Dad at 40

Fitness, Nutrition, Parenting, and Life

Archive for the month “March, 2016”

Losing my S!*% at Luby’s Cafeteria

So, I have been relatively quiet these last two weeks or so. It has been a busy time with South by Southwest in town. I will write more about that soon, as I have some really great stories to tell about my experiences this year. However, this story is about something much more personal to me.

Many of you may think this is ridiculous. Some of you may wonder why I even choose to eat at this restaurant. I have heard a ton of stories about it being a dinosaur from a bygone era. But, it was a dinosaur that I was familiar with. My mother would often take me to the theater in Harlingen, Texas and right after or before, we would stop to get a bite to eat at Luby’s Cafeteria.

To this day, my mother loves Luby’s. That is until yesterday. So, I relay this warning to you all as a courtesy. And before you go lambasting me about I get what I deserve for going there, please remember that a large number of people use Luby’s – especially the elderly who grew up with that food as a generational thing. This is why my story is so disturbing.

Yesterday, March 17th, I decided to join my mother and son at Luby’s. Was it my ideal choice? No. I prefer other food. However, in a pinch, it beats a burger. Now, the last time I went there, my food was mostly cold. I chalked it up to a bad day. The manager dealt with the issue and got me hot food. Bravo for him. But yesterday was a totally different story. Truly.

We get in line to get our food. My son went to sit with his little brother in a booth. As I am standing in line looking at what I want to eat, I glance over to the back kitchen area. I see a large, probably 6’2″, heavy-set guy with reasonably sized (and hairy arms) elbows deep in a huge vat of macaroni and cheese.I was immediately revolted. I pointed it out to the assistant manager. He looked back and turned to me and said that he was wearing gloves. Gloves! Ok, well, that was still gross, but gloves would make it better I thought. Then the guy stops mixing the macaroni and turns to wash his hands. No GLOVES!!!!

SO, I complain again. The manager (the same gentleman I met before in the hot food incident) explains to me that the guy washed his hands before and then mixes the macaroni and then washes his hands again. It was safe.

I am not going to lie. I was dumbfounded. I did not want to make a scene or embarrass my mother. So I told the assistant manager that if they were going to do something so disgusting, to do it behind the scenes and out of the view of the public.

I ended up not being able to eat my food. The thought of this guy elbows deep in the macaroni really grossed me out. I got a full refund on my meal and called corporate to complain. Corporate was dumbfounded. This was not our operating procedure they told me. They would report it to the area manager. Great. I did my part. About 20 minutes later I get a call from the manager at the Luby’s telling me how grateful he was for my feedback and that it would start a conversation about hand cleaning procedures. He also told me how gloves were not going to really make a difference and it was about hand cleaning. He then went on to list other things Luby’s made by hand and that they were proud of making things by hand. I seriously wanted to puke and I tried to explain to him that it was unsanitary. I explained my position that you can wash your hands and still have gunk under your finger nails. He simply said they would have a conversation about better hand washing.

I get it. I do not work in the food service industry. I was not trained in their specifics. But here is my inexperienced and non-food service educated response to them. HELL NO!!!

How about this? Let me really wash my feet well. Then let me mix up the macaroni and cheese with my feet. How about that? Pretty arbitrary? Right? No? I would probably be told by them that is ridiculous. And they would be right. Just as ridiculous as a guy elbows deep in a vat of macaroni!!! I am not sure if I am more grossed out by what I saw or what I heard. Rather than say we made a mistake and that vat was thrown away and that is not how we make our food, he actually told me they make a ton of food that way, they are proud of their hand made tradition, and they will improve their hand washing techniques.

