My Own “Never Forget”

How 9/11 ended my time in the food service industry

Chad Parenteau
5 min readSep 12, 2021

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I’ve heard several stories from friends and loved ones about how the first year of the COVID pandemic helped change their lives for the better. As an essential worker, I have a hard time relating, but it’s true that opportunities come up and you can prosper during hard times. 9/11 was the furthest thing from a “good” day in my life or anyone’s, but for me it was a catalyst that eventually led to an opportunity to change my life. Even then, it was only through work and luck (and more than a little privilege) that I was eventually able to leave a horrible job working in a seafood restaurant and end my career in the food service industry altogether. Not unlike today’s workers, it took a tragedy to find out how little those who ran the restaurant cared about my well-being. When I hear people like Jon Taffer talk about how to rally restaurant workers “back to work” like cattle, it only reaffirms what I learned decades ago.

The recessions of 2000 and 2001 were not kind to service workers who relied on other people spending money. I had just gotten out of an insane roommate situation, which cost me nearly all my savings. I was in a long-distance relationship that demanded I take time off during weekends to keep it going, which meant less income (you don’t work weekends as a server, it’s like taking an unpaid vacation).

By the time September 11th came around, I had a couple hundred dollars — at best — in my bank account after going away with my then-girlfriend the weekend before. I just wanted to buckle down and earn some money. I took extra work as a trainer that Tuesday morning, teaching new employees about the types of fish the restaurant served. I was halfway through the class when one of the bartenders ran in and announced that two planes hit the World Trade Center. He raced to turn the bar TV on to watch the aftermath.

I still have shame over my choice to continue teaching the best ways to sell salmon while New York was under attack. Thankfully, the footage behind me was all the students could focus on, forcing me to stop. We were sent home without ever opening.

The next day, I came to work foolishly expecting to make a few dollars. I worked in a mall that adjoined a tall building, which was the last…

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Chad Parenteau

Poet for Hire. Link to buy my new book, The Collapsed Bookshelf, available via my website: www.chadparenteaupoetforhire.com