This is old-school, “straight outta Compton*” blogging. Word vomit to the max.
*where Compton = Katherine’s Xanga circa 2005.
I can’t even begin to summarize how wild today has been.
Last week, my friend Kara asked me if I’d like to be an extra for a promo video featuring several creative brands in town. Since my schedule permitted, I said “yes”, and threw it on my calendar. Yesterday, I realized I didn’t know any details about any part of it, so I acquired an address with a time to show up, and the teensiest bit of background context behind the initiative.
Great. I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-and-my-Google-Calendar kinda girl, so this morning I woke up and rolled out of bed into some workout clothes to hit up a “high-octane bootcamp.” (For the curious, I went to Blackbird Fitness on the East Side using a ClassPass, all of which I highly recommend) I was pretty proud of myself for eating a little bit of breakfast and downing some coffee before heading over, instead of skipping food until I’m hungry, as is my wont. I ended up being the only attendee at 10 am, so I basically got a personal training session. It was quite high-octane: warm-ups, then four rounds of two different exercises, 30 seconds’ break, and then the next set of 4×2. I didn’t remember if I had signed up for a 45-minute or a 60-minute bootcamp, and I didn’t dare ask. I remember feeling extremely grateful for the indoor/air-conditioned facility.
After that, I rushed home to shower and blow-dry (for the first time in 4 months) in preparation for the video shoot, and even managed to make some dumplings for lunch and fire off a couple of photography proposals in those few minutes. The shoot itself was awesome – while I ended up staying a lot longer than I thought I would, this also meant I got to be in every single video and eat All The Things. There were six or seven awesome women there, and it was so inspiring to be surrounded by people who are just getting up and working some kind of magic in the world, every single day. My friend Mel just launched her own floral subscription service here in Austin, and Kara owns a ceramics studio; Desireé makes healing botanical tonics and promotes healthy living for young women; Katie quit her high-power consulting job to launch Venues and Vows, which connects brides and grooms with unique venues across the nation; Tracy is a badass hair stylist; and the list goes on. I got to nosh on lots of delicious eats, make a floral arrangement that I got to take home, get my hands (and legs and arms) dirty with fun clay, mix up my own whiskey sour topped with a Luxardo cherry, and unexpectedly, get interviewed about Ikigai, my photography brand.
I kinda figured that was it for the day’s adventures. I mean, I have plenty of Stuff To Do – like chores – and I was prepared to begin beta-testing some cocktail syrups I dreamed up this morning before bootcamp. It had unexpectedly rained cats and dogs during the video shoot, and the sky was that gloomy gray that’s perfect for napping. So I came home, gave myself 15 minutes on my phone alarm, and took a catnap.
Except immediately between “came home” and “gave myself 15 minutes”, I’d seen some random post in a Facebook group asking for someone to serve at a private dinner tonight – “pays well”. My powers of ideation/correlation/Memory (the game) are pretty strong, and I remembered the poster’s name from the day before: She’d posted asking for a private chef who could serve a dinner for 7 the following night – total budget of $1k. I like money these days, mostly because I no longer have “any”, so the concise and concrete ad caught my eye… as well as the words “must be comfortable in front of the camera” in both posts. So – right before I fell asleep – I fired off a quick message + text to the woman, asking if she’d filled the server position for tonight yet. I assumed it was a no-go, since the gig was supposed to start at 6 pm, and it was 5:40 when I saw her post.
I believe this would be a fun place to insert the information that I have absolutely no server experience whatsoever. But she didn’t ask, so I didn’t tell. Who says there isn’t something useful to be learned from our military’s homophobic past? (I figure that if half of America’s teenagers can be trusted to carry our food, I can fake my way through the procedure for a couple of hours as well. I’m at least as smart as they are.)
