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My strange love

Charlie Ducey | Monday, September 2, 2013

I love, absolutely love, working on the South Dining Hall’s dish line.
Yes, you read right. That was no sarcasm-infused opener. Washing those sauce-stained dishes, plunging my hand into the watery trough of unknown food waste to retrieve a renegade fork, removing rack after rack of trays stacked high with plates, cups and half-eaten meals – that is my passion.
For those of you who don’t know what lies beyond the veiled carousel of trays in South Dining Hall, let me summarize. The trays rotate along the three-tier carousel of foody fun into the sweaty underbelly of the South Dining Hall, manned by hard working employees of both the student and fulltime variety. A conveyer belt carrying its stow of dirty dishware runs below the carousel at waist level. Between that conveyer belt and the workers is the “trough.” You do not want to touch the trough for any reason, unless you desire to lose an extremity in the garbage disposal at the trough’s end.
Behind the front line of fearless dish washers sits what I like to call “the behemoth,” a seven-foot tall, 30-foot long metal beast through which the once-dirty dishes pass, emerging at the other end at the steamy temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the dish line. This is my playground.
Its language is that of clanking dishes and grinding machinery, the occasional phrase in Spanish or Vietnamese and rapid gesticulation when the cacophony nullifies all speech. Its currency is hard work, bent forks and the all-too-common lost cell phone. Amidst all of this, it is a place for listening and contemplation. My best ideas are born here.
Now, my love for the dish line might not yet seem justified by this less than endearing description. But as with many places that outwardly seem bad, the people and events contained within are what make the place good, even lovable. There are the fellow student workers, student managers, authoritative kitchen managers and the experienced full-time staffers, all surprisingly happy on the dish line.
Their happiness is contagious but often interrupted by the tasks of the job: cut gloves, untied aprons, shattered plates and minimal wages. If there’s one thing South Dining Hall patrons could do to make them all happier, it would be this: Please lay the cups on their sides when the trays are loaded. Either way, the dish line is my strange, strange love – sauce stains and all.