Life in the Dish Room Is More Dangerous Than It Looks

Last week, after a long day of work, I came home with scalded toes.

That’s right, scalded toes. It’s a sensation I never thought I would experience during my undergraduate career, but the life of a dining-hall employee is full of painful little surprises.

It goes without saying that my line of work isn’t very glamorous, but it can be amusing. Unfortunately, most students don’t know what dining-hall employees must endure to bring you the clean plate on which the vaguely Asian-style daily special is served.

You’d never guess, but that spotless porcelain tray beneath your sandwich all started with an e-mail from my boss over spring break. It is a testament to my social life that — along with checking my grades — learning my work schedule for next quarter consumed my thoughts over vacation. All it took was a foray into my ACS mailbox to reveal my frightening fate: In the lottery of dining-hall assignments, I had drawn the dish room.

I know, I know: Life is really what you make of it, and all that glass-half-full crap. But after a long day of classes, it’s pretty much impossible to walk into a small room containing nothing but a swamp of greasy food scraps with a smile on your face.

At the sight of the dish room, whatever shred of optimism I’d clung to before suddenly disintegrated. I trudged through the mustard-yellow doorway with head hung low, clad in a heavy hairnet. I couldn’t help it. All I could think about was the likelihood of one of my coworkers accidently gunning me with the wayward pressurized hose or me dousing myself in rancid hamburger water.

But there was no time to waste: The constant flow of dirty dishes waits for no one. Not rain nor sleet nor apocalyptic earthquake can stop the gustatory flow of thousands of hungry college students. So I sucked it up and approached the most stubborn of dish room challenges: cleaning the pans of white rice. After a couple of hours in the cooker, the chemical structure of rice apparently forms a bond with the metal pan. Something about the nature of the atoms involved. Being a literature major, I don’t quite understand the logistics of this process, but hours of grimy, wet research on the subject have me convinced that the rice can only be removed from the pan by blowtorch. Or, of course, 10 to 15 minutes of miserable manual labor.

After diligently scraping away the superhuman sludge on a number of pots, pans, dishes and cups, I sent them through the dish machine. To awaken the dish machine every morning, one must push several buttons, pull a lever and plead for 20 minutes. The dish machine is a fickle mistress — and she must be kept happy. If you don’t load the dishes in properly, she will spit them into the gutter, and they will clog the conveyor belt. If you don’t pick up the clean dishes, the trays will pile up until she’s jammed and refuses to work any longer. And if you don’t keep your queen stocked with detergent, she’ll screech at you in pained hunger. The machine — even on good days — emits a cacophony of clanks, hums and buzzes.

My only hope for sanity was blasting AC/DC. At the end of the conveyor belt is a shelf supporting my only form of refuge: a trusty boom box. So, as long as my coworkers aren’t looking, I bang my head to Rise Against or practice my glide to R. Kelly.

Sadly, this very same dance therapy was the cause of my poor little scalded toes. Apparently, steaming hot water was draining out of a spigot at the end of the dish machine, and had formed a steaming puddle right in the middle of my dance floor. As I slid my sneakered foot across the tile, hot water soaked through my shoe and seared my piggies.

You’d think a machine spewing hot water on the floor would be proper cause for concern; my manager, however, insists it’s supposed to do that. To prevent future burns, she said, I should keep a bucket there. Sure thing, boss.

Eventually, the clock struck 10 p.m. I took one last look at the dish room and tossed my dirty apron in its proper pile. I was done fighting chemical bonds and busting embarrassing moves in the dish room — at least for the day.

More to Discover
Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$200
$500
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$200
$500
Contributed
Our Goal