To Serve and Protect


Jean-Paul Sartre is sitting at a French cafe, revising his draft of Being and Nothingness. He says to the waitress, “I’d like a cup of coffee, please, with no cream.” The waitress replies, “I’m sorry, monsieur, but we’re out of cream. How about with no milk?”

Today’s post is about – no, not cops – waitresses and waiters. As many of you know, my family recently traveled to Williamsport, Pa., first to see my ailing mother-in-law, then a few days later for her funeral. She was a kind funny woman, and her family misses her dearly already. I’m sure we always will. So please don’t take anything you read in the rest of the post as diminishing the pain we feel over her loss.

During the two trips, we ate in restaurants almost every meal. Now I have a soft spot for waitresses – both my stepdaughters are waitresses. I was enraged when Oprah suggested that people should only tip 10% – what a crappy thing for a rich-as-sin person of no discernible talent to say. And one of the few fights I almost got in was over a waitress’ honor (that’s a tale for another day, however). Bottom line, I like waitresses, and I try to treat them well.

Anyway, the first full day we were in PA – a Sunday – we decided to have a late lunch with my sister-in-law, Sherry, at a restaurant I’ll call THIT, Thank Heavens It’s Thursday. There were Karen, Garrett, Lauren, Nicki and Sherri. I got some sort of chicken dish, I don’t even remember what. My food was good enough, so was the service. Nothing was remarkable. Not at first anyway. It was only when we got back from the trip that something seemed odd. It happened when Sherry got her credit-card statement. She’d been charged more than $60 for her meal – way too much, as she was only paying for her own. That made me look up our bill – we were charged about $17, way too little. And no, it wasn’t just switched around. Neither charged matched up with what it should have been.

Here’s the thing, though. Sherry called and got her’s straightened out. They promised a refund when she came back (and they cheerfully delivered, by the way). I thought that was pretty outstanding customer service. Though as it would turn out, I hadn’t seen anything yet.

That night (and no, I’m not going to chronicle every meal), we went to a local place named Joey’s. Karen and Sherry said it had good cheesesteaks. Which was all I needed to hear. The food was good, though it turned out that when you ordered a cheesesteak with peppers you had to ask a second time to get the peppers – and they came on the side. I’m not making that up. But what made Joey’s unique that night (and there’s a reason I put it that way), was our waitress. I don’t know what her name was, so I’m going to call her Hazel, but you could only say she was a broad, in the best sense of the term.

Here’s what happened: I mentioned that Lauren and Nicki are both waitresses, too. That being so, they’re used to people asking for substitutions, etc., on their orders. And they’re now used to asking for them, too.

Not on Hazel’s watch.

We learned that when we were ordering. Lauren wanted some kind of appetizer sampler plate, but she asked to change one of the items. “NO SUBSTITUTIONS ON THE SPECIALS, HONEY!” Hazel said. Then she asked not to have bacon on her potato skins. “IT ALL COMES ON THE SIDE, HONEY, YOU CAN USE WHAT YOU WANT.” Lauren was dumbstruck, which I must say doesn’t happen very often. Hazel finished taking the orders, then went on her way. The food came, and I have to admit it was pretty good. But Nicki, who’d gotten a Caesar salad that had about two pounds of bacon on it, had another request: She wanted a creamy Caesar dressing. “THAT’S THE WAY IT COMES, HONEY,” Hazel thundered, pointing to the cup of dressing on the mound of lettuce and bacon.

On the way back home from the first trip, we stopped at the Red Robin in Carlisle, Pa. (there’s a reason I’m mentioning the chain by name, and you’ll see why later). We had a satisfying meal, with good service. Almost too good. Our waiter kept offering to fill our raspberry ice tea. So did some of the other wait staff. In fact, one grabbed Karen’s glass without asking. Which was fine until we got the check. Garrett got some sort of flavored lemonade, and he’d had a couple of refills. Meanwhile Karen and I were charged for four drinks, Which meant they’d charged us for those refills they’d so aggressively pushed. To tell the truth, I hadn’t even seen the drink section of the menu, so I figured the charge was valid, paid it, and moved on. But when I got home, I looked it up online. Those raspberry teas, like Garrett’s lemonade, were listed under the bottomless beverage section of the menu. So we’d been cheated of about $6.

