I took myself out to dinner tonight. A walk on the beach led me to Capistrano's in the Embassy Suites Hotel and Resort. "A restaurant in a hotel, not a hotel restaurant," their website says. A noble goal. But if there were movie called National Lampoon Dining Out, tonight's dining experience could serve as the treatment--heck it could be the movie because it took a full two hours to get an appetizer and a dessert. The dining room wasn't busy. There were four or five couples besides myself endeavoring to have dinner.
I'll have the oysters, I said after the waiter listed the specials.
Oops, we just sold the last ones, he said.
The lobster bisque then.
The crab cakes.
Okay, just bring me the glass of wine while I take another look at the menu, I said. I could see the ocean through an opening in the dunes from where I sat, and I didn't mind the pace at first. But after ten minutes or so and not so much as a glass of water, I stood up to peek around the corner to see if I could spot the waiter....or anyone. The man at the next table chuckled. We're having the same problem, he said. I got up again and managed to snare a different waiter. After a few more minutes, the original waiter appeared with the wine. And so it went. Various waitstaff, so young they were practically trailing umbilical cords appeared at our tables, and were then kidnapped by aliens--or perhaps doctors who detained them to check their Apgar scores. Only one of the four waiters materialized in the dining room at any one time. Perhaps there'd been some sort of uniform crisis, and the blue dress shirt and navy trousers had to be shared amongst the entire staff. These things happen. Back in the 70s, I had a misunderstanding at an Athens laundry, and my three traveling companions and I had only two sets of clothes that we took turns wearing for days.
Given the time frame, I might have drunk a bottle of wine while waiting for my scallops, but I would have had to search out the bartender to get it. As for the scallops, I savored them, though they were far from the best scallops I've eaten. Meanwhile the patrons at the other tables were fighting their own battles. The wrong wine. The wrong salad dressing. We began to bond. When I saw the desperate look in the blond's eyes two tables over, I wolfed down the last scallop and snagged my waiter for some cobbler and coffee. The coffee came. No cobbler. No offer of a refill. When the woman at the table across from me got up and helped herself to more coffee from the coffee and water station, I did the same. Anyone? I asked with the coffee pot in my hand. Can I refill anyone else's cup? We were all giddy by then. The next time my waiter ambled by, I asked about the cobbler. I'll check, he said, pleasant as could be. The blond rolled her eyes.
Maybe we were on candid camera? Maybe there was a wedding reception in another room, and management had forgotten to hire waiters and our crew was doing double duty, I suggested to the man at the next table. He was on the verge of a laughing jag, but didn't find that idea amusing. Then management's not doing their job, he said. I poured myself a third cup of coffee and a minute or so later the cobbler arrived. The waiter, in a burst of efficiency, brought the no longer laughing man his check on the same trip. The man sighed and shrugged as the waiter disappeared again. I'm going to give him a mercy tip, I said, explaining that I'd gotten quite a few of those myself when I waited on tables.
I was an awful waitress. But I remember my customers in that supper club on the Sauk River the spring of 1975 as being mostly kind. Those mercy tips added up to just enough money to get me to California.