Lo and behold, I wake up after 15 minutes to a text from Holly saying “they don’t have anyone yet, and they’d love to have you!” Groggily, I gave her a call and allowed her words to wake me up in a flash. Apparently, she’s old friends with some big-shot producer from LA who called in a last-minute favor when their reality show decided to fly in The Ladies Of The Show to Austin for a birthday dinner. She prefaced the call with an apologetic “I know it sounds super shady, but…” – which always sounds intriguing to me as well. Because I have no common sense, apparently. Anyway, they’d found a chef but needed someone who could wait on the table.
This already sounded drastically different (and more interesting) than what I’d originally imagined to be an easy way to fill my evening and pick up some fun money on the side, so I assured her I would be there as soon as she could text me an address and hopped into the car, slithering into a black dress and some walkable heels along my way there.
So. Y’all. I didn’t end up going to just any ol’ house. I ended up going to a $5.79M mansion out in Rollingwood. I only caught a glimpse of the backyard on my way into the kitchen, but I noticed a giant infinity pool that looked to be one of the deepest private pools I’ve ever seen (diving board and all), and lots of pretty people lounging beside it. There were production/camera crew all over the place. One small, blonde woman working away in the kitchen. Fairly little food beside her. I kept hearing people talking about being hungry. All in all, it was a people-watcher’s fantasy.
The rest is best narrated in chronological order:
7:04 – I arrive at this house after braving rush-hour traffic. Chaos is everywhere. There’s a big iron gate outside the home, with “entrance code #1500” helpfully written by the front gate. Nobody mans the other end of this gate code beeper, however, so I sit patiently until some hapless person attempts to leave the complex, at which point I seize my opportunity and dive right in.
7:06 – Kitchen is full of people. The chef is easy to spot because of her shirt. She’s young, quiet and sweet and I introduce myself to her. She looks overwhelmed – I later find out it’s because this is her third gig of the day and she’s been working since 8 a.m. Like me, she only found out about this opportunity today and had to cut one of her other gigs a little short just to be able to pick up groceries in time to make it here. As we are conversing, I hear one of the camera crew quietly notify the Big Producer Head that most of them haven’t had any food or much water in 14 hours – context clues inform me that that’s when they left LA to fly here to Austin. I look at my phone and note that dinner was supposed to start six minutes ago, which clearly doesn’t look to be the case in actuality. I wash my hands and briskly ask the chef what she’d like me to do to help.
7:15 – I am playing sous chef like a champ. I’ve washed all of the veggies, chopped half of them, and am blitzing through meal prep like I’ve been a line cook since I was little. Then it turns out that the Reality Show Ladies haven’t had much to eat today either, and most of them seem pretty drunk from having lounged poolside all day. One, clad only in a towel, wanders in and dives into the chef’s supplies, opening a package of prosciutto and digging in. The chef is too sweet and not-well-informed enough to know if it’s OK to tell off a Reality Show Lady. Reality Show Lady has clearly not watched the video of the children being offered one marshmallow now, or two if they can wait 10 minutes. That, or she’s decided that a prosciutto slice in hand is worth a prosciutto-wrapped chicken breast in the bush later. (Spoiler alert: She wasn’t wrong) Mostly Naked Reality Show Lady (MNRSL) proceeds to share her stolen bounty with maybe 3 other Reality Show Ladies.
7:24 – I’ve thrown a fine dice onto a red bell pepper that any Master Chef contestant would be proud of if time limits weren’t a thang. I’m feeling quite pleased with myself when MNRSL walks up to my cutting board and boldly swipes half the diced peppers into her hands. “Sorry,” she says, and dumps it into the prosciutto-cheese-olive oil concoction she’s already created with a little salt ‘n’ pepper for flair. Chef looks frazzled AF. I take matters into my own hands, chase down Producer Man, let him know we don’t have enough groceries to cook a proper dinner any more, and offer to hit up the nearest grocery store for more supplies because he’s not from here and will probably get lost, thus further prolonging the delivery time for dinner. He’s deeply appreciative, peels off a handful of $20s, admonishes me to bring back a receipt because otherwise the production accounting department will need to take my firstborn child in exchange. Perhaps he didn’t actually say that, and my get-things-done brain added those details on its own.
