Running With Ladles

Photo by Keith MayAs bitterly cold Alaskan winds blasted the city from a choppy, steel-gray Pacific, the best of Huntington Beach's bartenders, waiters and waitresses battled Saturday during the third-annual Server Olympics. It was a grim day of ferocious competition at the city's Pier Plaza, with server pitted against server, restaurant against restaurant, Tuna Town against Hooters, in a series of titanic battles for pride, glory and, um, well . . .

"I don't actually know what we're competing for," said El Ranchito server Lindsey, a veteran from last year's competition who, like all the entrants, would only give her first name. "We didn't practice either. Maybe some of those teams with matching outfits did, but we like to sleep in."

First up was the Server Relay. Each server had to negotiate an obstacle course while walking backward and carrying a tray of cups of water. At the end of the course, the server would hand the tray off to another server, who would return to the start line in the same manner. The server also had to refill any cups that spilled.

"No one from our team has done this before," said Kellie from the Fred's Cantina team as one of her teammates chased empty cups blown across the course by the demon wind. "I won't be in this event because I'm a bartender—I don't really carry trays."

Her sandy hair tied into two pigtails, Kellie's uniform consisted of shorts, knee-high socks and a gray T-shirt tied off a few inches above her waist that said, "Fred's" on the front and "Kelly #1" on the back.

The final race came down to a near tie between BJ's and Inka Grill. After a few moments of tense consultations by the judges, BJ's emerged the winner.

The next event was the Bread Toss. Two servers would stand at opposite ends of the plaza. The first server had to throw a small loaf of bread over a rope strung 20 feet in the air, and the other server had to catch it with a bucket. This would go on for two agonizing minutes.

After only a few tosses, many loaves began exploding in the air, showering spectators with crumbs. The event left the plaza covered with bread, hurriedly cleaned by event officials while hungry gulls flapped overhead.

Fred's Cantina lost again. "Hey, we're going for best dressed and team spirit here," said team member/server Jon, a tall guy who loved blowing the whistle someone had inexplicably given him.

After the Table Setting Race, which BJ's again dominated, everyone headed to the beach.

"This reminds me of Wisconsin," said BJ's server Heather—dressed in the team uniform of jean shorts and a skimpy white tank barely concealing a bikini top—as the wind blasted the competitors with sand particles. "When the sand hits the back of my legs, it feels like a lot of little pinpricks."

Now it was time for the Beach Relay, in which one server sat in a chair wearing a plastic cup mounted on a cap while the rest of the team raced to and from the water carrying a ladle. The first to fill the cup with seawater and sand won.

Fred's ended up placing second despite instances of cheating by members of the Inka Grill team. "We're not down with the cheating," said Jon, who had the ladle knocked from his hand during the closing seconds of the race. "We didn't start it, but we ended it."

There was now just one event left—the Surfboard Race, in which one server held onto a wooden surfboard while four others dragged it across the sand.

The final heat was a real nail-biter, ending in a spectacular crash. Just inches from the finish line, one of the combined Crabby Kenny's/Hooters team servers tripped and fell in the path of the board, which rode up and over him, dumping the diminutive waitress riding it onto the other three pullers.

Fred's again placed second. Will they be back next year?

"First, I gotta go home and take a nap," said Jon. "We're all closing tonight."


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