Wednesday, Jul 18 2001


Pump. Pump. Pump. Pump. Pump. Pump. Pump. Pump. Sasha Carrillo’s "pumping" at Hot Dog on a Stick at Santa Monica Place mall at the end of Third Street Promenade: "Everyone has their own rhythm. Sometimes we race. First one to get to 10 pumps, 20 pumps wins." Yes, it’s legal — it’s lemonade. Two buckets of lemons, two buckets of sugar, a bucket of water, and stomp the bejesus out of it with a big metal stick. But one look at Sasha, 15, jumping up and down and, well, let’s say it isn’t just the juice that’s got them lined up around the corner. When she talks, there’s lots of hand gesturing and gazing off into the distance. It’s like watching an insanely cute distracted mime. With a light tan. And a tongue piercing. "I had to get one that was tongue-colored," she explains, pinching the pink stud. "Hot Dog has a strict dress-code policy" — red, blue and yellow striped T-shirt and popcorn-tub hat. At first she wouldn’t wear the hat, but now she sports the uniform around the mall with a demented pride. Hot Dog is an obsession. Hot Dog is her first "serious" job. Hot Dog is a family legacy: Her mom worked at one when she was Sasha’s age. Workers get two free items per day. Today Sasha’s in love with the pepper jack cheese and French fries. At two minutes per customer, the pace is frenzied. "This woman threw ketchup on me one time," she says, hands raised in disbelief. "Ketchup! Like, on purpose" (jaw drops). Surely there are trendier places to work. Gap? Urban Outfitters? Something not involving lemons? "I just don’t like the idea of people throwing clothes at me, telling me to get them shirts or pants." Ketchup, apparently, is okay. Boys ogle the girls making the lemonade: "When we start the pumping, we’ll see this group of guys gathering right beside the line, just . . . watching. We’re like . . . eeeew," she cringes, tongue post flashing, "gross." (Hot Dog on a Stick, Santa Monica Place mall, Third Street Promenade)


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Tino FigueroaLawry’s the prime rib


Gleaming, steaming, roasted meat. Meat on stainless-steel carts that cost as much as a Cadillac and weigh as much as a 900-pound heifer. Master carver Mark Florentino "Tino" Figueroa slices it up daily at Lawry’s The Prime Rib. What kind of man — yes, they’re all men — does it take to wield a big knife and chop up cuts of prime rib for five hours a day, five days a week? Tino’s been doing this for 23 years. Professionally, at least. When he was 10, he learned how to skin a cow on his father’s cattle ranch in Mexico. When he was 25, he breezed through Lawry’s mandatory meat-carver training program in three weeks, a course that takes others six weeks to complete. He had a natural talent for carving, he tells me as we tour the kitchen, and now he trains the young ones. Tino looks at his big shiny cart and his big shiny knife with respect. Reverence. Senior carvers use the same cart for their entire career. What’s the difference between good carvers and bad ones? A good carver uses every part of the roast, makes all his cuts the same width on each side. A bad carver wastes the meat and doesn’t cut straight. A good carver knows that the meat is cooked to varying degrees of doneness at different points on the roast. A bad carver blunts his knife by hitting the bone. "The meat, it moves." Tino makes a wiggling motion with his hand. "Crispy meat is not so easy to cut." Each night he carves about 15 to 20 roasts, to feed 60 people. Waitresses take the orders and serve the salads and soups and drinks; then they call Tino for the main event. "Some customers," he says, "like for us to cut from a standing roast, right from the middle." Is this bad? Is this good? Is this (gulp) the Dark Side? "Aaagh," he answers, shrugging his shoulders, "they just know what they want." (Lawry’s The Prime Rib, 100 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills; (323) 655-8646)


Maria FloresPhilippe the original


She couldn’t do it in the beginning, the aggressive yelling of "STEW!" whenever the pots in the cafeteria counter ran out. She was also afraid that customers would ask for something that wasn’t on the menu, afraid that they would want to know something about the history of the restaurant and she wouldn’t know the answer. Maria Flores, 37, started waitressing at Philippe the Original — the famous "Home of the French Dip Sandwich" across from Union Station — when she was 19. She sits on one of the long bench-style tables with her hands folded modestly on her lap, her ankles crossed. "Everything depends on your shoes," she says. In the beginning, she bought the ones "with the little heart on them" (oh, vanity), but two weeks later invested in "ugly nurse shoes." Five days a week she works the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift, getting up at an hour when the hardiest of the hardcore after-hours scenesters are just stumbling to bed. Management lets the wait staff eat whatever they want. These days, she’ll have a simple bowl of cream of wheat, but time was when she’d get excited just thinking about what food she was going to eat the next day. Lamb-dip sandwiches. Pickled eggs. Macaroni salad. She met her husband at Philippe — he’s still a cook here. She was 20. He was 23. She keeps up with the lives of the regular customers, chats with them as she makes the sandwiches, slicing rolls, layering the meat. "After I started working here," she confesses, "I wanted to go work for Social Services. People who come here, like some of the old people, they don’t have enough." One old man comes in to eat after getting his Social Security check. "Once a month he eats so much! But next time, it’s just biscuits and coffee," she says. "I give him $5 sometimes." She makes minimum wage. She put her daughter through college. Usually people don’t tip the cafeteria waitresses: "They think, ‘Why should I tip? I had to get up and get the tray by myself.’" But it’s okay, she says. She helps people out when she can. "Money," she says, "goes back and forth." Not all waitresses want to be movie stars. (Philippe the Original, 1001 N. Alameda St., downtown; (213) 628-3781)

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