Monday, September 28, 2015

Anaheim Part V, The Absolut Last Call

On Thursday, I only had one meeting scheduled. It was going to be a day that is pretty nice to a hangover. And mine was certainly appreciative of the kindness.

In the early afternoon, as I was walking through the exhibit hall, I was stopped by a couple of guys who I didn’t recognize. Apparently, they were at the McFaddens party the night before. And while I thought the thing was a total rip-off, these guys had a great time. So, on the strength of that, one of them handed me an invitation to the “Survivor’s Reception.” It’s an annual party which is always scheduled for the last night of this conference. Entrance to the shindig is always by invitation only and I had never been invited. Before now.

The Survivors Reception is hosted by a large company that serves as a major sponsor and major industry player for the conference. It’s always held a few miles away at a swanky country club. As the invitation stated, the party boasts an open bar from 6:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. and “heavy appetizers,” which pretty much means I would be eating and drinking for free.

In some regards, this party reminded me that people never really grow up when it comes to being invited to a party at the cool kid’s house. It’s kind of exciting. At the same time, I remembered the many times that I crashed parties and ended up drinking all their booze, breaking their stuff, tormenting their guests, shitting in their Tupperware and wiping my ass with their pillowcases. I wonder if I would have been more polite if I had been invited. I think that I quietly wanted to receive those invitations, but maybe I had destroyed my reputation to a point where I was on some secret “DO NOT INVITE” list.

I arrived at country club at 6:30 P.M., a half hour after the reception started. The place was gorgeous. There were tennis courts, a giant pool, and a pristine golf course. The centerpiece to the property was a monolithic three-story Mediterranean club house with patios on the second and third floors that overlooked the first, ninth, tenth, and eighteenth fairways.

I found my way to the third floor ballroom and bar. There were already 30 or 40 people in the place, but they were expecting about 100 in total.

I made my way to the bar and ordered a Jameson and Ginger Ale and asked the bartender where the smoking area was. “Head out that door and follow the stairway down to the Wine Room Veranda,” he instructed.

It was a great place. Not so much a “Veranda” as an oversized landing where four staircases intersected, and served as a front porch to an impressive wine room, which was unfortunately closed for the evening. But it was large, had a terrific view and was furnished with some of the nicest outdoor furniture that I’ve ever seen. I decided that this would be my home base for the rest of the night.

While I was finishing my first cocktail and my second cigarette, I heard a voice from above. “I thought I smelled smoke.”

I looked up and saw a 55-ish-year-old man coming down the stairs with an unlit cigarette between his lips and a Bic lighter in his hand. “I guess this is the smoker’s lounge,” he said as he lit his smoke.

Over the next half hour or so, the two of us sat and made small talk and took turns making trips to the bar for more cocktails. Eventually, we were joined by a few small groups of people who were all looking for some fresh air and a smoke.

Over the course of the next hour or so, we maintained a core group of about a dozen people. The staff at the club noticed that we kept running back upstairs for more drinks, so they sent a waiter down to take care of us.

Juan Carlos spoke with a thick and beautiful Spanish accent. He was clearly new to this country and it was obvious that he loved his work and loved serving the guests at the country club. His crisply pressed black slacks, spotless white shirt, Black and gold vest and shiny shoes told the story of someone who takes great pride in his appearance. He was a true professional.

The English language is pretty complex, but the shifting of vowels, use of verbs and the fact that stress is placed on certain syllables makes it a wonderfully versatile and intensely accurate language. On the other hand, Latin languages, like Spanish, Italian and French sound so fucking cool. The end of each word flows into the beginning of the next word so beautifully that even small children, who are just learning to talk, can sound elegant while asking for more candy.

“But of course, It would be my pleasure,” were the flowery words that I heard from Juan Carlos every single time anyone asked for anything. Shit. This guy was so attentive that none of us were able to light our own cigarettes. Every time I raised an unlit Marlboro to my lips, Juan Carlos would appear out of nowhere with a flaming Zippo. “Allow me, sir.”

The Wine Room Veranda was definitely the best place to be. The people were nice, the jokes were funny, the service was great and the drinks were free.

So we continued to drink.

Juan Carlos was bringing cocktails as fast as our group could drink them. In exchange, we were giving him about $20 per round. By 8:00, he had made well over $250. I’m sure he was happy and the rest of us were more than satisfactorily drunk.

At around 8:30, someone decided to order cigars for our group, so Juan Carlos brought out a beautiful teak cigar box full of Gurkhas, Arturo Fuentes, Rocky Patels, Macanudos, Drew Estates, and Nubs. We all chose one and Juan Carlos scurried around cutting and lighting each of them.

