I watched history from inside Gretchen's. Once, I saw the deciding game of the World Series that determined for the first time in history, a World Series Championship pennant would hang in a Canadian stadium.
Once, I watched voters determine if my country was whole. They voted that the country should remain whole-just barely. After the vote, I saw Jacques Parizeau give a career-ender of a speech in which he described the difference between the Yes and No issue as being "money and the ethnic vote." The next day, he was looking for work. I think he might even have applied to Gretchen's as a line cook.
I watched newspapers flood the restaurant carrying news of one of the most vile criminal trials in Canadian history. I won't print that name, but I will print the names of his victims-Leslie Mahaffey and Kristen French. Because I'm a fairly well-read type, people would ask me questions about the legalese and other unfamiliar terms, such as "What's a ligature?"
I watched the Canadian two dollar bill gradually disappear from circulation, and a silly looking coin take its place. I remember the debate-should we call it a "Twoonie" or a "Dubloonie"? Twoonie won out.
Terms like that help you feel your Canadian identity. Go down to just about anywhere in America and ask them what a "Twoonie" is. They won't know. Bask in your Canadianess. In most places, you can feel the same way by asking someone to explain the two-line pass rule.
I stood miserably behind a bar when my hockey team made their last good playoff run, and ended their season playing a game seven that never should have happened, but did thanks to a penalty to Doug Gilmour that should have gone to Wayne Gretzsky. LA couldn't even put up a half-decent fight against the Montreal Canadians. Swept, four games to nil. The Leafs could have taken Montreal that year. I know they could have. The "What the Hell are these guys doing here" factor would have had them off guard alone.
The 100th Anniversary of the Stanley Cup. Coulda had Montreal and Toronto in the finals. That's a classic hockey rivalry that hasn't been played out for decades but nooooo.
On the other hand, perhaps there is some hidden value. Montreal and Toronto have a fierce rivalry which is just one step away from being a pure English Canada vs. French Canada grudge match. Perhaps, with all our national unity concerns, it's best that this series never came to pass.
I can't really offer any unique insights on to these events because I worked in a restaurant at the time. My opinions and feelings probably would have been the same no matter where I'd been. I don't remember where I was when I heard the Berlin Wall was coming down. I'm not the driving force behind any historical event, nothing you're ever likely to read in a text book or even a newspaper. These events didn't need me, and they went on regardless of what I thought.
Someday someone might ask me what it was like to be alive when I heard the Berlin Wall was coming down. Or that the Gulf War had started. Sorry, these events, like for many other Canadians, and people around the world, happened in another galaxy. I'd think we all felt rather small and unimportant in comparison, at least I did. I don't mean to devalue the work and the blood spent by people in these events, only that life went on for me. It was changed, it was in ways too subtle to be noticed.
It's important not to get or give a distorted version of history.
Sometimes you forget that when you work in a 1950s/1960s theme diner.
For example, our Dead Office became obsessed with this whole fifties/sixties thing. Initially, it was cute. You had the uniforms, the chrome and vinyl seats-juke boxes at every table. You had a menu with your standard diner fare-hot dogs, chocolate shakes, sundaes. These things are gimmicky, but they are sound ideas to build a restaurant around. And when this was done, the restaurant was successful.
In the later, deader years, things got out of hand. They became obsessed with making things "more 50s and 60s." That's when we got the ridiculous new uniforms, nametags, dropped all the popular songs from the jukebox that were later than 1969. The logic was "We don't care if people are dropping a quarter in the jukebox every two minutes to hear Black Hole Sun, it's not from the 50s or 60s. We're going to put in a song by Bobbie Goldsboro instead."
So, nothing post 1969, huh? Well, I guess this means we can't cook things in the microwave. After all, portable microwaves weren't invented back then. I notice nobody came up with the idea of reinstating that quaint little 1950s American customs of not allowing black diners to eat alongside white diners. But it would give the restaurant such an air of authenticity!
I remember a teacher I had in university cautioning us that "History is not the past." History is the human race's clumsy attempts to form a coherent narrative out of a time that no longer exists. Sometimes they do it on the flimsiest of evidence. Sometimes archiving the past accurately is impossible. And recreating it is impossible outside of science-fiction.
So, let's not bother trying, okay?
Also, let's face it. The 1950s that everyone remembers is a fiction from movies like American Graffiti, Grease, and TV shows like Happy Days. And the 60s? My favorite quote about the 60s is from the former editor of New Music Express. He described it as "the decade of idiot Messiahs."
Occasionally we'd be encouraged to dress like we were from the 50s or 60s. So I wanted to come in dressed as Charles Manson-hey, he's from the 60s! Or are we only keeping the romantic vision of the 60s?
Like I said, it's important not to get a distorted view of history. Ugly truth: a lot of people didn't drive cool cars in the 50s, unlike the gang of Happy Days. A lot of people had it really rough. 99.9999% of the women were housewives by the age of five, and they had no Internet connections and the movies were censored for saying "heck." People from the late 90s would be miserable in the 50s.
History lesson is over.