Probably THE single most important part of working third shift at East Side Foods was our eventual takeover of the sound system.
When I first started working there the sound system was tuned to the radio, and not a great station either. I have mentally blocked those first few months, but as I began to learn more at the store beyond mopping and stocking I was introduced to the world of deep frying and the “deli” area. This was a big deal. It also gave me legitimate access to parts of the store I had never really ventured before.
As I was being shown one day how to carefully prepare the chicken and frozen fish and shrimp (all huge sellers at bar time) for deep frying I spotted for the first time where the stereo that controlled the radio was. I mentally noted it as I learned how to toss the chicken in an extra special coating of delightful breading. I have a feeling that there were several health violations potentially going on, but let’s let that part go.
Being designated to cover the deli meant that you took orders from drunks at bar time for anything they could get that was deep fried. It was also an “advanced” position. Not only did you need to be able to handle yourself around the fryer (dangerous), you needed to be able to handle the drunks (annoying). “Yeah, give me a shwimp boat, junior… and don’t be cookin it too hard now!” or “Ok ok ok… I want 8 deep fried chicken breast and fries and some…”
“No man, we have these options.” I’d point to the sign of our combinations and alert them that we were NOT Burger King and wait as they processed things and usually reordered within reason. When they didn’t, I suggested they visit another establishment or order just what they saw here. Usually they would come around. If not I shut off the deli light and walked away. I became a deli hardass, although I could be coaxed into making special arrangements for valued patrons and nice drunks.
Ah, memories. At any rate, one day back in the deli while I was waiting for a batch of frozen fish patties to cook, I wandered back into the deli “prep” area where there was a metal table (where the magical chicken salad and other pasta lunch type salads were intricately prepared) and shelves of containers… and the radio. It was a slow night and I decided I had had enough of the crap station that was on and emboldened by months of observing the owners schedule (in at 6:45 like clockwork) I decided to change the station.
The stereo was old, real old, it had a dial for the station tuner and there were WAY more wires coming out of it than seemed necessary, but I braced myself and turned it down to WMSE (Milwaukee School of Engineering radio station). The store filled with static momentarily and for a split second I thought I’m fired for sure before the soothing tones of “The Monk Of Punk” show filled the air.
I had done it!
I grabbed the microphone we used for in store announcements and “cleanup on aisle 4” announcements and said something stupid like “Welcome to East Side Foods, your Rock and Roll Grocery Store!”
From that moment on my existence at the store was changed forever.
Rory and Paul who were working that night I could hear whooping from the front of the store obviously delighted. I came up front and they were like DUDE! That’s frickin cool man!
And it was.
Each night after that we would wait until the owner’s son did his final tallies and closed the office for the night and waved goodbye to us all and left, then I would go back to the deli prep area and spin the dial to the agreed upon station. We had democratically come up with a method of alternating the station to each of our favorites. I listened to WMSE and Paul liked the Album rock station and Rory liked the Metal station and Jimmy liked the Top 40 (which I wasn’t a big fan of, but was still better than the awful station that the owner’s son played all day). We never touched the volume for fear that if it was noticed that it had been changed then the jig might be up for us. Before 7:45, a prudent hour before the owners arrival, we changed the station back. No one was the wiser, but listening to good music made the mopping and stocking more palatable and tolerable.
I have a few distinct memories of listening to the radio there in the aisles of the store.
During one of Paul’s (Paul Beck whom I have written about before and whom I helped get a job there) radio station nights, as I was mopping the aisles, they played “The Allman Brothers – Whipping Post”. I was blown away. I don’t think I had ever heard that song before and I literally stopped in the middle of the aisle, leaned on the mop and listened to the whole thing. It was amazing. It was the lengthy Fillmore East version, not the studio cut. I guess they could play longer songs at that time of the night/morning.
My other distinct memory was hearing the premiere of the Couch Flambeau song “We’ll Go Through The Windshield Together”. “NO WAY! They are playing Couch Flambeau!” I was heard to shout as I ran to the aisle to stand directly below one of the speakers.
Couch Flambeau was a local band that I loved and had actually seen a few times. They are a riot. I just checked WIKI for Couch Flambeau, apparently Jay Tiller is now a Wisconsin Sherriff?! Wow.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Couch_Flambeau The Wiki mentions WMSE too!
I bought their “Curiosity Rocks” tape from somewhere, could have been the used record store where I got the “Mammal Inset Marriage” vinyl that I still have today. It was the kind of tape that you play for people to get their reaction if nothing else. Most either loved it or hated it.
For more info on Couch Flambeau, also check out this site for posters and articles. Very Cool! http://www.milwaukeerockposters.com/couch.html
We kept the radio rotation going until one day I discovered a different way to have music at work. This was the second turning point in my time at East Side Foods. The secret was a tool that was there the whole time that I had even used a few hundred times and never even thought to use until one fateful night…