This edition of TedBook has a guest author.
Ashley Strutz is a member of the wait staff in McMillan’s Dinning Room, at Roche Harbor Resort on San Juan Island. This is a memoir she wrote last year to honor her friend Lori.
Restaurant people are a strange tribe, and the members of Roche Harbor are no different. The cooks are the hardened generals, and the wait staff are the privates and sergeants, doing battle on the culinary front-lines. We are comrades, soldiers, grunts. Constantly under the enemy fire of complaints and ten percent tips, we grow close, even when we annoy each other.
Last summer we watched as the life bled out of Lori, our friend, comrade, and fellow soldier, from stage four pancreatic cancer. We would cry in the back, standing at the Micros computer screen. We would put in food orders, wipe tears on the sleeves of our white button downs, and go back on the floor with fake smiles plastered to our faces.
At the same time there was a feeling of excitement and expectancy at Roche Harbor last summer. This was due to World Cup soccer, and the summer staff that came from all over the globe to work our short, but insane season.
South America dominated the kitchen. We had Marci and Thiago from Brazil. Hector and Caesar from Chili. Andrea and Santi from Peru. And of course the crazy Argentinians, Carla, Walter, and Alejandra. For the wait staff we had BooBoo representing England. She is a long time islander, and one of my closest friends. She hails from London, as I once overheard her say to a table she was waiting on. There were a few Aussie’s, some Eastern Blocker’s from downstairs, and the rest of us were rooting for the U.S. Despite cultural and language differences, we all bonded last year like never before.
The World Cup became a balm against all of the chaos, pain, grief, fatigue, and stress. It was something to talk about, other than the thing that was constantly preying on our minds. A distraction, with its own kaleidoscope of emotional triumph and adversity. My family and I would record games during the day, and watch them late at night after work.
We wanted the U.S., and England by default since Ireland didn’t make it, and that is where my husband is from. We cheered for every African country, because talk about overcoming adversity. We loved the young, earnest Japanese team with new-wave haircuts. We loved Argentina for Diego Maradona. We hated the arrogant French, and the German’s for being a well-oiled, efficient team with no personality. We hated Portugal for being prima donnas, and poor sports. It was the most time I had spent with my husband and two teenagers in a while. It became our summer nightly ritual to wait until we were all together, so we could eat popcorn and watch hours of World Cup soccer until two in the morning. I relied on those moments like a crutch, because for a brief period I would forget I was trying not to grieve for someone who was still alive.
For an insufferable week before the Germany vs. England game, BooBoo was running around work chanting, “Two World Wars and One World Cup, Doo Da, Doo Da.” It got to the point where it was constantly looping through my brain. It even floated into my sleep, a soundtrack to my restaurant anxiety dreams. I couldn’t wait for that goddamn match to be over with, so I wouldn’t have to hear that inane chant again. It was ironic that as much as BooBoo and I talked about the World Cup that summer, it was the only game we watched together.
We were all taking turns staying with Lori as she was progressively getting sicker. Losing her fight to a bastard of a disease. BooBoo and I stayed with her after her first round of chemo. Lori was pretty out of it, and watching her suffer from the chemo crapshoot was a horrible thing to witness.
I felt like a doctor dispensing all of her medications every couple of hours, while BooBoo entertained and distracted us with trashy magazines and funny stories. She was keyed up about the big match that was on at six thirty in the morning. I knew she wanted to watch it live, but staying with her sick friend was more important. We talked in hushed whispers while Lori dozed on and off in an oxycontin stupor. Somehow, as sick as she was, Lori still managed to insist we watch the match live in the morning. She was like that.
I woke up in the dawn light, gave Lori another round of meds, made strong black tea, and woke BooBoo up at six fifteen to watch the match. We were hopeful, and BooBoo cried as the English players were led onto the field holding the hands of children. It was surreal watching this intense, emotional game while our friend was dying in front of our eyes. In my slightly delusional state from two hours of sleep, I projected this hope that if England won, Lori would miraculously be okay. But England didn’t win. BooBoo cried again when they lost, and I cried with her, but it wasn’t really England we were crying for.
Lori passed away shortly afterwards. In the photo above she is surrounded by her friends… BooBoo must have been taking the photo, because she is absent. Here is a photo of BooBoo and Ashley in happier times.