Fondue-ing It

On my right: Melysse, who isn't actually mad, her husband (anybody's guess to what he's thinking) and yours truly, staying class as usual.
Left to right: Melysse, who isn’t actually mad, her husband (anybody’s guess to what he’s thinking) and yours truly, staying classy as usual.

Fifteen days later and we up at Der Fondue Chessel have stuffed thousands of pie holes with cheese (“would you folks like our traditional blend of Emmental and Gruyère, or our chef’s blend of smoked and imported gouda?”) and chocolate (“Flaming Turtle is my favorite, we light it on fire!”). I have a burn mark on my right forearm, two skinned knees from kneeling down on the carpet to set up extension cords, several mystery bruises, cuts on my fingers from opening a trillion bottles of wine, a burned thumb from lighting countless Sternos, another cold, sore feet and a strong desire not to explain how to cook raw meat ever again.

For the first while, we warmed up to the apex of New Year’s Eve by serving around 200 to 300 people a night. We’d carpool to work, packing into someone’s car and already talking about what we were going to eat for lunch at the Timber Ridge cafeteria in half an hour. Landing a parking spot in the main lot was like finding an ice-cube in a glacier field — it’s there somewhere, but good luck finding it.

Dodging tired MILFS pulling carts laden with whiny children, foreigners dragging their snowboards tiredly along the ground and gaggles of gapers taking pictures of the spindly Christmas tree in Keystone’s faux Village, we’d eventually make it to the Gondola. There, we’d slip in through the ski school entrance, passing around the throngs of holiday shredders. Sometimes, an older fellow named Wolf scanned our passes; other times, no one did and we’d pile on the next gondola with a nod to the lifty, who either thought we were going tubing or was familiar with our jaded faces passing him on the way to the grind.

Up top, we’d stuff our faces and then change into our chocolate-smeared dirndls (for the gals) or chocolate-smeared lederhosen (for the dudes). Then, we’d spend the next hour waiting for the homeless shelter that is Timber Ridge to clear out so we could set our tables. Then, we’d whittle away another half hour looking in vain for our silverware (which was never where we left it), rags (which, although ordered, never came), red linens (which always were eaten by the black and green linens) and the Fountain of Youth (which I believe we could find if we could find everything else, too).

Then New Year’s arrived with a torrent of visitors that oozed through the streets like bubbling Gruyère. Around 600 of these jovial visitors joined us for the cheese-flavored mayhem at the top of the mountain. Our band of boisterous Austrians (literally, “Those Austrian Guys”) cranked out the polka jams, circling the rooms in between drinks, flirting incessantly with every woman who crossed the Fondue threshold.

“Sorry Andy,” I’d say, after careening sideways with a full tray to avoid a throng of sprinting preschoolers who had contained more corn syrup than a Coca Cola factory.

Andy winked. “I’ll be in your way again?” He said with a suggestive grin. And so on.

Usually, by midnight we’d have things more or less buttoned up and we’d be standing around looking tiredly at each other waiting to hear, “You guys can leave.” On New Year’s, midnight found us re-filling glasses of champagne for guests, staring longingly into their bubbly depths with way-too-sober eyes. Unfortunately for us Vail Resorts employees, alcohol had to be left out of the equation. We all swore we’d do something afterwards… but after almost three more hours of sorting rented silverware and lids, plunging into the dish pit (where piles of encrusted fondue pots and grill lids go to die) to tackle piles of plates bigger than Kanye West’s ego and running around the cruise ship-esque maze that comprises the cockles of the Outpost, the truth emerged: we’d literally been at work since last year, and it was time to go to sleep.

By the festivus of New Year’s, we’d been working 13 days straight. There were bad times — like when an older “gentleman” at one of my tables cut me off and talked down to me until I felt smaller than a half-eaten piece of macaroni. Or when one of our (my partner Carl and my) tables got a fondue fork (or something) stuck up their hineys and claimed very hotly they “didn’t know” substituting bison and shrimp for chicken cost extra. And then didn’t leave us a tip. Seriously?

Or when our tardy shipment of 1000+ ramekins finally came in, which was a small victory — until we (at 11 at night) opened the boxes to find them all individually wrapped and individually plastered with stickers. And not the kind of stickers that peel off with a glance, but the kind which, soaked in vinegar, must be scrubbed off energetically with steel wool in some sort of torture ritual. I put on gloves, thinking they would shield me from the poignant fragrance of three bus tubs full of vinegar. However the vinegar, like Matchbox 20’s “3 a.m.” or another insidious 90’s ditty, soaked into my very soul with a vengeance, infusing my dreams with its unforgettable odor.

And there were good times — like an epic hot tub/Cards Against Humanity/Christmas ham eating fest at a co-worker’s pimp ass aunt’s house on Christmas. Or when, on our 16th day of work, we got called off because of negative temperatures predicted for the evening. Yippee!  Or when Carl and I waited on nearly every VIP who came through and didn’t get fired, put our feet in our mouths or get fired with our feet in our mouths. Or when I’d pop out of the back and run into a familiar face — like my friend Joanna and her family, an old Starbucks customer or Mark, a friendly guy I’d met on the lift two weeks prior and who ended up in my section because, as he said, “the Universe wanted it to happen.” Or when one of our tables called our manager, Matt and wanted to add an extra $60 to our tip, redeeming our faith in humanity.

Now “The Stretch” is behind us and we have three days off — days in which we don’t have to ride the Keystone gondola, light our arm hairs on fire or pound the living crap out of the hot chocolate machine until it produces half a cup of drinkable liquid. And on Wednesday, we get to Fondue it again.

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