7:29 – This is my therapist’s office neighborhood and I have spent plenty of time driving up and down this road. I’m feeling pretty great about myself when I locate Randall’s, just 6 minutes away as opposed to the HEB Producer Man had planned to visit, 15 minutes away. I feel less great about myself as I do whirlygigs up and down a dark-ass Bee Caves Road, unable to properly identify the right shopping mall driveway. I am in and out of there in 9 minutes, armed with not just the right groceries but also two snack trays and a case of water for the crew. I’m feeling great about myself again, even though I’m getting pretty wet in the continuing drizzle.
7:39 – I’m back in the driveway. I proceed to spend the next 8 minutes stumped by the gate code, futilely honking, entering the useless entrance code, and trying to convince the production crew that I did, in fact, follow the instructions. I later bully an exiting car into moving out of my way so I can make it in first. I rush in in triumph with all my goods, panting from humidity and the fact that the arches of my feet, boxed in in my heels, are still sore AF from this morning’s bootcamp in minimalist sneakers. (Whoops) It turns out I didn’t need to rush, as dinner prep had come to a grinding halt in my absence. Two other sets of staff had returned as well with sustenance for all, so now there is Chick-Fil-A and HEB sushi and boxed salads everywhere. I wonder how people are still going to have space for dinner later.
8:10 – All of our food prep is done, the chicken and roasted broccoli are in the oven, and now we wait.
8:35 – We are still waiting. I haven’t had any dinner, so I placidly tear into one of the packages of food I purchased for the crew and dig in. I have worked in America before. I know that people prefer employees who take initiative and do not waste their time asking permission for small petty things – “sorry is better than may I”. At least that’s what my stomach says. It is correct: Nobody questions me at all.
9:00 – We are still waiting. For what, we do not know. It’s TV, I guess. I only insert this time-check bullet because at this point, Mostly Naked Reality Show Lady is being asked to dress for dinner, and she does not know where her clothes are. I am mostly sitting quietly in a corner trying to look prim and proper like my mama taught me and succeeding only at “awkward as hell”, but I peek out to a debacle where MNRSL is sorta being changed by multiple staff as she nonchalantly drip-dries on the marble floor. Why she’s soaking wet again, I also do not know – perhaps she jumped back in the pool in hunger? Cleaning the floor after her requires 5-6 towels to mop up the trail she left. I gamely jump in to help. I hope she never goes into crime, because she cannot hide evidence to save her life. I admire the ballsiness it takes to not give a damn. I want to be like her when I grow up, at least a little bit. The reality show salary bit.
9:15 – We are still waiting. Some bustle leads us to assume we’re going to begin filming. No. This is when the dining table gets moved from the dining area to the patio, because they want it to look cool there. People begin setting up video lights and it is deemed way too dark in the area, so Big Producer Man runs to Target to pick up some props.
It’s worth noting at this point that I have no idea how much I’m going to be paid for this. I have a general idea of what I think would make it worth my while, and I also don’t need the money, so I decide to sit tight and wait it out. After all, Holly – the woman who had set this all up – had said “I really have no idea. How much do you want to be paid?”
My mom always told me to let my clients set their own rates. I have balked at this suggestion many a time – since I was 11, really – but I’ve had to say that in most cases, she wasn’t wrong. I’ve learned to thoroughly disregard this suggestion when it comes to photography pricing, but I was wondering if it would be worth heeding her this time around.
9:36 – We are still waiting. We assume we are going to serve soon, so we plate the food. Immediately after doing so, we are informed that we will be using “sugar” plates and glasses – show biz!! – and the crew brings out half a dozen cardboard boxes carefully marked “fragile – breakable glass.” I have never before seen sugar-glassware. I proceed to accidentally slice my finger open on a broken edge – because sugar or not, it’s still sharp as hell. I surreptitiously slurp on the corner as I search for a bandaid, because I don’t want a bloody hand in my reality TV debut when my job is literally All About My Hands. Spoiler alert: It’s not sugar-tasting at all. Life is full of disillusionment.
