Imagine, if you will, a large white box the size of two upright refrigerators, sitting on a cement block behind a white brick building across from a generator and a dumpster.
The handle to the door is a silver bar that must be tugged with every available arm muscle to open. Thick plastic flaps hang down from the doorway to keep out the flies and must be heaved aside to reach the inside.
The contents of this box are dimly lit by one cheap, shivering bulb and sided with that metallic snake-skin texture, with a button the size of your palm that you must push to re-enter the world of light and temperature over –10 degrees. There is about enough room for one or two grown men to stand inside, though heaven help either of them if they actually want to move or, god forbid, inhale. Industrial black-barred racks packed full to the metal ceiling line the walls; at least, one assumes that there must be something holding up the various boxes and containers that look ready to avalanche onto the few visible inches of cement floor.
Multi-gallon plastic tupperware containers with a piece of tape indicating the date of preparation on the top are stacked on top of each other on the floor and wherever they will fit on the shelves. Huge pans of baked apple crisp filling, a couple pie plates of cheesecake and a few beige masses of scone dough all wrapped tightly in plastic wrap balance tumultuously on top of each other in the far left corner with only a layer or two of more plastic wrap between each other. Yesterday’s soups and plastic-wrapped hunks of deli meat ready to be sliced mingled closely with tomorrow’s creme brulee filling and fresh-made mayonnaise. Cardboard shipping boxes stuffed with heads of romaine, bell peppers, grapes and cherries fight for space on the left racks. To the right, wheels of gouda and cheddar cheeses the size of small pizzas (and the width of large dictionaries) are piled haphazardly atop cartons of heavy cream and tupperware containers of separated egg whites. Not even the eggs still in their shells are safe, sitting in their cardboard cartons with no tops to stop a rogue industrial-sized mustard jar from smashing several dozen and ruining their dreams of becoming a key lime pie or Spanish omelette.
It is a cramped, frigid little world of produce and plastic, cardboard and chaos.
It is an OCD nightmare, a hazard to humans and vegetables alike, and my personal version of hell.
It is the walk-in refrigerator, where I found myself running in and out of every ten minutes during the long four weeks of my internship at the restaurant.
And that is just the beginning.