Sunday, April 08, 2007

An Easter Fable

Early this morning I went to a restaurant and didn't get waited on. Didn't get waited on!

This isn't some kind of long-dormant brat personality coming out in me, nor is it the ranting of someone who feels entitled to be waited upon hand-and-foot by the service industry. This is simply a case of walking into a 24-hour diner that was maybe half full, with waitstaff (in street clothes!) milling about everywhere, taking a very prominent seat and twiddling my thumbs for maybe 20 minutes while absolutely no one acknowledged my existence. All of this despite the fact that the waiter repeatedly serviced the booth next to mine and never turned in my general vicinity anytime between his arrival at that booth and his unjustified sprint towards the back as if he actually had other customers.

After an extended period of time sitting at this booth, looking more and more like a doofus with each passing second, I finally got up and left. As I did, I snaked through a small crowd of people who got service the second they walked in the door. Just like the people who came in directly before I did. Now grumbling as loudly as my stomach, I drove down the street to another 24-hour diner. I walk in and plunk down, only to be told by a passing waiter that they were closing down. Huh? Oh, yeah, Easter Sunday in the Bible Belt. Jesus! So God rested on the seventh day, eh? Well, he forgot to shut down my appetite! Christ...

I considered carrying on toward my intended destination, the IHOP, only to realize that they were probably closed as well. So I make a decision on par with New Coke and self-immolation and drive back to the other restaurant. Hey, I'm all about second chances. Also, everything else is as dead as...well, there's no simile to accurately describe how dead this town gets at 2 a.m. on Saturday night. This time, just to make sure I'm noticed, I walk up to the front and grab a menu from behind the counter. Classy, I know. But I'm at least hoping that this action will set up the following exchange:

Guy: "We can get someone to bring you a menu."
Me: "That would be nice, because I am starving."

It works halfway; some guy at the counter does stare at me. But then he just shrugs and moves on to another customer. I sit at the same table where I was ignored before--did I mention it's in the exact geographical center of the joint?--and peruse the menu, which sparks a mental reel from "My Cousin Vinny":

"Ya tink?"

And then I'm reminded of another recent futile effort to get late-night food, which resulted in 10 minutes of waiting, a free voucher and probably spit in my sandwich. And I realize that, at this point, I am so brewing with steam that any human interaction is likely to be unpleasant. So I just got up, tossed the menu back behind the counter and went home to eat food from my freezer. I'm not one to hold grudges, but I can say with 100 percent certainty that I am never setting foot inside that place again. Ever. And what sucks about it is that they won't miss me at all. After all, they never even knew I was there.

It's tough going for a night worker such as myself to end a long day in a strange city with only one of two human-interaction possibilities: get treated rudely, or get no treatment at all due to a cultural indifference that is totally foreign to me. I can't decide which is worse. And this is coming from someone who values privacy and self-reliance, and who grew sick of a region inundated with in-your-face social politics. Make no mistake: I have zero problem with spending an entire day not talking to another human being. But sometimes, you just want to.

To feel like absolutely no one cares about your existence...even as a paying customer, much less as a friend...goddamn, that hurts.

So I ask anyone who reads this: regardless of your beliefs (or lack thereof), take this holiday to reach out to another person. Be good. Be polite. Just be there. Because being ignored is far worse than being hated. And you know how much I hate that!

Happy Easter.


Bridget said...

I'm sorry, that really sucks. I hope you come down for Amanda's wedding. It would be good to see you, but for now I will simply Care Bear Stare in your general direction.

Oh, by the way, I'm about 19 weeks pregnant and we just found out that it's a girl! Yay!

Ian McGibboney said...

Ah, Bridget and Nathan...parents...maybe there is some hope in this world after all! :)

I won't be in Louisiana again until August, but I hope to make the most of it while I'm down there.

Bridget said...

Heh, August you say? The due date's August 27th, so if we see you, it might be pretty interesting. (:

Cajun Tiger said...

Definitely feel your pain. Try going to a home depot and asking where something is and the person barely slows his pace pointing back over his shoulder saying to look in either aisle 10 or 11 but he wasn't sure and then continues to walk. As opposed to what we are used to...the person stoping walking over with you...making sure you have everything you need and even giving advice if needed on how to complete your task...definitely one thing I miss about the south.