I am unable to find a bandaid anywhere, so settle for holding a piece of paper towel on the cut for 15 minutes and then taping it shut with clear Scotch tape. This is not my first rodeo. It is not even the first time I’ve bled everywhere while working a formal dining event. (Ask me about the chunk that got cut out of my left thumb once while I was shooting a wedding. Or don’t.)
9:54 – We are still waiting. I surreptitiously do a little sleuthing on what my fellow clueless Not In The Film Industry vendors are getting paid. Obviously, the chef’s pay is a known variable for me, since Holly had posted about it, so I start by quietly asking her what she thinks I can ask for, or if she has any estimate on what they’re planning to pay me. I have an internal dollar amount in mind, and I’m scheming how to best reach it.
10:20 – We are still waiting. The stoned-sounding DJ/Bartender they hired tries to see if I’d be interested in working for his company for similar gigs, right after he asks if he can get a lift home from me. (No and no, but I figure out a diplomatic way to say so.) It turns out that he typically works for $30/hour, and had bid on this gig on said scale. Accordingly, he’s very hopeful about making almost $200 since we’re running so late. I am horrified, and convince him he should negotiate for at least double that. This, after all, is no ordinary gig and one must value one’s time, even if all one was going to do with it on a Tuesday night was wait for This Is Us to hit Hulu. Oh, sorry, I think I confused my life with his. Regardless of reasoning, I spend several minutes laying out my case for him requesting more money. Someone should hire me as a sales manager. I’m very persuasive. He seems dubious, so I suggest he let me negotiate my own pay first, after which I will update him on who the decision-maker is, how to best approach the conversation, and how much he can reasonably ask for. He gratefully agrees.
10:22 – We are still waiting. DJ/Bartender is approached by a Young Lackey holding a couple of $20s and a sheet of paper. I hear him heatedly begin negotiating payment exactly the way I told him not to do, with absolutely the wrong person to do it with. I sigh internally and wonder why some people self-sabotage themselves. This continues for almost 30 minutes in the sidelines.
The ladies are dressed, everyone seems to be ready, so we have no idea why there is any hold-up whatsoever.
10:40 – We are still waiting. Big Producer Man returns with said props. “I went a little bit overboard.” Hilarious. The salesperson in me absorbs said information and deduces that they have plenty of money for this episode if they FLEW EVERYONE IN, RENTED OUT THIS MANSION, paid everyone’s salaries, booked the chef, and have a DJ/Bartender. I internally resolve to get my piece of the pie, and externally beam my best customer service smile.
The ladies are starving, but still very sweet to us. In fact, I am blown away by how incredibly and genuinely sweet they all are. Man, reality TV is such a joke.
11:25 – I am trying to mentally walk through dinner service, because the wedding photographer in me knows that A Boy Scout – I mean TV extra – is always prepared. I suddenly panic because I realize we’re short one silverware setting, any type of drink dispenser/pitcher/tool whatsoever, and have no cake-cutting knife. I am pretty resourceful, but I cannot magically conjure non-existent items out of an empty for-AirBnB-only mansion. As one of the crew frustratedly said, “This place has literally never been lived in…!!”
11:30 – Spoiler alert, we are still waiting. THREE FULL HOURS AFTER WE WERE DONE WITH THE FOOD… we still aren’t anywhere close to being ready to film. Except at every point, we thought we were, so we’ve been plating, replating, heating, and watching food cool. The chef is beside herself with exhaustion, lack of food, and professional concern that the stuffed chicken breasts are no longer food-safe from having been out so long. I point out to her that her food might still be some of the safest stuff anyone’s had all day. I have a good point. She has grudging permission from the production team to leave, but just as she is about to – they beg her to stay “just five more minutes.”
12:15 – The chef finally puts down her foot and leaves. She dejectedly returns 5 minutes later to inform me that her car is blocked in in the driveway, presumably after Production Man’s Target run. She looks so done with life. I sympathetically pat her shoulder and suggest she text him to have his lackeys move it.
