Friday Nights in the Dish Room

fish eye photography of man pulling the dishwasher rack
Photo by Wendelin Jacober on

A few days ago, I sat in my office listening to Sting’s Soul Cages album. Listening to that album, I was immediately transported back to my college days, and in particular, Friday nights in the dish room. For the four years I spent at the University of California, Riverside, I worked in the dorm cafeteria. The first two years I worked in the dish room, later graduating to a supervisor and finally, working in the office helping to automate some of their computer systems. But I have fond memories of those early years working in the dish room. And Friday nights were particularly special.

As I remember it, Friday nights tended to be a little lighter than other nights. A lot of students went out to eat, or went home, so there wasn’t the same volume as there was on other nights. If the shift started at 5 pm, it was usually over by 9 pm at the latest. There were several positions in the dish room: Dish 1 was in charge and loaded the dish machine. Dish 2 and 3 emptied the dish machine. Dish 4 and 5 unloaded the trays from the conveyer. I feel like on some nights there was a Dish 6 as well, but I can’t be sure.

I started out as a Dish 2, unloading the dish machine. Dish 1, being in charge, got to pick the music that was played, and I remember early in my freshman year, the Dish 1 on Friday’s nights liked playing Sting’s Soul Cages. Later, when I was Dish 1, I’d play a variety of different music, from Metallica to Harry Connick, Jr.

The thing that made Friday nights in the dish room particularly special was that it acted as the official end to the week. Here I was taking my classes, studying, doing home work, working in dorm cafeteria. When work finally wrapped up on Friday nights, it meant the week was over and I could have some fun. My friends and I would often head to a second-run movies that was shown on campus on Friday and Saturday nights. Or if we were a little more flush, we might head over to the local movie theater and see something new that was playing. It was always fun to finish up in the dish room knowing that I had an evening out and didn’t have to worry about school the next day (although I did often work over the weekend).

One of the last movies I remember seeing on a Friday night after finished up at work (by this time, I wasn’t working in the dish room anymore, but still looked forward to Friday nights) was With Honors. The movie came out less than two months before I graduated from UC Riverside, and I remember seeing it with all my friends. At the end of the movie, Madonna’s song “I’ll Remember” plays while the main characters all graduate from Harvard, throwing up their caps at the end of their commencement. When I hear that song today, I think about that last Friday night fling before graduation and it was like I was not just graduating from college, but from those Friday nights in the dish room as well.

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