Here you go Luby’s (some thoughtful feedback):

  • hand washing never quite cleans our skin because the water can never be hot enough to truly kill bacteria
  • to truly kill bacteria on our skin, medical specialists use betadyne (that red stuff) instead of alcohol or anything else – this is done to ensure a truly clean surface
  • how does hand washing prevent arm hair from falling off
  • is there truly a way to ensure that someone follows an exact protocol to wash hands
  • if a guy goes almost elbows deep in food, you would expect him to wash up to his biceps (did not happen in this case)
  • by being elbows deep in food, he had to bend over it, which means sweat, drool, dandruff, or anything else can fall into the food
  • how expensive is it to buy a large wooden or metal spoon (and that does not invalidate the made by hand mantra)

I mean, WTF. You see, the problem with this experience is it got me to thinking about the food we eat. It really grossed me out. I know that perfectly sanitary conditions can never be truly achieved. I am not foolish. But this blatant violation of my trust put that fact in my face. It slapped me around a bit with it and eroded my trust that restaurants make safe food (thanks to Chipotle and now Luby’s). It left me feeling very uncomfortable about what I saw and how my food is prepared at any restaurant. Generally, food is prepared out of our line of sight for this very reason. I am sure if we saw how horrible it looked, we would never eat out again. Yesterday was so difficult because Luby’s threw in my face those deep seeded fears that food is probably not prepared as well as I would hope it is. And while the manager was nice and thankful for the feedback, the poor dude did not realize that he simply made it worse by telling me that gloves were no solution and they would basically keep doing what they were doing.

My 76-year-old mother was grossed out too. She stated she would never eat there again. I am grossed out. I will never eat there again. My 18-year-old son is grossed out. He will never eat there again. My 3 month old son will never touch their food. Four generations of diners lost in one 30 minute period. And, I say to all of you, if you eat there…please stop. It will be fine until it is not fine. You may feel sick one day after eating there. All the equipment will be clean. All the food prep stations will be clean. Hand cleaner stocked up at all the washing stations. All inspections passed. History is great with sanitation. But just remember, somewhere…some guy is elbows deep in your food.

Gross…………………

 

 

What it takes to be a Good Man

This morning, my mother took a trip to California. As I was driving her to the airport, she mentioned my godfather was in the hospital.

Me – “Will he make it out?”
Her – “Yes, he will be fine.”
Me – “When the time comes, will I be expected to go to the funeral?”
Her – “No, we all know you don’t consider them family.”

So, some quick background and why this posting is deeply personal for me. I am an only child. I grew up alone, with only friends and my godparents looking out for me. It pains me to be distanced from my godparents. But I will explain why I am. My godparents had three daughters and a son. All of their children are good people, but Marta was the one I felt most connected to, as she and I were a lot alike. Marta was brilliant and funny and a character. She was head strong and stubborn and not afraid to take risks and live life on her terms. If her family was a band, she was Bono. She was a rock star.

Marta had many opportunities in life. Men loved her. She was beautiful and carried herself in the most ladylike of ways. Just classy. So, when she finally picked the one, we were all happy for her and her chosen love. His name was Steve Harding. Now, our Mexican culture is such that bonds run deep. Steve was white. His culture and upbringing different from our own. Marta, as progressive as she was, was very much in tune with her culture – she valued family and close friendships. Through a strange twist of fate, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a brutal thing to have happen to someone so amazing. She handled it with grace and threw herself into her recovery while maintaining excellent scores in her work to become a Physicians Assistant. Steve could have ended the relationship right then and there, but he persevered. I remember being at their wedding as she stood there in her gown giving her vows while she was most likely sickened from the chemo treatments she was receiving. The chemo port was tactfully hidden from view, but we could all tell she was weak and we were so incredibly happy for her and Steve. He truly manned up in that moment.

While not quite remission, we thought her treatments were going well. However, the cancer would not be abated. You cannot reason with aggressive cancer. It is indiscriminate. Despite her tireless work and effort, it came back. She even completed her medical boards to become a PA as the cancer ravaged her body and mind. In fact, she so impressed her professors and faculty, that the Martha Zuniga Harding Memorial Scholarship was created at UTSA in her memory. Marta was truly inspirational. I still recall the weekend she went to Houston to find out about experimental treatments. I was optimistic that she would find a medical trial that would turn back the cancer for good. Little did I know that she would take a turn for the absolute worst and would pass away that weekend. Her family was in shock. I was stunned. And Steve Harding became a widower. Here is a brief thought from one of her friends: The Three Musketeers.

