A Rue-ful Dining Experience

I go to a downtown restaurant to dine with a friend. We have agreed to meet at 5 p.m. I follow a familiar pattern: miss the parking ramp and a police car inevitably materializes to follow me around the square. I worry about making another wrong turn or some college kid (or enforcement officer) sticking a foot in a crosswalk when I have a green light, but a string of red lights makes that a moot point.

I arrive at the restaurant five minutes ahead of my colleague. It is not an inexpensive choice of venue, so I consider it a treat and have looked forward to it. I walk up to the host area, where a young man continues to

ignore me. I say to him, “I’m meeting a friend. Shall I wait here?” pointing to a seating area.

“Do you have a reservation?” he asks haughtily.

There is no one seated in the front dining area. I glance down at his seating list. He has one name for 6 p.m. and another for 7 p.m. I would think he would be happy that one of three chances for a tip walked in.

I frown and he and shrugs slightly. “You can wait there,” he says, waving at the couch. He doesn’t offer bar service.

It goes downhill from there. Shortly after arriving, my friend remarks, “It’s sure a different level of service when the owner is away. Our waiter seems completely uninterested in serving us.” So it’s not just my impression.

He brings our wine, and asks if we are ready to order. We feel almost apologetic that we haven’t yet studied the menu. He returns a reasonable amount of time later, but interrupts to ask if we have decided. Neither of us can understand this flirtation with rudeness. We are dressed in business attire, we are not drunk or loud, and we’ve been pleasant to him.

I ask what “flyingfish rue” is, a side-dish to an entreé. I hesitate to ask, because I know it will cost me a few more status points with him, which it likely does when I involuntarily shudder at his response (flying fish eggs). Admittedly, I have not perfected a gourmet palate and often have to ask what something is in a fancy restaurant. It’s a curse I bear.

The third time he returns, we order. I request the evening’s special, which he described as a hen’s breast. When he brings it, I point to a good half of the portion, asking, “What is that?” It’s dark chicken meat, which I don’t eat.

“It’s a thigh,” he answers dourly.

I do recognize a chicken thigh. I want to tell him (but don’t) that my childhood was spent on a chicken farm, and it’s served at Old Country Buffet. “I ordered the breast,” I say.

“It comes with the thigh,” he answers, bowing slightly with fake deference.

The breast portion is about three bites.

My friend asks for decaf coffee after the meal. The waiter says, “Certainly” and walks away, without asking me. “I’d like some coffee, too,” I tell his back. “Regular, please.”

“Yes,” he says, forcing a smile as he turns to acknowledge he hears me.

Our tab is $72. I donate $40, including my portion of his tip. I pay only marginally to feel marginalized. It’s now about principal.

My friend and I walk to the parking ramp. The Wilson Street attendant booth is closed, so I put my ticket in the machine to pay by credit card. The ticket is spit back as “unreadable.” Before me is the gate, behind me is my friend’s car. I insert the ticket, which is not bent, mutilated, or wet. Again, it’s returned.

My friend moves her car so I can I drive to the other exit, which luckily is still staffed. The attendant there is having an obviously friendly and personal cell phone discussion. She keeps talking over me as I try to tell her that the other booth is not accepting tickets. She waives dismissively and reaches for my ticket, still deep in conversation. She doesn’t ask her phone friend to hold; I guess there would be no point, working in a city toll booth — there’s always another annoying customer in line, waiting to interrupt. Her friend would be stuck on hold the entire shift.

“Give me your credit card, too,” she says. I want to pay the unknown amount with cash, given the choice, but again, I am talking over her talking to her friend. There is not one halt in her conversation except her quick direction to me. I hand her a five-dollar bill and she returns my change and leans back, finished.

What ever happened to “Thank you?”

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