Thirteen Things I Learned Cooking at a SLU Tech Company

Including “Never run out of proteins.”

1. “We shape our tools and they in turn shape us.” The first sign I see after I start working in the technology company’s cafe. A quote attributed to Marshall McLuhan, of “The medium is the message” and Annie Hall fame. I can’t tell if this idea applies only to the work of the technology company, or also to the work I do in the cafe. I don’t shape the pan I use to cook scrambled eggs. But does the pan shape me?

2. Technology workers are not shy about procuring enormous amounts of food. If we ever run out of protein—bacon or scrambled eggs or chicken sausage or sautéed tofu for breakfast; some duet of chicken, fish, pork, beef, lamb, or duck at lunch—they hover near the buffet line, expressions of impatience, confusion, or anger on their faces. I am yelled at only once, after I garnish a platter of steamed broccoli with an oyster sauce that was supposed to go on the side. “When you say oyster sauce on the side, put the oyster sauce on the side!” the technology worker fumes. [Note: This asshole is an anomaly. Most workers I encounter are relatively polite, in an awkward, robotic, self-involved sort of way.]

3. “Pride connects us.” The most ubiquitous sign at the technology company, usually rainbow-colored.

4. An angular plastic “sneeze guard” divides technology-company workers from cafe workers. Over time I come to recognize that the technology workers believe that the guard is made not of thin, transparent plastic, but of reinforced steel capable of blocking out light, odor, and sound [aka human interaction].

5. Each morning I have to scan an official badge to enter the technology company’s offices. Once, however, I leave my badge in the car and follow a technology worker inside. Immediately I feel a tap on my shoulder. It is not, as I expect, a member of the technology company’s robust security team, but an employee of the company itself. “Where’s your badge?” he asks me. I am wearing my white chef’s jacket, my brown chef’s hat.

“I left it in my car,” I say.

“You need a temporary badge,” he says.

“I have a permanent badge,” I say. “I left it in my car.”

“You need a temporary badge!” he shouts, staring into my eyes.

6. “Open all doors.” This sign is accompanied by a picture of Nelson Mandela, the Marxist-inspired South African revolutionary. But, given the behavior of the technology worker-cum-security guard (see #5) I can’t help but question it.

7. “The world evolves over time.” This could mean so many things!

8. Cuba was better off before the communists. This I glean from a poster promoting a Cuban-themed party—“The best party of the summer!” according to the poster—that the technology company throws for its employees. In the poster, a young Cuban woman gazes admiringly at a white man who looks a little like Frank Sinatra. They stand in front of a 1950s Cadillac. The party, the poster promises, will offer opportunities to gamble, smoke cigars, drink rum, and salsa-dance. Before its successful workers’ revolution in 1959, it seems important to recall, Cuba was known as the “Whorehouse of the Caribbean,” a vacation destination for wealthy foreign tourists to gamble, smoke cigars, drink rum, salsa-dance, and fuck Cuban women as well as other workers.

9. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This sign is accompanied by a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. Of the several hundred employees I encounter each day, only a few, it seems, are African-American. Most are Caucasian or Asian or Asian-American. Nearly all the cooks are Mexican or Mexican-American. I am a rare exception.

10. Interns for the technology company can average about $7,000 per month. Most full-time employees make between $100,000 and $150,000 per year, according to the website I am paid $14.50 an hour—a wage, to be fair, determined by the catering company that employs me, not the technology company itself—that equals $2,300 per month, or $28,000 per year. The average rent for an apartment in Seattle is now $1,853, according to the website RentJungle, or 80 percent of my pretax salary.

11. “People, not pixels.” This sign is displayed as part of a “community engagement” art project; it is unclear whether it was made by someone inside the technology company or outside.

12. Almost none of my co-workers live in the city of Seattle. One of my fellow cooks rents a two-bedroom apartment in Burien, 15 miles south of South Lake Union, with five other people, four of whom are her children. Another commutes back and forth from Puyallup, a trip that can take her two hours or more. A third lives in Federal Way and wakes at 4 a.m. to drive to a light-rail station so that he can be at work by 6—this in order to avoid the $12 to $20 that it costs to park near the technology company’s offices. All of us—interns, engineers, cooks—pay the same parking fee.

13. “Most companies have values and write them on the wall and it’s bullshit.” An actual sign that is displayed on the technology company’s wall.

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