwork, receiving a training schedule and listening to the things I should and shouldn’t do. The following days were spent in the kitchen and we (my fellow trainees and I) followed a routine of learning recipes and prepping sauces, of learning how to portion chicken and cook burgers. We then rotated to the front-of-house, moving through the different positions: front door host (bouncer), front desk host, busboy, server, bartender. It was at the front door host position that I encountered the great Samuel L. Jackson, who was about to blow up huge from his performance in Pulp Fiction but who I knew from his astonishing performance as Gator in Jungle Fever. He was walking by, another famous face in NYC, while I gawked. He smiled and said hi, then walked away and joined the masses who traveled by our front door every day.
The days rolled by, spent learning and reciting facts and figures learned with my nights spent walking through the famed city, seeing landmarks only viewed 3000 miles away on television. Empire State Building to Central Park, from the World Trade Center to Times Square.
One day, the receiving manager came up to me and asked if I wanted to go to a clambake. I didn’t know anything about what a clambake was (I just knew that it was an east coast thing) but was willing to extend my experiences in NYC as much as possible. There was to be 3 of us going to this thing but, come Sunday, as I waited in front of the restaurant, the receiving guy was the only one who showed. He apologized, saying that the other person, his assistant, had to bow out. He then mentioned that we should go pick up our ride.
I was confused, thinking he had a car but then remember that a lot of people in NYC did not. Too expensive to own and park. We walked around the corner and there it was, a battered red Ford Bronco. We climbed inside.
“WTF is that smell?”, I asked.
He looked rather sheepish at me, then replied, “Oh that. Yeah. The meat company we buy from uses it as a hot shot delivery vehicle”. “Hot shots” are last minute deliveries that the vendor hates because either they screwed up or the client screwed up. Regardless it usually turns into the salesperson convincing a surly driver into a fast drop off across town. I looked into the back where the rear seats would normally be. Instead there was an expanse of flaked red and rusted silver metal coated in many spots with what looked to be dried dark red liquid. I knew instantly what it was, but had to ask:
“Is that blood?!”
He shot a glance over his shoulder, shrugged and said “yep”. What we were smelling was the dried remnants of beef cuts, pork shoulder, sausages, offal that had leaked from bags or boxes. Evidently refrigeration was not something they worried about for such short and fast deliveries
So there I was, a captive in this god awful smelling, rusty red beast barreling towards upstate New York. Except we never made it there. In these the days before GPS, smartphones, internet, we had to rely on his scribbled directions written on an old produce invoice.
Which were wrong.
We drove on.
“Pennsylvania State Line” read the sign to my right.
Are you shitting me?! Where the hell are we? These were the thoughts going through my heads, but I said nothing. Not being from here I didn’t want to make assumptions.
10 minutes later we pulled over into a gas station so he could call his friends. Turns out we went about 90 miles out of our way and would not be making the clambake in time. I just wanted out of the slaughterhouse-smelling red beast. We decided to turn around and head back to Manhattan, stopping off at Hard Rock Cafe for a late lunch. You would think that he would offer to pay for my meal after blowing my day off on a wild clam chase, but no.
Oh well, if you don’t have adventures I guess you have nothing to write about.