So, you may ask, “what does this have to do with your godparents?” Well, I am getting to that. But before I go further, I want to share a bit more about Marta. She was brilliant. And she expected no less from the person that she was with. Steve was brilliant too. Marta would not have been with him otherwise. He was highly educated, with an MBA from UTSA and he was in construction – home building. He worked for Pulte Homes and last I heard had some pretty high level position with Meritage Homes. This guy was smart and capable and seemed like a good and honorable man.

I loved Marta and by extension considered Steve family. So, when Joshua was born in 1997, I asked her and Steve to be his godparents. They were at the hospital when he was born. Steve and Marta held my son before I did! She was so excited to be a godmother to Joshua. I figured Steve felt the same way. Because of her treatment, I believe she was unable to have children of her own. I think they were preparing to adopt a child, as they both wanted children. So, she relished the role of being a godmother. But when she died, perhaps a part of Steve died with her. Perhaps the part that made him a man was extinguished when her light was extinguished.

Joshua is now 18 years old. In 17 and a half years, I can tell you that Steve has not seen Joshua once. Not one card. Not one phone call. Not one happy birthday. Nothing. He even lived in the same town as we did, but nothing. My godparents defended him. He was a good man. Blah blah. After a while I became bitter with my godparents. They had family. They had other children. Their grandchildren had aunts and an uncle. I had no one. Joshua had no aunts and no uncles on my side of the family and limited contact on his mother’s side. So Steve being a godfather mattered to me. It was important.

If you look up the term godfather, it has its roots in Christian traditions. Now, some may say that I am not religious. This is a true statement. I am not. But this is not about me, this was about Steve. While I never asked him if he was religious, I can say that he stood in that church and accepted the role of godfather to my son. Think about this, it is not merely a title, but it was a role that was meant to support, nurture, encourage, and guide my son. And, in the event of our untimely deaths, we had even asked them to raise him as their own. This was the level of trust I had in Steve and Marta.

But nothing. No words of encouragement. No contact. No support. Nothing. Luckily, I did not die. But, I did become bitter. So, what does it take to be a good man? You keep your word. Steve never talked to us again. He might say that he was not religious, so he is not bound to religious promises he made just for Marta. Fair enough. I hope he has not found God then because he turned his back on a very important role in Christian tradition. But fair enough, maybe he was not a god-fearing man. How about this one? He gave his word. He stood there not necessarily as a Christian, but as a man. He swore he would do right by my son. He did not. So, when I think of Steve Harding, I think of a person with no honor. A person who made a commitment before God in St. Ignacious Church to be there for my son. He broke that promise. A man who gave his word to do right by someone. He broke that promise. I do not care what title he carries. I do not care if he is wealthy or powerful now. When I think of him, I think of the lowest common denominator of a person. Truthfully, I cannot bring myself to even consider him manly.

So, my godfather is ill. And while I should be better than this, I cannot in good conscience forgive the fact that for 17 years, they have never once acknowledged the fact that this happened. They have never once said they were sorry for the choice he made. I heard how they defended him. I heard how the family had to keep reaching out to him to stay in contact until they probably lost contact….or whatever happened. Who knows? Who cares? But at the end of the day, they all let my son get screwed. As a godson, I should be grateful to my godfather for what he did for me. As a parent, I am less forgiving of what was done to my son.

So prospective parents, when you raise your children, be it boy or girl, and it comes that time to teach them those valuable lessons they should learn, remember to teach them the most important one: honor your commitment as a man or woman. See it through, regardless of the adversity that you face. And if you make a promise to a child, keep it. It feels good to get that out. It has been a long time coming.

And to Steve Harding. Go fuck yourself. There was a time when your perspective and knowledge might have been useful. You could have supported the child you made a promise to support. Not monetarily, but in all the ways a good man supports someone. You can wear suits. You can make big decisions. You can have fancy titles. But at the end of the day, you failed a child you promised to support and that is something I do not forgive.

Post Navigation