Last Thursday was the Artwalk event in Los Angeles. I had the pleasure of reconnecting with Mélanie, who studied Visual Arts at UCSD and also curated the 1st salon-style exhibition In Pursuit of Liberté, at Clifton's Cafeteria.
The history of Clifton's dates back over 70 years ago. I was touched by the idea that the establishment started as a "Pay What you Can" and wanted to try something that would reflect this act of service.
I arrived at Clifton's Cafeteria with a bag of clothes I picked up from Goodwill: a pair of black Skechers, black pants, and a white button-down shirt. The manager Steve was willing to lend me an apron and asked the hostess to escort me to the back of the house. With the exception of a bow-tie (and a reclaimed sock), I donned the outfit of a busser from Clifton's. I spent my time during the reception hours of the Artwalk, walking the walk of a busser along the different floors, from the top floor where the salon and reception took place, to the mezzanine and lower levels, helping out in whichever way I could.
While reception attendees sought their way through the Splash Mountain-esque décor to the view the artwork upstairs, I looked around for any used water cups left behind. I quickly learned from Adrian and Marvin, who have worked at Clifton's for as long as 15 years and 8 months respectively, how they pick up and where they bus the used trays and plates.
The night was a little slow at first, but I got to speak to Adrian, who is just a bit shorter than me and is probably at least 20 years my senior. He was always found smiling at all the guests and me. He asked me how long I had worked at Clifton's. I told him that this was my first night, and he asked when my shift started and when it will have ended. I thought about this and wondered how Adrian might feel if I told him that this was a performance piece. I replied that I had started at about 5pm, and that I think I end after 9pm.
When I was upstairs, I checked the complimentary dessert spread that consisted of doily-lined trays and re-stocked the cookies and brownies. When I was stopped, it was mostly for directions to the restroom. I responded with what I knew, and most guests were nice about it. One person later found out that I was one of the artists at Clifton's and was very apologetic. He was quite conscious of the way he might have treated me, though I didn't think much of it as compared to other guests that I thought were the least friendliest. Another person recognized me, but thought I had really picked up a job at Clifton's.
I got to hear a little bit from Marvin about his experience at Clifton's - (similar to Adrian) how much he enjoys his job, how little tips they make, have you made a wish at the wishing fountain yet?, (pointing at his cell) this is my daughter , at least the music playing tonight is good,... Later in the night Adrian asked me, "When are you coming back to work?" I responded, "I'm not sure, I hope to come back next month." He knew that I was only working for one night and said that he was going to miss his new friend. He smiled sweetly at me and then showed me how to wipe down the tables.