Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Best View in Town

53 By The Sea
Dining Room

Good shot of our view...the buildings to the left are Waikiki, and the mountain is called Diamond Head.

The exterior of the building...valet parking only.

So, the above pictures are stolen shots of the restaurant I work at, a place called 53 by the Sea.  It is so named because it pier # 53 on this pier.  It is in a part of town called Kaka'ako, which is just down the hill from where Kyle and I live, which is in Makiki.  For some perspective, it is probably only a mile away from downtown Honolulu, and about 2 miles away from Waikiki.  It is not in a main strip, like most of the restaurants here.  Instead, you have to drive through a slightly sketchy part of the street, where some rundown docks are and where some of the homeless come to congregate, before you arrive.  However, it is kind of like a beacon in the rundown-ness of its neighborhood, as it is the majestic looking structure that just begs for photo opportunities.  It cuts an impressive figure.

Once you step inside, it continues to impress.  If you want more information about the menu, or more pictures, you can go to either of these following links to find info like this:



If you go to the Yelp site, click on photos to scroll through.

It's a pretty amazing spot and i feel lucky that I got a job there right away.  The reviews have been great, and we are busy every night.  The management is a bit scared to book us to capacity, as these first three months are crucial in the word of mouth sort of way.  However, once we have been open another month or two, I am sure our business will pick up even faster. Let me backtrack though a bit and start from the beginning.

After only one day here, Kyle and I were hitting the Internet/craigslist hard, applying for jobs at any decent looking restaurant we could find.  Some people are surprised when they hear how fast we found these jobs, but I think it was just all about saturating the market with our resumes.  I was hired by 53 nine days after landing here.  I had even found another job before that, working at the Hawai'i yacht club.  However, after my first day there, it was clear that I wouldn't be making great money, and I had heard enough "tales" from the girls training me about the management to give me great hesitation.  She would assure me that it was a great place to work, but then there would be another story of their massive mood swings or manipulations.  So imagine my great relief when after my first day there, the head of HR called me to offer me the job at 53. I didn't think I had it after my interview, b/c I felt underdressed (I was wearing a cute top and jean skirt, but the girl applying next to me was WAY better dressed), and b/c the general manager is impossible to read.  His name is Shige, he is Japanese, and smiles are rarer than cold days in Hawaii.  So I figured I was going to have to keep looking, as the Yacht club job would have only been part time.  But I got the job, and they wanted me to start immediately, so I did something I don't usually do.  I quit the yacht club after the first day.  I was that employee.  However, I have no regrets.  I think I clearly made the right decision.

The first week there with training was EXHAUSTING.  I was training crazy hours (a sign of things to come) and Kyle and I were moving into our new place at the same time, and I was discovering that just because a job is in walking distance, it does not mean it is an easy commute (see: previous mentions of the beastly hill). I was sooooo tired and my feet were soooooo busted after that first week.  Remember, I hadn't waited tables since pre-Iraq, so my body was also not prepared for the physical toll that serving takes.  I was used to cushy desk jobs where I surf the internet and find new ways to stay awake.  Now I was waiting tables at a restaurant where there is little time to take a break, and if you wanted to, there are next to no places to grab a seat.  The management is very concerned with appearances, so though I am surrounded by gorgeous couches and chairs, I cannot sit in them ever.  Add to this a 1.7 mile commute there and back, and in almost full uniform, and it was a rough first week.  However, we eventually got internet so I could figure out some shortened routes with the help of the bus, and my schedule started to even out a bit more.  Heck, I'm only working 40 hours this week instead of my usual 50, and I had two days off in a row last week!!  My feet are adjusting and my body is getting used to the physicality of the job.

