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ISSUE 120 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/22/2006

Caf-tastrophe: Spills happen to everyone, but how do students handle a caf tray fiasco?

By Lauren Radomski
Variety Editor

Friday, September 22, 2006

You never thought it would happen to you. One moment you were just one of many hungry Oles, waiting in the home line, stopping for a beverage, and indulging in a seven-layer bar before proceeding to find a table in Stav Hall. But in the blink of an eye, all that changed. Maybe someone bumped into you or you simply tripped over your own feet. Either way, you're standing just under the balcony, in full view of your fellow diners, with a Coke-soaked shirt and an array of scattered silverware, broken dishes and what once was your meal at your feet.

You've done it. You've dropped your caf tray.

Well, believe it or not, this experience is all too common, one that many students repeat in one way or another while on the Hill. Although spilling food is far from desirable, the fact is that it happens, and the responses it elicits from both perpetrators and audiences deserve a bit of attention.

Caf accidents come in all forms, from those that escape relatively unnoticed to others that command the attention of anyone within a one-mile radius. Perhaps the incident is your own fault and only affects your meal or yourself. Examples include drowning your “All-American breakfast” in spilled orange juice or staining your shirt near the machine that sputters out burning droplets of hot chocolate and chai. Other times, your personal carelessness has cost someone else his or her meal, or you've been the victim of another's mistake. Of course, there are those instances in which someone “accidentally” takes your bagel out of the toaster or “accidentally” cuts in line just in time to get the last falafel. But that's for another article.

Among those who have experienced a spill is Krista Siems '07, who recalled a decision to rest her tray on an ice cream cart while at a busy lunch with friends two years ago. “We had literally just talked about how none of us had dropped our trays,” she said. Siems was standing alongside her tray when she heard someone call her name. As she spun around, she knocked the tray off the cart and dumped her food all over the floor. “There was a huge pile of chocolate milk between the ice cream carts,” she said, adding, “And then I dropped my tray while I was building a salad and broke a salad plate the next day.”

Other accidents involve not only spilled food but a fall on the part of the spiller. Such is the case of Annie Fedorowicz '08. She had passed the desserts and was talking to a friend when the people in front of her stopped short. As Fedorowicz reacted to the halt, “my balance got off and I tripped over my leg in front of me,” she said. She fell to the floor, accompanied by her dinner, but amazingly broke no dishes, or bones, for that matter. Fedorowicz said several people came over to make sure she was alright and a friend found it particularly funny. “When I stood up I started laughing, too,” she said.

Although these two accidents are unlikely to induce any envy, perhaps the worst of the worst in the world of Caf spills occur on the stairs. This is why many people approach the stairs with caution, monitoring their feet with every step, or choosing the second floor only when the seating situation is dire, as it often is on weeknights around six o'clock. Who among us has not looked up from our meal upon hearing a mighty crash, followed by the sound of a plastic cup as it clacks its way down the stairs, one painful step at a time? All heads turn that direction, awaiting the culprit's next move. Sometimes a person is at just the right spot on the stairs that he or she is hidden from view. In these cases, one option is to wait on the staircase for a few minutes or proceed upstairs until the attention from below has waned. The person can later descend the stairs when no one is watching. Or at least, the person thinks no one is watching.

Yet in other situations, there is nowhere to hide, and a victim of the staircase acknowledges his or her blunder by bowing grandly or standing on the balcony to receive applause. Bowing seems to be a popular course of action, whether the accident is on the stairs or not.

“People clapped, so I took a bow,” said Siems of her experience. “You have to embrace what you do.”

In some extraordinary cases, a Caf spill is necessary in order to prevent an accident that is far worse. As Corey Hartman '09 was descending the stairs during lunch one day last year, the person in front of him suddenly fell. With students immediately behind him and afraid of stepping on the fallen person in front of him, Hartman knew he had but one option.

“I had to jump,” he said. “It was like a leap of faith.”

Hands clutching his tray, Hartman took a mighty a jump from four or five stairs up, leaping over the fallen person and landing solidly on the first floor. “The only spill I had was the grape juice,” he said, adding, “I used to jump a lot of stairs as a kid.”

According to Michael Dejong, Bon Appetit operations manager, caf accidents are common occurrences, events which staff are prepared to handle. “There aren't too many meal periods that go by without somebody dropping something,” he said.

When someone spills food or breaks a dish, the first concern of staff is safety. “Just tell somebody as soon as you can,” Dejong said. He described students as generally considerate and apologetic after accidents. “There are a lot of places that aren't as nice,” he said. “We appreciate that.”

However, just because occasional spills are accepted does not mean they are encouraged. “That's our biggest worry,” said Dejong of intentional tray drops, “that somebody would start to do that.” He said dish breakage cost Bon Appetit nearly $5200 last year, with nine to 10 dollars spent just to replace one Fiesta Wear plate. Intentional breakage not only wastes money, but disrespects St. Olaf's facility and the people who work there.

So what is to be gained from this discussion of caf foibles? Simply this: accidents happen and no one is immune to them. As Dejong said, “It happens to upperclassmen. It happens to teachers. It happens to college presidents.”

So the next time you find yourself face-down in your mashed potatoes or drenched in cranberry juice, take a breath. Relax. And remember you're neither the first nor the last to make a fool of yourself in the Caf.

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