12:30 – After 15 takes, the show [episode] is finally on the road. There is a lot of fast-paced Spanish chatter everywhere. It rises and drops in tone and volume, but pretty consistently on an upward trajectory on both fronts.
I get a surprising amount of background screen-time. This is flattering now and will be extremely embarrassing later. I walk in and out, in and out, in and out alongside of Ninette, who is one of the nicest Reality Show Ladies. I set place settings. I finally carry out plates of food. This actual part of my job takes a total of maybe 3 minutes and 12 seconds if I’m being extremely generous.
12:42 – I return and retrieve plates of food. DJ/bartender attempts to help me and manages to fumble a handful of silverware. Cameras keep rolling, so you’ll see/hear that in the episode too! I have 10 seconds to blitz-wash all of the forks to reuse for cake, because – remember how everyone was starving before dinner? They also used up all of the silverware and the chef had helpfully started both dishwashers before leaving. We had a severe silverware shortage that I was able to resolve, sight unseen – thank you, Mom, for this most useful and hithertofore unused skillset in my professional career.
12:45 – The moment I’m the most proud of? I’d say it was figuring out how to show the beautiful, 8-pound chocolate cake on camera and light the candles without setting the birthday lady’s hair on fire. (That was mostly on her, not me, because she had long wavy locks that kept swaying wildly into the cake from Reality Acting.) I wasn’t allowed to bring a real knife onto the set because Show Biz – which turned out to be a good thing – so I retrieved the cake afterward, all without falling.
12:46 – Scratch that. I’m the most proud of managing to cut the 5-layer cake and plate it without ruining TOO many slices (or plates). It’s not the best food styling job I’ve ever done, but I did it as well as anyone else could have with my limited experience and timeframe.
12:48 – I bring out all the cake. Everyone is extremely grateful. The birthday woman gives me a giant Latin kiss on my left cheek. I forgot about this until I got home tonight and looked at myself in the mirror.
12:54 – I’m cleaning up the kitchen when I hear heated voices getting even more heated. They shoot to an absolute roar, and I look up just in time to see —- well, I only saw what I saw from behind the whole thing, so I’m going to wait until the episode airs in November to tell you. It was definitely insane, and pretty exciting even by reality TV standards, of which I don’t watch much, so it was FANTASTIC AND FUN if you ask me. OH, THE DRAMA.
12:57 – They’re just about done filming. I walk up to Producer Man, smile at him, enjoy the moment with him for a second as we gaze upon the mayhem we have just helped wreak. I don’t mention pay at all. He looks incredibly sorry, tells me to just throw out a number that sounds fair, I hesitate for a split second because I need to untangle my number from My Reasons For Requesting It, he says “done, that sounds perfect,” we hug it out, I leave – pleased that I decided to wait until the very end and let Mama’s advice kick in this tone time..
3:16 – I finally finish typing up this incredibly long post because it’s seriously such a crazy end to a Tuesday. I feel like the protagonist in that Dr. Seuss book: “And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street.”
So now, I’m still so wound up from the day’s intensity (and coffee, and my catnap) that I can’t quite sleep, and that was one hell of a story to tell. Unless I don’t get paid, everything was awesome today… and even if I don’t get paid, which I doubt, it’ll still have been an awesome day today.
On the drive home, it struck me how opportunities like today’s are falling into my lap – where I have the freedom to pursue them – because I made space in my life for them. There are a lot of days where I’m overwhelmingly bored, or stressed about finances, or lonely AF because I’m not working a typical desk job any more. I’ve honestly loved most of my full-time jobs, and I constantly question my decision to leave (it was very reactionary). Yet – I made space for – what, I did not know – but I knew I needed some space for the unknown in my life, no matter what that is. And unpredictable, wild, magical experiences like the ones I enjoyed today are just the sort of perfect puzzle pieces to slot right in.