Letter of Resignation (and gratitude)
To my dearly forgiving, kind and incredibly hard working family:
My last day will be September 19th.
I’ve been waiting to have time to find the words to say what I’m about to, and today, through a muddled dream of new friends and old friends with a hearty swing shift between, I felt that initial longing that will soon inhabit me when I depart these doors as your coworker and employee on my last day.
In New Orleans, at Peche, I left fighting tears and obviously losing that battle. The few whiskeys I’d had that morning helped, but it was inevitable and always is, as a sentimental creature forever in love with those I spend so much time with, I cracked a bit. When I hugged my General Manager Tomy, he said stop crying, you’re drunk, and it’s 2:30 in the afternoon. Then he dabbed his eyes and said see you soon. Of course that was then, and I was in a different place in just about every way. I never really felt that New Orleans was my home, rather it was some sort of lost bohemian salvation, a loading dock that may or may not have a boat show up on time, someday or never at all, a place where folks like me could fall into anything inside ourselves, in order to serve a little time in the realm of self deprivation and doubt, or pure unbridled ecstasy. I left to survive and continue living, to return somewhere I felt a sense of belonging. There’s only so much illegally smuggled in Kentucky moonshine a man can take, and speaking of the shining moon, it doesn’t show it’s pretty face nearly well enough through the dense fog of city lights.
So I traveled north on muleback with all my belongings in tow covered by a woven wool blanket hand made by a grandmother down on Canal and Chartres who bought a loom twenty years ago and never looked back. I paid seven dollars and eighteen cents for it, used of course. I think I spent too much, but I couldn’t haggle any more, for every time I begged a lower price she lost a piece of this precious, kind, sweet-as-sunshine smile, and that was worth the contents of my wallet, regardless of whether I actually took home the blanket.
Of course, none of that happened, except the northward journey, which I did take with a few stops between. There, as with here, I was privileged to be a part of the opening of a fantastic new restaurant. After our first year at Peche, and winning Best New Restaurant in the country at the James Beard awards, I joked with my friends about how I’d never have to ask for a job at a restaurant again with the resume I’d built, I’d simply state my availability and keep showing up until I got paid. Don’t be too confident, they said. I chuckled. That’s like telling a bear to not eat berries, I said back while fluffing my beard and eating a berry. And the story went on from there, as I returned to these comforting, and kind green mountains which once again welcomed me with open arms.
I took a gig at The Reservoir, to kill time, I thought, and it was fun. But that wasn’t the end result from the first day of training. I’d researched a bit about the best restaurants in the state, anything within an hours drive in any direction. At that point, Doc Ponds was a pine cone growing green, yet to relinquish it’s hold on the branch and drop to open and have squirrels feed upon it’s seeds which would then be pooped out into moist soil and with the right combination of rain and sunlight, one seed would then grow into a full restaurant and bar, with great food and one hell of a tap list. But I knew none of that then, though I did know that I wanted to work for Hen of the Wood. It was the best around. That was clear.
Then I heard from another local barkeep that she was leaving her job to open this new place. Go on, I said, inviting myself into her conversation with someone else as I downed my second shot of Old Granddad. She explained that the owners of Hen were opening a new restaurant, something casual for the locals. I like casual, I thought, and I dropped some cash on the bar and moseyed on back to work as my break was soon to end. Then came the day of destiny. During a Hill Farmstead tap takeover at the Reservoir one balmy spring night, I introduced myself to Eric and told him I’d be submitting my resume, and that I’d be working for him at his new place. I said he’d have it by the end of the night. And I promptly followed through with that promise by emailing it four or five days later.
The ensuing wait was terrifying. Though the warmth of summer was arriving in huge, drawn out strides, I felt cold at the lack of response. Little did I know that things weren’t going as planned, and delays had stunted the opening, putting it off again and again. Alone, I walked the streets at night, often looking up, wondering what could be next, and what I’d done wrong. Some time later I was having coffee with an ex-girlfriend in Stowe, explaining that I was sorry for always trying to get her back while also hoping deep down that this admonition would indeed be the sure fire way to bring her back to team Alex. It wasn’t going well. Sure, I got her to smile, but that wasn’t enough, so I resorted to my upcoming travel plans. Currently, I can’t remember exactly what those were, but I’d be gone a couple of weeks. That’ll work, I thought. She’ll say I should come back.
As we sipped slowly on large black coffees, the telephone in my pocket began to jingle and buzz. I picked up. Hello, is this Alex? The voice said. This is Justin, the manager at Doc Ponds. Sure, I said, I’ll come in as soon as I return from my trip, or I can cancel it if need be. No need, he said. So we planned a date to meet, and I hung up the phone. Who was that? Asked the stunning woman I was definitely not wooing but absolutely wooing. It was that restaurant calling. I have an interview! I’m going to get this job. What’s it called? She asked, while slowly spinning the end of a few sunlit blonde strands of hair. I think it’s called Duck Pond. Maybe they serve duck or something.