As for the work itself, fine dining is kind of tedious. It is basically being an incredibly gracious server, hoping your few tables order well and tip better, and in between all of this, tons of polishing.  Polishing silver, polishing glassware, polishing champagne buckets, etc.  We spend sooooo much time polishing.  We get in 3 hours before our shifts start, and one hour of that is devoted to polishing your station.  We then spend at least 1.5 hours after our shift polishing all the freshly washed silverware and glassware.  If you had a good night financially, it can be worth it.  But heaven help you if your night sucked, b/c the polishing feels extra insulting if you aren't making very much.  I feel pretty fortunate that I have been making decent money.  Not amazing money most nights, but enough that as of right now, I am not worried about getting a second job.

Most of my co-workers are pretty great.  Actually, really great.  I've never met a nicer group of people outright.  I think it is the Hawai'i way, b/c at Kyle's job, they are the same.  There are a few people who aren't so awesome, but it is possible their lack of hospitality has only been highlighted by the extreme kindness of the rest.  Our management team is mostly Japanese.  Oh, i should mention that the restaurant is owned by a Japanese company and our head chef (and most our cooking staff) is Japanese.  AND, the building has an upstairs with private rooms and two chapels for weddings that cater to the Japanese.  But, we are an Italian restaurant with Hawaiian and Japanese influences.  Interesting, huh?  Anyways, every manager but one are Japanese and it has its own quirks.  They are all extremely helpful and for the most part, not at all intimidating.  However, Shige, the general manager, is intimidating enough for the rest of them.  They dress impeccably and are incredibly useful when you have a table that speaks very little English.  For instance, I have already waited on a famous Japanese pop start and baseball manager, and with the help of the managers, gave them great service.  Heck if I know who they are or what their names are, but according to management, they are very big VIP in Japan.

The food is expensive and I have tried next to nothing on the menu.  The chefs do cook a family meal every day, so I have had a lot of great versions of curry and various rice based dishes, as well as some truly excellent dumplings and soup.  I will take the first family member who visits me out to dinner here as a treat to both them and myself.  It will probably be Mom and Dad, so start drooling over the menu now, as I do daily.

As of right now, I have no plans to leave the job.  There are still some new restaurant quirks that I won't go into detail about, but that are annoying and that I would love to see go away.  Kyle got a second job at a Dave and Busters, which is supposedly great money, and if it sounds like that would pay better, I would consider going there and only working a little at 53 because of those quirks.  However, once we have a car, my commute won't suck as bad, and it will make the time I devote to the job seem way less, so maybe I'll just ride it out.  I mean, as you can see above, you can't beat that view.  I stare out the window every day while I polish and just soak it all in.  It is a stunning view and a perfect piece of Hawaii.  And, on Friday nights, the fireworks they do in Waikiki are visible, and I swear it will never get old.  So get your butts down here and we'll have a great meal with a gorgeous view, and maybe even learn a little Japanese.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Abduction and a Dog Named Max
***Warning: Incredibly long blog post***

                                                            (Max at Ala Moana Park)

Hello all!  I think it was past time that I blogged again, since I have been BLISSFULLY with internet for over a week now.  Moving to Hawaii on a prayer and a dream has led to some harsh realities, such as the inconvenience of no internet combined with the inconvenience of no car.  Now, normally, no car is no biggie, if you have internet, b/c I can look up bus delays or (grumble, grumble), construction snafu's right by one's place of employment that prevent convenient partial bus rides home at midnight and instead force one to walk 1.6 miles (at least .7 of them up an incredibly cruel hill) after working a long shift with no sitting.  BUT, not having internet or a car makes everything really, really hard.  When I didn't have internet in the past, I would drive to the nearest coffee shop, get a cold beverage or pastry, and use their internet.  Or go to the library and sneak some hours in there.  However, with no car and no way of knowing where the library is, there is no stolen hours of internet.  There are two Starbucks at the bottom of the hill and a couple of blocks down, but who wants to lug that laptop back UP the hill?  Not me!  Kyle could, as he is a pro and has carried a Japanese folding screen up the hill for our apartment (another post to come).  Anyways, having neither was incredibly hard and provided me with a seriously grumpy week that forced me to eventually gain some serious perspective.  Also giving me perspective?  Internet and actually making some decent money at my new job. Just to give you an idea of how desolate I was without the internet, here is how I felt before we finally got it:

We are getting settled right now, enjoying our new apartment even with it's lack of furniture/furnishings.  We are cooking even, making do with a frying pan, a cookie sheet, and a wooden spoon!  Kyle made turkey meatloaf last night and I made broccoli cheddar chicken (mimicking our favorite Cracker Barrel dish) tonight!  That has been fun, and has felt like we are finally starting to live a small piece of the dream we imagined for ourselves.  The cooking may have involved a doggie dance party to the shuffle on my ipod, and a scenic view from our tiny, but effective lanai.

