May 31, 2022 Society
Royal Ascot is a cultural institution in the United Kingdom. Every summer, royalty, celebrities, the wealthy and everybody else gets dressed up and sloshed up for a horse race. For me, however, Royal Ascot was a temp job paying minimum wage.
It was 2008, and I was 22, freshly divorced and a few months away from appealing my deportation. Early in the morning, hundreds of hospo workers sporting black pants and white shirts arrived in the hall. Queues started to form and we began to resemble a block of Cadbury’s Top Deck.
“Simon Cowell was here last year,” the girl behind me said.
“What’s he like?”
“Real generous. Gave me a hundred-pound tip.” I thought about all the money I’d make. Hundreds and hundreds of pounds. I could buy perfume. And shoes.
When I got to the front, a flustered set of hands gave me a blue and black striped vest and a necktie. I looked around me. Everyone looked like they were in a barbershop quartet. I guess we were singing for our supper.
Afterwards, someone assigned us jobs. I was going to be a box attendant.
At the top of the stairs in the main building, a man started the meeting by standing on a chair. He told us about the prestige and class of horse racing and then reminded us to clean the fridges at the end of the day.
“Last year, a platter of fruit de mer was left in the fridge. Not only did the guests lose money, they now have a smelly box.”
Whatever prestige and class there was in the room was replaced by laughter. I went to my box. Inside was a cramped kitchenette and Kelly. She was 24, blonde and pretty, and slicing lemons for the water jugs.
In the room adjacent was a small lounge facing the greens. On the wall was a mounted TV showing a slideshow of the previous year’s highlights. The queen, outrageous hats, faces I didn’t recognise. No Simon Cowell in sight.
As I stocked the fridge, I thought about the lifestyle of the people I’d be serving. Maybe this was Simon Cowell’s box.
“Do you think we’ll make tips?”
“Probably not. The rich are selfish.” She began polishing the cutlery and laying it down.
“Really? I heard that Simon Cowell’s real generous.”
I opened the ranch-slider looking out onto the greens. I couldn’t help thinking of all the famous people who would soon arrive.
“Angella, we have to wait back here until they want us.” I followed Kelly to the kitchenette, where we took turns sitting on the stool.
I heard people walk in laughing and joking. That was our cue to walk in with trays of hors d’oeuvres. I tried being personable and charming, but it wasn’t about me. It was about Royal Ascot. I soon realised I was invisible. An invisible trolley, dispensing food and drinks.
I slumped back into the kitchen, where Kelly was already prepping lunch. It looked like baby food. Baby chickens, baby vegetables, baby knives and forks.
“These guys just want to be rich for the day. I don’t think they’re actually rich,” Kelly said.
We both went on our phones; although in 2008, data was expensive, so we sent texts.
As the day wore on, the laughs got louder, the spills got messier, and my flat feet were turning convex. I asked Kelly if she could do the kitchen runs as my knees were turning into jelly.
At the end of the night, we set up a tray of petits fours. I went around serving the guests, giving them the last of my weary smile and hoping for a tip. Instead, I got someone’s card, and they all began to waddle towards the door.
I took the organiser of the box aside, and a bunch of men whooped him as they exited.
He looked at me, embarrassed, like he knew what I was going to ask him.
“Do we get a tip?”
“Are you serious?”
I nodded my head and held out my hand. Kelly pretended to not see or hear but had a slight smile. He got out his wallet, flush with bills, and fished out a £10 note.
He continued out the door as I tried to figure out how to split the note. As the echoes of laughter and drunkenness slowly evaporated, Kelly and I began to clean up.
Kelly gave me £5 change at her insistence and ate the petits fours we’d saved for ourselves.
When I returned the uniform, I walked past an older couple clearing out their fridge. They were Mauritians in their 40s, married for 20 years. I asked them how long they’d been doing Royal Ascot.
They told me they did silver service for 10 years and they’d once served the queen.
“She’s real generous.”
At home, I lay on the bed and eventually forced myself to get up and shower. When I emptied my pockets, I found the business card from someone at the stationery company that had rented the box. I think I’m the type of person to keep pushing my luck, or keep going down the spiral, so naturally I texted the number.
He asked to meet that night and came to pick me up in a slick black Beamer. We sat in his lavish lounge as he poured me wine and talked about his family. Turns out he had a girlfriend and a six-year-old son who were away that night. And I drunkenly opened up about attacking my ex-husband and facing deportation. I thought we were on the same wavelength. We weren’t.
Instead of a one-night stand, I got a lift home. The drive back was tense, but instead of feeling rejection, I felt satisfaction that I wasn’t the disappointed one this time.