Monterey’s 1st WAITERS’ RACE

“A waiter never runs!” she said


He feels honored by her comments as she admits she had known from the beginning that he was a winner.

It is mid June, the year is 1994. About two dozen waitresses and waiters from numerous local restaurants are waiting for “The first Monterey Waiter’s Race” to start. The coordinator explains to the participants the route to be taken. The starting point is where a sun-tanned lady in a red outfit is playing with her sunglasses, being right at the south-east corner of the Pacific House, famous for its Memory Gardens,(1) a stone throw from the newly dedicated Stanton Museum.

Those waiters, who have signed up for the race, are asked to follow the coordinator along their race-and-obstacle-course-to-be. The start is at “the path of history,” heading away from the Double Tree Hotel toward the bay, along the Pacific House’s full length and past its north east-corner. Here they have to take the steps down onto the plaza. The competitors are expected to follow the Custom House’s(2) whitewashed stonewall heading north-north-east before turning into the garden area. The waiters’-race-course passes through the Custom House’s gardens before re-joining the historic path leading back from the Custom’s house, to the starting point at the south-east corner of the Pacific House. The last stretch is a slalom between the young trees planted between Pacific house and plaza.

It is a warm day. The summer heat goes little noticed in the fresh ocean breeze unless one finds a secluded spot, protected against the Ocean’s cool air. Occasional white caps on the inner bay are a good indicator for the wind’s strength. So is the light red dress of this one lady, blowing up above her knees. While her big eyes hide behind dark shades it’s obvious that she is checking out the features of each runner.

Back at the starting line the race-coordinator addresses the runners: “The objective is to carry a tray, with a half-filled water pitcher and two glasses, and a napkin and silverware, through the course.”

The organizer adds: “Each of you will run by himself. The one with the best time shall be the winner.”

This sounds simple. The first a tall young waiter takes off to a fast run. At the steps leading onto the plaza, the wind blows the napkin and silverware off his tray. He has to stop to collect the lost silverware at the foot of the steps. He is agile and fast. Yet as he passes through the gardens of the Custom House his water pitcher tips over. He keeps on running. Cheered on by his friends and coworkers he finishes the course in a record setting time. His white waiter’s jacket is soaked with water.

He isn’t the only victim of the tipping water pitcher. One at a time the race-participants get wet as the pitcher on the tray tips over in the attempt to beat the first runner’s time. A wet chest here, a wet back there, water running off the tray and dripping off white shirt sleeves.

More than a handful of running wait people have so far attempted to get the better time. One waitress even put the napkin, silverware and the two glasses into the water pitcher. Pitcher in one hand, the tray in the other on fast Nike running shoes she does a remarkable fast lap of the course, faster than anyone before her. Some onlookers think she cheated.

Now it is # 9’s turn. He rolls the silver into the provided napkin, places the water pitcher into the middle of his tray, the two glasses next to it with the napkin between glassware and pitcher. As he walks over the starting line he raises the tray above his shoulder. The tray follows him like a shadow balanced on three fingers. He walks fast. Down the steps he has to go slow. The tray vibrates in the wind. Turning left into the gardens he walks faster. Reappearing from the Custom-House garden one can see him being tempted to run.
As the air lifts the tray of his fingertips, he slows down. The plastic pitcher with water stops dancing. The plastic glasses lean against the pitcher. The corners of the napkin are waving in the wind. But the weight of the silverware keeps it in place.

#9 walks fast, as fast as he possible can, without spilling anything on his tray. He does a perfect slalom between the alley of trees. He does not miss one obstacle on the zigzag-course. #9 gets to the finishing line.

He knows he is much slower than any of the previous runners. He looks at his tray and proudly shows the judges that not one drop of water has been spilled and every item is exactly where he put it at the starting point.
“Why didn’t you run?” someone asks.
“It was either run and spill or don’t run and don’t spill a drop!” he replies. The competition is now, after #9, divided into two groups. Some try to run, they do not care about spilled water. The others are more careful not to spill too much water. The sun is burning down. It’s hot. On the course the Pacific air is still causing havoc. One participant’s tray blew of his hand, as his speed plus windspeed set it airborne. Sweatpearls run of a broadcaster’s face as he puts the news of the Waiter’s race life onto the air.

#9 stands in the wind shade, baking in the sun, just one of many waiters who came to have some fun and games. Two waiters in kitchen uniforms amuse the onlookers with a clown show.
The event reaches its peak with the handing out of the prizes. #9 gets the first price in Monterey’s 1st Waiter’s Race. It’s a dinner for two and a one-night-stay at the Double Tree Hotel. Asked if he knew that he had won by the time he reached the finish line, he answers “No I had no idea but I was happy with myself that I didn’t spill any water on my tray!” The lady in red grabs all his attention saying, “A good waiter never runs!”
Turns out she is from a magazine and wants to know more about #9. He feels honored by her comments as she admits she had known from the beginning that he was a winner.

The dinner for two comes in handy, so does the hotel room after dinner. And as she leaves in the late morning, she promises to write about him. 1994 was a good year and let me tell you, June was hot.

1. Memory Gardens, a famous spot for weddings in downtown Monterey.

2. Custom House, oldest custom building in California, dating back to the days when Monterey was the Capital of California.

by helmut schonwalder