Kyle has developed a hard core addiction to the Goodwill nearby.  We found a fantastic collectors plate of Missouri (the kind you would see advertised at the back of a cheap magazine) and we plan to hang it in honor of our roots.  People here are fascinated with where we come from...I get asked that by customers at the restaurant I work in all the time (another future post...the job).  They love to hear that I came from a landlocked state in essentially flat terrain to a mountainous island surrounded by ocean and more ocean.  Other finds from Goodwill by Kyle:
-Multiple sets of chopsticks...Asian food (to no one's surprise) is extremely prevalent here, so we eat a lot of noodles with our many sets of reusable chopsticks.  Juli, you need to get your behind down here and experience the most Japanese place ever after Japan.
-A Tory Burch wallet for only $3.00!!!!  This is a gift for me and I am soooo excited.  For those who don't know, Tory Burch is a fashion designer who has a signature logo and I adore all things Tory Burch even though I can afford none of it.
-A plastic pitcher for my grape drink
-An adorable tray and dog food dishes that make the constant water spills of Luna not such a messy prospect

However, I digress.  I meant for this post to be mainly about the story of Max's terrifying afternoon the Saturday before we flew out.  I know Mom mentioned it, and I'm sure you have all heard a version of the story, but for posterity's sake, I wanted to get down my own telling.  As you all know, it has a happy ending, but even now I sometimes look at Max and get filled with the same helpless panic I felt that afternoon, thinking about not having my dog here on this adventure with me.  Enjoy the drama!

The Saturday before leaving promised to be a perfect one.  I woke up on the most comfortable couch ever with my dog tucked in my arms, and was delighted to see a toddler and a young lad as my treat for not sleeping in.  The family and I were going to Soulard Farmers Market, one of my all time favorite St. Louis destinations.  Emily knew I wanted to squeeze in one last trip there before I moved to a land where the backyard can feel like a farmers market, and bless her, she made it happen.  The whole gang went, and we enjoyed mini-donuts, gelato, cinnamon nuts, and random banjo lessons.  I got ingredients for the two dishes I was going to cook that night for my friends dinner, so it wasn't even a trip made in vain.

After the market, I had to say goodbye to Mom, Dad, and Sarah.  It was really hard.  Harder than I wanted to admit at the time.  Even now, I think about the most random instance (like playing Mario with Sarah or helping Mom and Dad with Sunday dinner) and I get a little teary.  At the time, I was not thinking about how Max was interpreting this.  He had spent the last few weeks watching me pack up my life, never to see it again, while also seeing me less because of the obscene overtime I was working.  He then watched as I (and mom) spent a frenzied Saturday packing and running around and loading up a car with all he knows and finds familiar.  Then, he gets to a house where he has never known permanence and has to watch as some of his favorite people drive away.  I should have known better and I should have taken him with me.  Brandon was in town and wanted me to run an errand with him, and only minutes after a painful goodbye with the family, I was cavalierly leaving Max behind in a house that was not his.  Brandon and I ran his errand, and because it did not take very long, we decided to grab some taco's at a place nearby.  As I play this day over and over in my head (and I did, constantly, in the hours Max was missing), I can think of so many different scenarios that should have happened that would have prevented the whole debacle.  For instance, Brandon offered to take me and my stuff (including Max) over to my friend Shari's before we headed out.  No small feat, as I had over 200 pounds of luggage, and Shari lived completely OUT of the way.  Shari also offered to come get me early and my stuff and have Brandon pick me up there.  Or there was the option that Mom, Dad, and Sarah could take me over on my way out of town.  So many different options, but because I have a terminal case of not wanting to put anyone out, even when they want to be put out, I declined and chose instead to wait until after I was done with Brandon to worry about it.  Emily would later say that maybe this needed to happen so that I could start to learn to lean on people and have them serve me.  I think she was right.

