"Dishwasher Pete" returns to Columbia

Monday, June 18, 2007 | 2:31 p.m. CDT; updated 9:25 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Pete Jordan fields answers to dishwasher trivia questions from participants at the Ragtag Cinema on Sunday. Trivia questions included "How many dishwashers are legally employed in the United States?" and "How many times does the word 'dishwasher' appear in his book?" Pete gave dishwasher t-shirts to winners.

The reason why the Celebration of the American Dishwasher started so late Sunday night was so that the dishwashers closing down the restaurants could come.

“Dishwashers tend to get out pretty late, working until 12 or 1 o’clock,” said Paul Sturtz of Ragtag Cinemacafe, a coordinator for the event. “Also, many restaurants are closed on Sundays, so the timing worked.”


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Of the estimated forty people in the audience to hear the honored guest, “Dishwasher Pete” Jordan, about one-third were professional dishwashers or worked “dishing” at some point. Leigh Lockhart, owner of Main Squeeze, was also in the audience. She got Jordan to come wash dishes at Main Squeeze in 1998.

Tales of life in the dish room are what brought Jordan back to Columbia, promoting his book “Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All 50 States.” Chapters include stories from dishing in communes, an offshore oil rig, and on a dinner train. He claims to never have had a bad job.

“It sounds like a really interesting story,” said Jeff Heller, a Columbia resident who has spent some time in the dish room.

“My first couple of jobs were dishwashing jobs,” said Mike Gemkow of Columbia. “I liked his stories that I heard on This American Life on NPR.”

Jordan kept the crowd engaged with excerpts from his book, clips from dishwashing training videos from the 1950s and ’60s, footage from an prank appearance on “The David Letterman Show” and trivia questions.

Despite dishing for fifteen years, Jordan fell short of his goal of working in all fifty states because, as he puts it, “I met a girl”. He is now married to her, has a family, and lives in Amsterdam working at a cycling shop.

His new goals for the future are of quite a different nature. “Sit around, not wash dishes, and write some more books.”

Still, dishwashing is undeniably a part of his life. He remains involved in the industry, whether it be in the clothing he wears courtesy of dishwasher manufacturers, fielding promotional requests from Dawn dish soap, or dishing out advice to dishers and diners alike.

“Keep your back straight. Spread your legs so you can reach lower in the sink without bending your back. Acclimate your hands and arms so you can use even hotter water on the dishes. Don’t take the job too seriously. Never hesitate to quit a dishwashing job since there’s a never-ending supply of them out there.” Jordan advises.

And his advice for the diners? “Don’t mess with the leftovers. If you couldn’t finish your meal, don’t stick your cigarette butt in it. There’s a dishwasher in the back who may want to eat it.”

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