Friday, November 4, 2011

El Norte Pants

They are happy because their pants fit.
I hate skinny jeans. I don't just kind of hate skinny jeans, I really hate skinny jeans. The kind of hate that is reserved for the Kardashians, Ugg Boots, and Vegans. I never quite understood why my hatred for skinny jeans was so intense until I was reminded by my friends, the Ridgways, of my El Norte pants. And here is how the story goes......

In 1998, I was living in Alexandria, VA and working at "Not Bucca" (name has been changed to protect Maggiano's) as a Banquet Sales Manager. Tired of sitting at a desk and  repeatedly explaining Family Style dining and describing what Rigatoni D was, I longed for the excitement of the dining room. After much pleading and even more sucking at the Banquet Sales job, I was offered a management position with Not Buca, a decision that would prove fateful years down the road. But I digress.

I entered Management Training with all the gusto of a bright eyed Iowan. The training was simple, spend most of your time working the different positions in the  FOH and BOH ("front of house" and" back of house" for those that are lucky enough to never have to use these words). This position training gave you a better understanding of each job and what each teammate employee went through, enabling you to manage them better, a" walk a mile in my shoes" type of training if you will.

As I entered the kitchen portion of the training program, I started first by watching the company video, "El Norte". "El Norte" described the tough conditions and the struggles that our neighbors to the south, the Mexicans, endured to create a better life for themselves as they came to States to look for work (I believe this video was filmed in the 70s). This population represented about 95% of the BOH staff. It was heart wrenching, but I watched and took notes and was determined to treat everyone with dignity and respect. As the video ended, I went to one of the training managers, Pappas, to get further instructions about my first day in the kitchen. Pappas was a big, fun loving Greek guy in his early 30s who specialized in wrestling co-workers, bear hugging co-workers and walking around with his hands in his pockets, that is until Ridgway (another manager) managed to staple his pockets shut on a day he appeared on TV to talk about Not Bucca. As we watched Pappas on live TV start to pontificate about the resurgence of Italian Food in the American diet, he leaned back, looked past the reporter, and put his hands in his pockets. And there he stood with hands in his pockets up to his second knuckle and an uneasy look on his face, as he discussed Southern Italian cuisine.......but I digress again as this is story about hating skinny jeans, not about how to break bad habits.

When I approached Pappas that day, I was full of optimism and eagerness to get started in the kitchen. But first he had to issue my kitchen uniform. As I stood in the managers office, he handed me a chef coat and a pair of checked chef pants. As I headed to the door, Pappas blocked my exit and asked, "Where do you think you are going?" I replied I was going to change. He stated, "El Norte, Baby. You change here, not everybody gets a warm bathroom to change in.". With that a small crowd started to gather near the office. Acting undeterred, I pulled out the chef pants, which appeared to be a size 4 toddler. I held them up for Pappas to see. His reply again, "El Norte, baby. Not everybody gets pants that fit, Princess." After managing to close the office door half way, I squeezed into my El Norte pants. As I emerged from the office, Ridgway and Pappas panned down at my feet, for there on my feet were my kitchen boots, then about 3 inches of sock showing, followed by about 4 inches of exposed skin and then just below the knee, my El Norte Pants hit. As they followed the pants up they had to look away. These El Norte pants were offensive and made hooker pants look like loose fit trousers. And there I stood, swaying back in forth, unable to tip over do the extreme tightness of my pants that kept me stable. As I "Frankenstein-ed" it down the stairs to the kitchen, I felt light headed and woozy mostly likely due to loss of circulation in my extremities. And then I worked. I'm not sure whether it was weight loss due to the kitchen heat or being in the weeds for 6 hours that made me forget about my El Norte pants and the numbness in my legs. When I got home that night I started to peel the pants off.  What I didn't realize then was that my El Norte pants were years ahead of their time, they were today's skinny jean. Sure, modern fashion has loosed them up and lengthened them to fall around the ankle and made them appear less vulgar than the pair I was wearing....but I hated them then and I hate them now.

Moral of the story: Skinny/El Norte jeans were stupid back in 1998 and they are still stupid today.

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