Karen was livid. She took my receipt and said she’d call the next day. Again, the customer service was great. They immediately acknowledged the mistake and said they’d credit my debit card for the overcharge within four or five days. Actually, they did it the following day. Here’s the thing though: The amount they refunded was about $8.50 – more than we actually were entitled to repay us for our drinks, yet not enough for it to have covered Garrett’s, too. Still, we appreciated the effort and resolved to have no hard feelings about it.

A few days later, we headed back up for the funeral. We decided to eat at a restaurant I’ll call PearBugs, which is not its name but is in the Neighborhood. Because that’s what I called it last year when I had this experience. We were in Radford, Va. It was my first time in a PearBugs since I’d gotten the bolt. We had a great experience this time, mostly because of our waitress, Kelly. Turns out she was from Sanford and was waitressing until she could start vet school at nearby Virginia Tech. I wish her all the best.

Once we were back in Williamsport, we went on a family dinner – we had Austin with us this time, in addition to Garrett, Lauren and Nicki – with Sherry, her husband, Darryl, and her daughter Carley. We were at some fancy Italian place – I can’t remember the name, only that it was loud but good. But the best part came when our waitress, also named Kelly, asked where we were from. When we said Charlotte, she responded, “Great. I’m from Texas and I want to move to Charlotte.” That kinda begged the question of why she was in Williamsport, but we didn’t pursue it.

Then there was our return trip to Joey’s to give Austin a chance to experience it. Which he did. The food, for whatever reason, wasn’t good this time. I got a stromboli, and I just didn’t care for it. It was dry and tasteless. It was Saturday night, and there apparently was an open-mike night because we kept seeing people headed to the bar in back with guitars. Then I heard it – the most god-awful version of Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” that I could imagine (oddly enough, we heard the original on the radio on our way back home the next day, so I was able to get the taste out of my ears). But the funniest part of the night came when two locals, Austin named them Slim and Big, sat in the booth right next to ours. Both were heavily tattooed, not that there’s anything wrong with that, and they threw f-bombs around like Coach K on those rare occasions when a blocking foul gets called on dook. Or any foul, for that matter. Finally, Big, who despite being that was wearing a not-very-flattering wifebeater, called Slim a dumbass. Slim, aghast, pointed to the boys and said, “Hey, there’s kids around. Watch your language.”

So much for the service part of this post. Now here’s the protect part:

On the way back home, we stopped at a Red Robin in either Mechanicsburg or Chambersburg, I can’t remember which. What I do remember is our waitress, Tamara. She took great care of us during the meal, and we got back on the road pretty quickly, even though it was a busy Sunday. Because we really wanted to get home as soon as we could. In fact, I wanted to get home so quickly I left my debit card in the check thingy. Which I didn’t realize until we were three states away, around Harrisonburg, Va. Obviously, we couldn’t turn around at that point. But I still had my receipt, so I had the phone number. Karen called and talked to a manager there, who had the card on his desk – Tamara had turned it right in – and said he’d mail it to us the next day.

Well, Thursday came, and no card had come. I was pretty worried, so I called again. I got the guy, his name was Sam, and he explained he’d taken the address down wrong from Karen. Turned out he’d transposed a couple of numbers in the zip code. Anyway, he promised he’d call FedEx when he hung up to come make a pickup and overnight it to me.

And you know what. That’s just what Sam did. I had my card, safe and sound, by 10:30 the next morning. The folks there had protected me, he’d lived up to a promise and Red Robin had earned a fan for life.

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