As we know, the rest is history. It’s a sorted love affair we’ve all had, and I’m so glad so many of those day-one members are here still. But regardless of your time served, we’ve battled together tirelessly over these days and nights. In the beginning I’d wake panicked in my bed and run to my bathroom, throwing open the shower curtain so I could change a keg. Of course, there were no kegs in my shower (which at times was quit disappointing). Another night I got out of bed and found a two top in the hallway outside my bedroom. Their drinks were empty, so I grabbed a nearby tray and cleared their glasses, walked down the stairs and began driving to Doc Ponds to get them another round. Though I thought it slightly odd that work had gone so far as to place a table in my home, I trusted my boss’ judgement and accepted that the work needed to be done. Of course, I woke up, and there were no customers in my hallway, thankfully, because driving a stick shift ten miles with two martinis on a tray seemed like a bit much, though I was down if that’s what we were doing.
Without getting too sentimental, I want to tell you all with the utmost sincerity how much this year has meant to me. While many go home to loved ones, I’d go home by going to work. In much of our lives we work jobs that connect us so intimately with our coworkers that they become essential parts of our joy and pain, members of our family, pillars of our lives. You are all very much a family to me, and I am incredibly grateful to have fought this battle with you. And a battle it is. Cut your hand? Tape it up. Bum shoulder? Ibuprofen. Too tired? Caffein. I’ve seen so much strength through the work shown by you all. While you all in the kitchen work more hours than I knew existed within a single day, I am inspired and driven, and I will keep the awareness of that ability to work so heard nearby forever. I’ll remember that when working dutifully on my next project, a project that has no boss or start time, a project that’s all up to me. But that’s the hardest part — leaving a team.
Throughout this year I’ve made major changes in my life, and have worked in ways I never thought possible to better myself. As I write, sober and clear headed, I am about to embark on a dream with this newly found sense of self. While worried, I’m not nearly as anxious as I am excited and curious. It’s somewhat similar to this time last year when we all ruffled about working through the kinks, confident we’d survive and make it work. When I worked in a kitchen for a couple of years that, during peak season, did over 1200 covers a day, I’d yell loudly “This ship will not sink!” as the ticket machine rattled off a string of orders that seemed impossible to meet. But we’ve done it. And you’re all still doing it, and I’m very proud to have been a part of this project with you. This was the restaurant group I wanted to work for when I moved back to Vermont, and not only did I have that chance to reach that goal, I got to open a brand new spot with a tremendously talented team. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Though I’m destined to do a bit of travel here and there throughout the coming months, I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere too long just yet. This place has a way of keeping me around, and you’re all a huge part of that. Just because I won’t work there, it doesn’t mean I won’t be stopping in for a cup of coffee and a high five. I’m right down the road, and I’ll need your smiles, your love, and your support, as that has sustained me throughout this year far more than any amount of monetary payment one could ever receive.
For those who I haven’t told, I’m going to work on my writing, take it seriously, apply to a handful of the best grad school M.F.A. programs in creative writing. Given that I never took my grandfather’s advice to marry an old rich woman, I’ll not just be hoping for acceptance into a program, but the scholarships, grants and fellowships that will cumulatively pay for it, as that will be the only possible way as far as I can see. You’ve got to want to be the best damn writer at the world when you’re desperately hoping to live in Iowa City, Iowa (which is the home of the most renowned graduate writing program in the country, and where my grandfather gained acceptance only to turn it down to pursue medical school instead. Ridiculous, right?). It’s about as high as I’ve ever shot, and I’ll continue writing regardless.
I’ve also ordered my first round of professional audio recording equipment which I’ll be using to tell stories via podcast, and who knows, maybe I’ll get a recurring segment that could be syndicated on NPR. It’s pretty clear to all of us and more that I’ve got the perfect face for radio. I can only dream, and that I will do. If it weren’t for the kindness and hard work and the opportunities presented by this last year with you, my family, I wouldn’t be here. So thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope to remain in touch with all of you throughout the years, plus I may just live here and come over for BBQs and bocci ball, or some tea and scones if that’s what we’re doing. Speaking of which, what are you guys up to on September 20th? Want to play some bocci?
Also, do you mind leaving the door slightly ajar so I can get back in some distant day far from now as I’m sure you will? It’s not that I’m planning on asking for a job again, but there’s always a chance some beautiful woman is going to walk up with the hand of a child in hers and say, “Larry, stop licking your palm and look up! This is your real father.” I feel like I’d need a steady gig if that happened. But hey, maybe it won’t. Either way, I can’t explain how much I truly appreciate you all as individuals. Thank you for sharing my joy, and struggling through my pain alongside me. You’re wonderful people and extremely talented, and I hope you remember that every day.
I’ll leave you with this -
In the life of a carnival worker, you travel so much and you always find each other again somewhere along the way, so they never say goodbye but instead, “See you on down the road.”
Alexander Nicholas Raeburn, the First
P.S. Make sure you’re all helping to taste those Reeses Pieces and those pies to make sure they’re fresh and safe to eat. The world will thank you.