Brandon and I pulled up to the house, Joe leaving as we do so for destinations unknown.  The door was wide open and as we walk up, I saw Emily sitting on the stairs.  She sees me and immediately starts to talk and cry.  My mind went to a number of places, like, "Did Noah break his arm?  Was Mom, Dad and Sarah in a car accident?  Is there something wrong with the baby?"  As many of you know, I have a predilection to go to the catastrophic scenarios first, but am almost always proven wrong; so as I was thinking all these things, I was also sure that it couldn't be that bad.  However, for me, it was.  Emily said a lot of words, but all I remember is that she said that Max was gone, they have looked all over the house, and he hasn't been found.

Now, let's pause before I get any further.  We all know Max.  We all know that he is not a wanderer.  He is not the dog that runs off.  He is no Trissy, no Bacon, no Sadie even.  He may bum-rush a stranger with his mean-sounding bark, but he is just as quickly back at his humans side.  Max has no fascination with the strange and new unless it is a new couch perch or a new human lap, or some new food he can mooch.  So to hear that he is missing, I can't help but go right back to my catastrophic standard of thinking.  Clearly, my dog was not lost.  He had not wandered off.  But what else can you do in a situation like this except go through the motions like he had?

When Emily told me my little guy was gone, I literally lost the air out of my lungs.  Poor Brandon and Emily had to deal with the bulk of my hysteria.  Mostly, I think I acted numb, but when I allowed the thoughts of Max, scared and alone, to enter my head, I just started sobbing.  All I could think during those hours was of how I had failed my dog, and of how he must be so terrified and desperate to get back to me.  I mean, we all know how he acts when I leave the car for 3 minutes, so I could only imagine he felt as hysterical as I did, but in a dog sort of way.  Emily told me she and Joe had looked everywhere in the house and had started canvassing the neighborhood.  I, for some reason, imagined he maybe had gotten hurt around the house and couldn't walk.  But sadly, a quick look outside did not reveal that.  I felt helpless and needing something to do, Brandon and I started walking around the neighborhood calling out his name.

As I was walking, I simply was filled with hopelessness.  I know that in situations such as these, one needs to be as optimistic as possible.  But I know Max (as do all of you).  He is not the dog that runs off.  He is not the dog that wanders aimlessly.  He is the dog that may go five feet away from you to sniff something, but then is almost immediately back at your feet begging to be picked up.  I had no faith whatsoever that he would be found a few blocks away.  I did think it was possible that he had been taken, either by a do-gooder who would drop him off at a shelter, or by a ne'er do well who saw a free dog.  I also considered strongly the possibility that someone had hurt him for fun, possibly provoked by Max barking at them, as Max is wont to do.  However, in any of the scenarios I thought possible, there wasn't much I could do to find Max if they were true.  So canvassing was the only option.

In the midst of all of this, Shari called to see when I was coming over.  I was so upset I couldn't get the words out properly.  She initially thought I may have been laughing.  I'm so lucky though, to have friends and family like these, because the instant she was able to ascertain what had happened, she, Dani, and Kyle immediately headed over.  By the time they had arrived there, it had been almost 45 minutes and Brandon and I were back.  They immediately headed out to start asking neighbors.  Emily had to keep being a mom at this point, and poor Noah woke up to find the adults around him serious and at times, crying, with a dog missing.  Through it all, Emily was able to make a flier with Max's picture and his information, as well as a reward being offered.  The amount was not specified, but I remember thinking I would give all of my Hawai'i money just to have Max back.

