Writer in Residence

Service Industry Hell (Part 6): Service Industry Heaven!

By Nathan Whitlock

A lot of the inspiration for my new book, Congratulations On Everything, came from the things I saw while working in bars, restaurants, and hotels, and from the experiences of friends who did the same. Recently, I asked people* on Facebook and Twitter to send me their wildest stories of working in the service industry trenches - in part to show that, however cringey things get in the book, the reality is worse. But also because I find these inherently fun to read.

*to whom I promised anonymity, in order to protect the relatively innocent


This is the final installment in this series of true-life tales from the service industry trenches, as well as my final post as this month’s writer-in-residence for Open Book. I wanted to end on a more positive note, so I saved this story for last. (It’s my favorite of the bunch.)

This comes from "BJD":

“I was a busser at a horrible, cheeseball megaclub for one year at the end of the '90s. I have a hundred stories of blood, RICO-level criminality, and the depraved things that humans can do to restrooms. But I also have a memory of such delicate beauty I think I might ruin it by sharing it.

It was near last call on ‘Modern Rock’ night when I was collecting bottles and broken tumblers. The dance floor had trickled down to a dozen staggering people and I saw some activity by the loading doors behind the stage. A disability activist group had shown up. They targeted businesses that had not updated their wheelchair access. There were eight people in huge, motorized wheelchairs demanding entry. Looking to avoid a lawsuit-triggering-incident, the manager that night instructed the entire security staff to carry them in through the loading dock. The group made it in time for the last song of the night: ‘Teardrops’ by Massive Attack. And they owned the dance floor in their motorized wheelchairs: twirls, synchronized loops, and group circles. The job had turned me into a misanthrope. That night saved me from being one.”


Thanks to everyone who sent me stories for this series – I wasn’t able to use them all, but they all renewed the deep sense of gratitude for mostly working at a desk, while at the same time making me wistful for the days of staff meals, post-closing-time staff parties, and a general disregard for a boring, non-alcoholic life.

And thank you to Grace and Holly at Open Book for giving me the keys to the site for this past month and not once asking me to tone it down a little.

If you wish to get in touch, I’m on Twitter. Thanks.


The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Nathan Whitlock’s award-winning fiction and non-fiction has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, Toronto Life, Report on Business, Flare, Fashion, Geist, Maisonneuve, and Best Canadian Essays, and he has appeared on radio and television discussing books and culture. He is a contributing editor for Quill & Quire. He lives in Toronto with his wife and children.

You can write to Nathan throughout the month of July at writer@openbooktoronto.com