I worked at this restaurant a few years ago that didn’t really try that hard to live up to the standards of good hygiene as outlined by the New York City Department of Health. When I first started working there, sure, it was an old building, and yeah, you’ve got to expect to put up with a certain amount of filth as a New York City resident, but some corners of the place represented more of an insect sanctuary than an actual establishment where people paid money to be served food.
But whatever, the money was decent enough that I was able to put the grossness out of my mind somewhat. And there were perks to working there, like free ice cream, free soda. I love drinking free soda from a soda fountain. I’ve always wanted my own personal soda fountain, ever since I was a freshman in high school, on the first day of class, I had this history teacher that told us there were a few water fountains located throughout the building that dispensed Arizona iced tea or Coca-Cola instead of water, and, being the naïve and gullible idiot fourteen year old that I was, I bought the lie completely. When I eventually found out that I had been fooled, I could never shake that insatiable thirst for an unlimited amount of free soft drink.
And even though I’ve yet to meet anybody with their own personal soda fountain, working at this restaurant was the closest that I’d ever come to having that dream realized. Regardless of the bad moods of certain customers, or how crazy the kitchen became during an especially chaotic dinner service, I’d always be able to sneak in ten seconds or so to fill up a Dixie cup with a mouthful of Mountain Dew, or root beer, or orange soda. (I never touched Pepsi, not even once. I’m a Coke man through and through.) That’s all I ever needed, really, not a whole serving, just enough for a satisfying mouthful.
That’s the problem with bottled soda, you have to drink the whole thing in one reasonably timed-out sitting. Unless you have access to your own soda fountain, of course, you’re not really able to get just a sip of soda, with the perfect amount of carbonation, at just the right temperature, whenever you feel like it.
But after a few weeks, people started looking at me funny every time I went in for a drink. “Don’t you guys like soda?” I’d ask nobody in particular, wondering if my coworkers were super health-conscious, or maybe diabetic. I just couldn’t figure out why, apart from serving it to the guests, I was the only one making any use out of our soda fountain.
Finally one day another waiter pulled me aside. He said, “Hey Rob, you must really like soda.” And I said, “Of course I like soda, who doesn’t?” But he continued, “No, it’s just that, you must really, really like soda to be drinking so much out of that machine. Don’t you ever think about why nobody else touches it?”
And yeah, like I had already said, I did wonder why nobody else was indulging in what I had considered one of the only benefits of being a full-time waiter at a pretty mediocre Manhattan tourist-trap. “I just figured that, I don’t know, you guys are all watching your weight?”
“Please,” he went on, “And you never notice the busboys dumping all of that bleach down the drain in the morning?” Yeah, now that he mentioned it, I guess I was at least partially aware of the bleach. But up until that moment, I’d never questioned it. “They put the bleach down because the pipes are all moldy and clogged up, but they won’t pay anybody to replace the system. You ever catch a whiff of that barnacle smell when the ice bucket gets low?”
But it got worse. “Come here,” he brought me over to my precious, precious soda fountain and winced as he lifted up the cover behind the Seven-Up label. Right underneath the surface of what looked like such an inviting piece of machinery was one of the grossest things I’d ever seen: dozens upon dozens of cockroaches, little medium-sized ones, frightened by the sudden exposure to light, running around in ribbons of brown as they made a ridiculous effort to slink back into the shadows.
“The syrup leaks. This machine is a piece of shit. There are roaches everywhere.”
And yeah, that did it for me. I’m sure that most other restaurants and fast-food places have to have better standards of cleanliness, but I’m not going to lie, it’s still a little hard to drink fountain soda. It’s one of my all-time happiest pleasures that’s been irrevocably ruined by that one motion, my coworker lifting back the curtain to reveal the disgusting innards of a poorly kept up soda machine. What a dump.