Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bikes and Bars

Ahhh, the Golden Handcuffs. They have been on and off my wrists since I was 21. From high volume, downtown Denver bars to the proverbial neighborhood dive bar in Western Oregon, I have slung drinks in almost every imaginable atmosphere. Sometimes it was as one of three jobs and a full classload. Sometimes it was my night job that required an 80 mile round trip commute which I did everyday for three years because the money was so good. I have taken a few short breaks from bartending that have always been required in order to regain my tolerance of people, but I seem to always fall victim to liking a lot of cash in my hand at the end of every shift. And I love having any given trail virtually all to myself on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays when the rest of the “normal” world is fighting traffic to get to their 9 to 5. Taking time off is never paid, but as long as my shift is covered, I can plan as many hiking or biking trips as I want. When I lock the doors at 3AM, my work is done. No stress of meeting deadlines or emails to answer. I have met amazing people from all over the world and from all walks of life. Many of these people will be my "forever" friends whether we live in the same town or on different ends of the planet. I thrive on the fast, paced, intense nature of the job and the environment can be fun and exciting. I was in the middle of the Democratic National Convention and the World Series. We made more money those weeks than what the majority of the customers we served make in a month. I have carded NBA players and gotten hookups to events and concerts that were unbelievable and unforgettable. I have worked with and for some of the best people I have ever met. Tips that have been thrown into jars and shoeboxes have paid for airfare and travel expenses to epic destinations to climb, hike and bike.
Sounds great from the outside. Make a ton of cash at night then run, bike, climb, swim, hike, travel or just chill by a lake all day. The work is fun, easy, entertaining and there are minimal corporate games to play. Bartenders have it made, right? Not this one. Not anymore anyway.
For those who have never served or bartended I don’t expect you to relate as well as those who have worked customer service or service industry jobs, but I have to let the floodgates open here. Most of the antics that I can even recall, I now look back upon and laugh. In this industry, one develops a shell that has to be completely impenetrable to rudeness, harsh words, constant demands, creeps and stupid people. You learn to take nothing to heart and I can list a million ways to mess with the annoying customers to just get through “those” nights. Mr. Fingersnapper, I saw you a long time ago, but I will walk by and ignore you 25 times before I will get your beer.  Ms. Slur-my-words, there is a reason I am not going to give you another double Jager. Each time you ask me why, I will make up a different story, because you won’t remember in the morning anyway. No, Mr. Creepy, I don’t want your number for the one-billionth time. Oh, you want mine? Sure, its uhhhhh, 999-1234. What it doesn’t work? Hmmm, I have no idea why!
I have been threatened to be killed by a local drunk or two for cutting them off after 12 hours of drinking. Every vulgar name you can call a woman, I have been called. I have worked in 3 inches of drain water on the floor for over 9 hours on a Friday night because the bar was too greedy to lose the sales, close for the night and get the plumbing fixed. I have jumped between numerous whiskey-drunk meatheads who think they need to kill each other in the middle of the dance floor and I have been subpoenaed to testify several times regarding one incident or another. I have heard the same stories from the same people more times than I can count and even after I finish the story for them, I can expect to hear it a couple more times over the course of the night. And I have heard the Kid Rock/Sheryl Crow song “Picture” more times than any human alive. I am lucky enough to hear it not only on the jukebox, but even karaoke too! See why the shell is necessary? But, really, these are all just antics that drum up a few sarcastic jokes. What follows is the heavy artillery that is beginning to penetrate my "shell":
The night owl lifestyle is not so easy anymore. I am tired of working while I should be sleeping. My personality doesn’t really click with being a day sleeper and in order to associate with the rest of the world on weekends, I have to get up early after going to bed around 3:30-4 AM. In my mind, sleeping all day is a total waste. So, I function on very little sleep all weekend and when Monday rolls around, all I can think about is my pillow. Inevitably, I have a million things that need done on Monday, so I don’t get as much sleep as I need. I have adapted to functioning on too little sleep, and its not healthy. And when I am tired, I am overly sensitive and irritable. My motivation suffers as well.