After hanging some fliers at Schnucks and other places, Brandon had to leave for a prior appointment, and so I headed off with Dani, who much like Brandon, kept giving me reassuring words.  I resented every single encouragement, to be honest.  I know that they had to give them, and if they had said anything else, that would have been worse, but all I could think was that if we haven't found him by now, the small bit of hope was fading.

**Sidenote-  We had attempted to call shelters, but it being the blasted weekend, got nowhere with that.  Piece of advise, if you are going to lose an animal, do it on a Monday.  I was fairly convinced that I was going to be waiting until Monday to see if Max had been found.

Dani and I headed down many of the same streets by foot, continuing to ask those we saw if they had seen a small poodle head that way.  These two sweet little girls (probably about 10 years old) had been riding their bikes and took up our cause, asking people for us.  As Dani and I headed back down Ferguson towards Emily's, they rode up to us and said that someone said they saw a small dog running towards Olive (in the opposite direction of Emily's) a while back.  They pointed to the house where this person lived, which was just around the corner.  Though I could not imagine Max running away from familiarity at all, I couldn't ignore this lead.  The house was part of a 4-plex, and so hoping we were knocking on the right door, we knocked where the girls told us to.  We knocked on the screen door, and could see that the main door was cracked open.  As we waited for someone to come up, b/c clearly they were home, Dani noted that it smelled strongly of maple syrup.  I agreed, but in my head I was thinking "my dog is missing, you think I care about maple syrup smells?"...how weirdly wrong I was.  No one ended up answering, and I just figured the sweet little girls must have mistaken whom they spoke with.  We continued down the street to go to another block. While we were on foot, Joe was driving around as well as Shari and Kyle to see if they could spot him a few blocks over and hang signs.  Emily had the kiddo's and was walking around as well.

I think by this point, over 2 hours had passed since I learned the news, and over 3 hours since he had gone missing.  I was at a complete and utter low.  I determined as Dani and I rounded the corner (past the gooey hole) that I was done searching for today, and all I wanted to do was go sit in a bathtub and cry for hours.  I mean, I would have rather heard that Max had died in an unfortunate accident than imagine that he was scared and lonely and that I would never find him and he would never know why he had been abandoned.   I do not mean to minimize what others have gone through in terms of panic and loss, but those few hours he was missing were some of the worst hours of my life.  Dani and I started approaching the house, and saw up on the corner of Crest and Ferguson, Emily and Shari and Kyle (and kids), with some guy.  They started yelling for me, saying they had Max, and I could see it was true.  I am sure I was quite the site, running in my flip flops, crying hard, desperate to see him and not daring to hope it could be true.  But it was.  There was my little dog, apparently safe and sound.  Emily dashed off with Noah real quickly, to get to an ATM for the reward, leaving Lucy in the stroller with us.  Jeremiah (?), I had learned, had called Emily to say "I think I found your dog"...and then to inquire about the reward.  She threw out a random number, $200, and apparently, he sounded pretty excited by this.  They arranged to meet at the corner, and not wanting to get my hopes up, Emily waited until Max was actually in hand before trying to get me.  While we all waited for Emily to get back with the reward, Dani, Shari and Kyle were chatting with Jeremiah, while I paid no attention, lavishing love on Max.  Now, when Max first saw me, he had no reaction.  And as I held him, he was very docile and subdued.  This had me a bit worried.  I mean, you have all seen Max's reaction when I leave the car for 2 minutes...full on panic until I get back and then crazy love bestowed upon me.  So the fact that after 3 hours of being somewhere he didn't know without me, and then doesn't even get excited to be reunited with me, was very strange.  I left my friends and Lucy with this guy to go get Max some water and to figure out if he was maybe hurt.  As I walked to the house, I noticed Max smelled strongly of maple syrup.  Now, before anyone claims that I was simply distraught and confused, it should be noted that Max, having hair instead of fur, takes on smells very easily.  This is a great thing when Tamara holds him, b/c then he ends up smelling like her (and she smells lovely).  So clearly he had gotten this maple smell somewhere.  Once I had him in the house, he was a bit more excitable and loving, but still a bit subdued.  I had a few moments with him before heading back out to meet with the gang.  At this point, Jeremiah had brought his daughter out, who was probably just around a year old, and Dani was holding her.  We only waited a few minutes more, making awkward small talk, and then Emily came back with the reward.  While we were waiting, I know for almost a certain fact that we witnessed Jeremiah doing a drug deal in front of us, and then after he got his money, he thanked us and started walking off, forgetting his daughter.  We had to yell after him a few times before he finally figured out what he had forgot.  It was fairly unreal.  As we watched, Jeremiah walked into the very house/apartment Dani and I had attempted to contact, the one where it smelled of maple and where someone supposedly said they saw a dog running in the other direction.   Max in tow, we headed back into the house to debrief all the events.

