After Hours at the Almost Home
Anyone who's toiled in the restaurant or bar industry will tell you that waiting tables is exhausting work that pushes you to the very brink of endurance and patience every single shift. The customers are often rude or indecisive, paycheck sums are generally a pittance, and tip volume is never, ever steady or dependable. By evening's end, you're dead on your feet, reek of fried food, stale cigarette smoke, and alcohol, and just want to crawl home and into bed. Unless, that is, your equally spent co-workers want to get blasted--in which case, fuck sleep.
From the crisscrossing, interconnected perspectives of haggard wage slaves, After Hours at the Almost Home documents a single late shift at a fictitious Denver bar. It's Super Bowl Sunday sometime in the late 1990s, and the Almost Home Bar and Grill teems with the clamor and chatter of raucous Broncos fans. Tensions run high, hormones bubble, and a soap-opera plot reveals itself as drinks are spilled and touch-screen buttons pushed. Outspoken, bitchy server Lena has eyes for methodical bartending schlub Denny, who's pining over an ex when he isn't toking. Adrift, widowed waitress Colleen struggles to keep her horny, sullen teen daughter Lily on a leash. Ex-nanny J.J. suffers through every indignity imaginable during her first serving shift. Award-winning waiter Keith prepares to blow town with boho babe Marna, a restless spirit whose presence hangs heavily over the narrative even though she never actually appears outside of flashbacks. It's one of those tales where everybody reliably misjudges everybody else's motives and desires, where nerves jangle often enough en route to a gut-shredding climax that doesn't arrive until after the entire cast is smashed and you've completely given up waiting. Escape--from Denver, from routine, from working in or killing time at a bar--is the brass ring that remains just out of reach for these poor souls. Author Tara Yellen conceives of watering holes as purgatories where dreams--Colleen's visual-artist aspirations, Denny's Kerouacian flights of fancy--go to wither and die and regrets get good seats at your table.
Yet for all its carousing, pill-popping, and granular characterizations, After Hours is dead-on in capturing the dynamics of waiting tables, the flying-fur, in-the-moment craziness, even the mind-numbing dry spells: "Check totals were low. The Broncos were killing the Falcons and people were bored. Even Denny, Lena could tell, was bored, though he would never admit it. Well, he wouldn't be bored soon. A group of thirty was coming in. On top of all this. And not even for the game. Singles. They took over the place, table-hopped, and then expected you to remember who they were. Lena hated waiting on them even on slow nights. Lousy tips and loud cologne. Ugly sweaters."