As the wind started blowing, some of the people in our group started to complain a little bit about the cold. None of us were from this area of the world and figured that the temperature never dipped below 65 degrees. Well, we were wrong. The breeze was blowing off the golf course and straight at us and none of us were dressed for it.

The complaints were becoming more and more frequent.

Then, the suggestion was made that we should move inside, into the wine room. Someone asked Juan Carlos to unlock the door, but the answer was “I’m very sorry, but the room is closed and my manager will not let me open the Wine Room.”

This would not do.

I walked upstairs to use the restroom and saw that the reception was raging on. The music was loud, people were laughing, and everyone was drunk.

On the way back outside, I stopped at the bar and asked the bartender about the possibility of opening the Wine Room for us smokers downstairs. The answer was a flat “no.”

On my way back to the Veranda, I passed Juan Carlos as he was having a conversation with another employee. They were speaking Spanish to one another, so I couldn’t make out what they were saying. But it sounded as if the other employee was chiding our waiter for something.

In the U.S., and especially in California, we hire Mexicans to perform jobs that we don’t want to do. They pick our produce, clean our homes and mow our lawns. Sure, we pay them, but we treat them like shit. We might not even recognize it, but we think we are better than them.

In Mexico, homes are cleaned, and lawns are mowed by people from Guatemala. And Mexicans treat them like shit.

Juan Carlos was from Guatemala.

I was drunk, so who knows if my judgment was off or not, but I was positive that the other waiter was talking down to our waiter and I just knew it was because he was Guatemalan. I was pissed-off and informed the others.

They were pissed-off too.

After that, Juan Carlos’ tips increased to anywhere from anywhere from $30 to $40 a round. At the same time, our pleas to unlock the Wine Room became louder and were coming more and more frequent. Finally, Juan Carlos relented. “Let me see what I can do.” The he disappeared up the stairs.

A few minutes later, he reappeared with a single key in his hands. Slowly, he inserted the key into the lock and the large glass door opened. He moved swiftly inside and turned on the lights. “You may sit in here to warm yourselves, but please do not smoke in the Wine Room,” he instructed.

We all agreed.

At 9:00, we were informed that it was 9:00. We all knew exactly what this meant. The Survivor’s Reception had a hosted bar from 6:00 to 9:00 only. But we were told that we were welcome to remain on the property and continue with the party. The only difference was that we would now have to pay for our own drinks. We were all pretty drunk and we had all become accustomed to NOT paying for our drinks. None of wanted to start now.

That’s when I remembered that I still had the unopened handle of Absolut from the accident on the freeway. It was right where I left it, in the back of my car. I told the other about this and instructed them to order some club soda from Juan Carlos while I retrieved the bottle.

By the time I returned from the parking lot, the entire group was sitting inside the Wine Room. So I
stood outside the glass door and hoisted the giant jug of vodka above my head in triumph and then swung the door open. I was immediately greeted with a hearty round of applause and with a giant cloud of stink. It seems that while I was gone, everyone decided to start smoking their cigars INSIDE the Wine Room. There was no ventilation at all.


Juan Carlos brought out a tray with a dozen Collins glasses and two carafes. One filled with club soda and the other with tonic water. He also brought a small plate with limes, lemons, cherries and olives. What a great guy.

“Juan Carlos,” one of my drinking partners yelled, “please join us for a cocktail.”

“No no no. I cannot do that. I am working.”

The rest of the group insisted. And he finally abandoned his fight. “Okay, but only one.”

We all mixed up some cocktails, toasted and began to drink. It was at about this time that a man showed up at the door of the room. He was wearing a blue suit and carried a walkie talkie. He was also wearing a nametag that read:

Jim Weaver
General Manager
Food and Beverage

“Juan Carlos,” he said firmly, “may I see you outside? Please.”

Our waiter disappeared and we all broke into the song Dream Weaver by Gary Wright. But we changed the words.

“Ooh Jim Weaver
I believe you can get me through the night
Ooh Jim Weaver
I believe we can reach the morning light…”

A few minutes later, Juan Carlos returned to the room. He was no longer wearing his black and gold vest. “Ladies and gentlemen, I regretfully inform you that I will no longer be serving you,” he began, “I wish you all a pleasant evening as it has been my pleasure in serving each of you. Good night.”

With that, Juan Carlos was no longer our waiter. And he was no longer an employee of the country club.

The party was over.

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