What I have decided happened (though we have no actual evidence of this, only circumstantial), is that Max greeted Joe when he got home with his usual yipping.  Joe and Emily visited with the door partially open, as it was a beautiful day, and Max decided to pee or go smell something really quick while he had the freedom (and since it wasn't me who had come home).  While outside, Joe closed the door and they went on with their afternoon.  Max, I am sure, probably came to the door and pawed at it, possibly yipping a bit.  But it is a heavy door and he is a small dog, so I am sure it would have been hard to hear him if you were trying to, and near impossible if you weren't.  Max probably went down closer to the street to see if he spotted one of his friends, and maybe even rushed someone to bark at them.  This is the point where he got snatched by Jeremiah, who saw an opportunity.  I am certain Jeremiah did not plan to take him, but rather, just saw a possibility when a full bred dog is without any humans around him.  Jeremiah then took him to his maple-smelling home and waited.  I don't know what Max went through while there.  There were a few kids that lived there, so I'm sure he was scared and possibly even sniped at one of them.  It is possible he was then physically reprimanded for that.  We all wracked our brains to try and determine what drug smells like maple syrup, but came up with nothing (I'm still convinced something must, in some version of it, like when people smoke meth or something).  I'm also positive that they kept Max locked up somewhere.  The house he was kept at is SO close to Em and Joe's, and we were yelling Max repeatedly outside of that house, so I'm sure they had to keep Max contained so he wouldn't bark in response to where we could hear him.  I do not know what they would have done with him if we hadn't posted signs with a reward being promised.  I am sure I do not want to know.  I am just grateful that it only took $200 to get Max back.

In a strange way, I feel a bit vindicated that I know my dog so well, I know he wouldn't ever run off and that if he is missing, it is because he has been dog-napped or hurt.  I feel so bad that he (and I, and Em and Joe, and my friends) had to go through this.  It was incredibly stressful.  I would later learn that Kyle pretty much figured Hawai'i was off the table if Max stayed missing.  I actually was not thinking this.  I figured if he had not been found in a shelter by Monday, I would have to fly out on Tuesday without him and make Kyle deal with the mess that would have been my emotional state.  I was picturing scenarios where I would have to spend my precious resources to fly back home a week later because he would have been found, and go through the complex health certificate process again.  Or the scenario where I can never own a dog again because I was never able to find out what happened to Max and it had destroyed me.  Thank heavens none of these scenarios played out.  For the next week or so, I would find myself overcome with gratitude that I had my dog in my arms.  I was also very scared to trust him with anyone else, not letting them take him out to go to the bathroom, and things like this.

His dog-napping made an excellent story to tell our friends and acquaintances that night at the get together held for Kyle and I in honor of our departure.  Our friends dinner was delayed, but still delicious.  Max got extra hugs and love from everyone around us.  And now we are settled here in Hawai'i, the traumas of last month a mere memory.  Max is laying on my air mattress while I type this at our table, probably resenting the pull of the computer that keeps me away from him.

If you have made it this far, congratulations!  This post ended up being significantly longer than I anticipated.  I am sure I have left some things out, so if you would like me to verbally recall this epic tale, I am more than happy to, as it has a wonderful ending.