When I think of the early part of my freshman year at college, there is only one album that comes to mind: Sting’s The Soul Cages.
In June of 1990, I graduated from high school. After graduation there was a big party at one of my friend’s houses and even one of our well-liked teachers showed up to celebrate. I think perhaps he was just happy to be rid of us. That summer sped by. I worked at a neighborhood pharmacy during the day and hung out with my friends as much as I could at other times. I got a bicycle as a graduation present–something that would be of particular use at school–and I recall driving out to a bike shop in Westlake Village to pick it up.
Before I knew it, though, the summer was over and my parents and I (and my little sister, too, I think) made the 90 minute drive out to Riverside, California where I would be living for the next four years as a student at the University of California, Riverside. I remember unloading my stuff from the car and getting it setup in my dorm room. I remember saying goodbye to my parents. My parents didn’t buy sugared cereals at home, and for the first several weeks in the dorm, I think I ate nothing but Fruit Loops–four bowls at a time–for breakfast lunch and dinner. In part, I think it was a kind of personal rebellion; but in part it was a sign of new-found freedom.
Not long after I started, I got a job in the dorm cafeteria–a job that I held for the duration of my stay at the school, even when I moved into an apartment. I started in the dishroom, but by the time I graduated, four years later, I was doing computer work for them.
Nothing can bring back memories of those early days in the A&I dishroom like hearing Sting’s “All This Time.” The “dish-one” (the lead person on the crew) got to pick the music that was played in the dishroom, and this one particular lead would often listen to the new Sting album. When I hear that song playing (I played it just now) I am reminded of being at the unloading end of the long metal dish machine, taking out dishes and utensils in an endless stream as thousands of students ate their Friday night dinners. When I started in the dishroom, I’d wear blue rubber gloves because the dishes came out so hot, but it wasn’t long before I didn’t need the gloves. There were normally two unloaders, but I eventually got good enough to keep up with the machine even when I was by myself.
The best part of those Friday night dish shifts was the end of the shift. Picture this: you’ve been up since 5am, grabbing and early dish or custodial shift at the cafeteria. Then off to classes by 8am. Classes spread throughout most of the day, as I was taking 16 units. I began my college career as a physics major so in addition to some of the standard undergrad college courses, I had some math classes and General Chemistry as well. You come back from your last class, catch a half hour nap, and then head off to dinner with your hallmates, after which you disappear into the dishroom to take your evening shift and work until about 9pm. When we wrapped up work in the dishroom (which meant cleaning out all of the food traps, washing the floor mats and floor, taking out trash and whole host of other activities, we could finally punch out.
We’d then do one of two things. Either we’d go to see a second-run film playing in one of the lecture halls on campus (I remember seeing Dead Again once); or we’d head to a nearby movie theater and see a recent movie. Often times, we’d stop at Bakers, a local burger place that had burgers almost as good as In-n-Out (or so it seemed at the time). Escaping from the hot dishroom into the cool night air, and walking across the darkened campus on the way to see a movie was a kind of freedom I’d never known before, and I relished in it. And so when I hear “All This Time” play, it is those times that I am reminded of. There might have been other jobs I could have gotten during college, but the truth is, I loved working in the dorm cafeteria, and I especially loved working in the dishroom. I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
Once the movie was over and we’d make our way back to the dorm room, lay down to sleep, listening to Sting or David Benoit play (my roommate liked to play that stuff when he slept) and fall into some of the deepest, dreamless sleeps I can ever remember having.