I Was a Teenage Busboy

By ERIC ENGLUND | Aug 01, 2018

I played a dual role at the Surf City Hotel reunion party Saturday at the Beach Haven Moose Lodge in Manahawkin. While I was there as a SandPaper writer to cover it, I was also welcome to attend because I worked there as a busboy in the summer of 1970,  between my freshman and sophomore years at college.

Early that summer, I drove up and down the Island putting my name in, applying for seasonal jobs. Nothing much was happening until early July, when the Surf City Hotel called me and said there was a job opening.

The job of a busboy (make that busperson in today’s lingo) probably hasn’t changed much in the last 48 years. I was responsible for clearing off tables after a party finished eating, and then setting it up again for the next patrons. And at a brisk pace, because I know I could sometimes hear “move it!” when I was working at a more pedestrian speed.

I also had to fill the glasses with water, and check now and then for refills.

And I also had to hide that dreaded feeling in the early dinner hour when a family would come in with six children, the oldest one being 10. And all of them would get spaghetti and meatballs, calling for a massive cleanup job and wishing there were more red tablecloths.

I also sensed there was a caste system, in that the waiters and waitresses were what they were and I was just a busboy. So I simply did what I was told and stayed in my lane. Actually, as the summer wore on, the rapport improved and by the end of the summer, I felt free enough to joke around with the wait staff. Most of them were teachers working summer jobs, and they probably got their first intro to the restaurant biz by doing what I was doing.

One waiter was a football coach who often said to me, “Hang on to it!”

I am referring to the fact that I never mastered the art of using one arm to carry my tray of dirty dishes. I always used two hands because I didn’t trust my sense of balance. I was amazed how people could just glide up and down the floor using one hand to carry a tray piled high with entrees or dirty plates.

Another thing I learned very quickly was that there were very strict alcohol rules. For example, on one of my first nights, I was clearing a table when I saw some empty cocktail glasses. I picked them up to put them in the tray when I got reamed out. That was an extreme no-no – if you were a minor, the wait staff did those honors.

One of the occasional fringe benefits of a busboy would be if someone left an unfinished shrimp cocktail or steak, and since I worked up an appetite as the night wore on, that looked very appetizing. But I didn’t dare sneak a bite out on the open floor; I’d grab it in the kitchen just before the plates went to the dishwasher. But I sure hoped I wasn’t in the eyesight of owners Abe and Louis Portsline.

As you might imagine, weekends really kept me going. On some nights, I got rolling at 6 and barely had time to take a breather until after 10. Of course, that’s when the action really got going in the bar, now known as the Beach Club. The bar featured a Wurlitzer organ, with the player churning out saloon sing-along favorites. No wonder I went to bed sometimes with “Peg O’ My Heart” still ringing in my ears.

And there were some nights when I had a busboy hangover. That is, I’d wake up in the middle of the night thinking I had to set up a table. But then after taking two steps, I realized I was home and the table could wait and I could enjoy a few more hours of sleep.

Since this was my first regular summer job, the time really flew. Labor Day weekend snuck up on me, and now it was time to go back to school. When I came home from that last night of work, I remember sitting up late thinking about the fact that while my job had some shaky moments, it was a blast. I chuckled about some of the crazy things that went on. I looked at the clock and it was after 1 a.m., and then I exclaimed, “Why am I still wearing this white shirt and black bow tie!”

ericenglund@thesandpaper.net

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