At work, my conversations are at most two minutes long. I am master of the quick-witted one-liners or the fake “act-interested smile.” This is a result of being in constant demand. Someone always needs something--a beer, an answer, a toothpick, turn the TV channel, give me change, etc. I have become so accustomed to attempting to tune out the same stories over and over again or having no time for a meaningful conversation, it seems my own social skills have evolved in a similar fashion. I often find myself making no time or having the patience to really talk with my friends and family. For example, I will text, facebook or email you, but for some unknown reason I think it takes too much time to dial or answer a phone call? Huh?  The sense of urgency to always be doing something and having no time to do it seems to be carrying over to my “real” social life and I find myself always seeking more depth in my conversations and interactions. Texts and Facebook are so empty and sterile and yet, I find myself communicating via those vessels far too much. More on this later for sure..
I have been in school enough years to have my doctorate. Seriously. I have changed majors and career goals three times. Each time stopping just shy of completing my bachelor’s. Why? I lost passion for what I was doing. I could make awesome money pouring drinks and bike, hike and climb whenever I wanted. I could not afford to not work and just go to school, so trying to balance the two took all my time. I would roll into class with my baseball cap pulled as far down as possible on about two and a half hours of sleep from working the night before and try to comprehend protein structure. And, in all honesty, I was dreaming of being on my bike in the mountains. 
This was not me at all. I went from Valedictorian, Dean’s List student to an adventure obsessed bartender who felt obligated go to class. My passion for biochemistry is still alive and that door is still open, but when I started mountain biking a year and a half ago, I knew my life would somehow center around it from then on.
Finally, I do not really fit into any social circle. I don’t get off work and hang out with the industry people and spend half of what I make at the bar. Finding the best Happy Hour in town is not my idea of an epic quest and I have no desire to take trips to go gambling and drinking with my friends on my days off. You won’t find me at work unless I am on the clock. I have plans made for training, riding, racing, trips, hiking and running in advance and inevitably, I do a large amount of it alone. Which is cool for the most part. I have adapted to doing my own thing for many years and it fits my personality. I am definitely a bit of a loner and I love the solitude of the mountains, but I am human and I am female. I don’t want to do everything by myself, but who can take a Tuesday afternoon to go ride 50 miles in the mountains? No one with a 9-5 job. And none of my co-workers are into it. Yes, I have been called an anomaly more than a few times.
So then the weekend rolls around and all my friends who share the love for biking and adventure have rides and things planned that I want to join in on. And I am unable to go because I have to be at work in the evening……See the pattern?
Relationships are even harder. Ask anyone who has dated a bartender. Opposite work schedules work for awhile, but one day you realize that your biggest form of communication with your boyfriend is texting at work because you are both home at the same time for only about two hours a day. And I find myself alone all the time, because the person with whom I most want to share all my epic adventures is at work. It takes its toll. Sad, but true.
Ahhh, but I have been sucked into bartending for too long. Why? The money. I am certainly not there for my health or for intellectual or social stimulation. But I am hitting the point where the money is not worth it anymore. Over the past six months, I have made a ton of changes to free up every possible dime to go towards my bike and getting to races. Material luxuries have never been of much importance to me, but now they are even less. I love the simplicity of owning next to nothing. I have what I need to live. I don’t drive a nice vehicle anymore. I live in a small apartment. The burden of unnecessary things is gone and I love it. Its called minimalism and although I kind of defaulted into it in order to have a nice bike and pursue my dream, I have always related on many levels.
The answer? A job in the cycling industry for awhile before I go finish my Biochem degree. I want to pursue my true love with like-minded people in an environment that intrigues and interests me. I need to explore this road because I sense a lot of opportunities awaiting me. I am more than willing to take the cut in pay. I will find a way to make it work on less money. I have been over bartending for so long. I did my time and paid my dues. I want to work with sober, motivated people and challenge myself to grow.
The golden handcuffs are coming off very soon. Nomadic will be a good way to describe me and the San Juan Mountains will be a good place to look for me this summer… J

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