Robin Williams lived in Tiburon, CA and shot various films in nearby San Francisco; the most famous one was probably, “Mrs. Doubtfire”. He started his career as a comedian here. I remember first seeing him on the show, “Happy Days” which inspired the spin off show, “Mork and Mindy” when I was a child growing up in Maryland. I never imagined that I would someday move to the Bay Area and adopt it as my home. I followed Robin Williams’ career for most of my life and was impressed with his talent, humility and sensitivity. I only briefly met him once, but the meeting was synchronous and memorable.
Catering work was physically exhausting, but interesting. Wedding receptions were particularly stressful and hilarious in an annoying way. I had to carry monstrous trays of hors d’oeuvres, chilled vodka spiked oysters and spicy mango prawns were the most popular and would quickly evaporate in a small crowd. I had to constantly replenish my tray, briskly weaving through drunken or obnoxious crowds, while maintaining the elegant poise of a ballerina.
Being a server in a catering company is different from serving in a restaurant; there’s more pressure and chaos, because the events often represented once-in-a-lifetime milestones. At one particular outdoor wedding, the father of the bride kept looking for Me specifically, he didn’t bother the other servers, he just honed in on me. He wanted all of his guests, to eat ALL the food we had. He kept grabbing my elbow to guide me to his already full guests, while referring to me as, “Shrimp Girl”; it was a ridiculous situation. Prawns aren’t shrimp and I wasn’t a 30 yr old girl.
In most servile customer service positions, staff aren’t expected to be pretentious, but it’s an unstated requirement in catering. The standard uniform is a pressed, professionally dry cleaned: white shirt, black pants and tie, (I learned how to tie a tie because of catering). You’re expected to memorize the elaborate menus, full of posh terminology and gourmet ingredients, all with a subservient smile. During my first introductory week of working, (for a different catering company, which I’ll rename, *MCGalls), I was yelled at by a perfectionistic manager there because I didn’t place the silverware exactly right. They used rulers to measure the space between forks and spoons! How anal retentive. After being shouted at, I quit that company at the end of the shift and joined, *Tiny Foods Catering.
Catering servers are like roadies, we create from scratch; rolling tables like wagon wheels, stacking chairs until they look like Leaning Towers. We stack and unstuck, re-dress them in frilly white cloth with silk ribbons tied at the back. We balanced ice sculptures, lit candles, cut wedding cakes and barbecued without proper culinary training. We were the front line pawns that smiled under pressure because the client is “always right” especially when they’re obnoxiously wrong. Sometimes a friendly bartender would smuggle us mostly full bottles of wine if we helped him load his truck at the end of the gig. Then we’d hang out together at someone’s house for our own after party with leftover hors d’oeuvres. It was like being in a theater troupe, most of us were artists: photographers, visual artists and fire dancers who attended Burning Man every year, (I never went, I missed out on the real BM, now it’s full of $$$Elites).
At a political fundraising event, I encountered Robin Williams and Peter Coyote. I didn’t speak to Peter Coyote. I was kind of rude to him actually. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe I was trying too hard to not notice that he was famous so I ignored him. At certain events, like political ones, no one hardly eats. They’re there to gather, co-mingle and conspire. So my tray remained untouched, heavy with tiny morsels of food. Peter Coyote had to flag me down for me to come by. I can’t remember what he said but he looked hungry. I still pretended not to recognize him.
I had a different reaction when I saw Robin Williams, I wanted to see and be seen by him. I didn’t worry about his reaction, I had a natural sense of trust. Not so with Coyote or the majority of celebrities. Maybe it’s that I assume most famous people have huge egos; I think that they expect everyone to be their groupie. I don’t want to appear star-struck so I chose to not acknowledge them at all. But when I was walking back towards the kitchen and I saw Robin Williams backstage I smiled immediately although I felt surprised and slightly nervous to run into him. He seemed to be patiently waiting for the cue to go up on stage. His head was bowed humbly. He saw me recognizing him and made eye contact.
I said, “Hey.”
He said, “Hey.”
It was a brief moment of connection. The simplicity and mutual mimicry had a sweet quality. Then it was his turn onstage, he went up the steps, entered the bright lights and the audience clapped enthusiastically. The beginning of his speech was the end of my shift, luckily I wasn’t part of the clean up crew. Changing out of my ugly uniform was like super hero costume change in reverse, as soon as I unbuttoned the strangling collar of the borrowed gray, prison guard uniform and took off the pimento-stuffed olive patterned tie; I felt beautiful again in my own clothes and chosen skin. It’s interesting that so many customer service focused jobs, require a uniform. It’s not humiliating enough to: constantly smile, pick up the trash of customers, and deal with the power tripping antics of bourgeois fools, you have to wear a ridiculous costume to verify your servant status. Only the privileged get to wear their own individuality and especially the status of wealth through their name brand clothes.
A few nights later, I watched a Robin Williams movie that I’d never seen before, “The Final Cut” c2004, a sci-fi film about recording memories. I won’t give away any significant spoilers, but there was a scene of amazing synchronicity for me within it. Robin Williams’ character was lying down in bed, beside his love interest in the film, played by Mira Sorvino.
She said, “Hey.”
He said, “Hey.”
It was Deja Vu, a perfect duplicative moment that I had just experienced in real life. I wondered if he thought that I’d seen the movie before meeting him, but it was pure coincidence.
I was sad to hear about his passing in 2014; it’s another suspicious death in my opinion. Why the sudden trend of celebrity suicides via hanging? It doesn’t make any sense. Wherever you are Robin, I wish you well.
San Francisco had close ties to career of Robin Williams | The San Francisco Examiner
— Read on www.google.com/amp/s/www.sfexaminer.com/news/san-francisco-had-close-ties-to-career-of-robin-williams/amp/
*MCGall’s and Tiny Foods Catering, are both fictional names.