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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pall Mall Lady at Booth 21

One of the worst things about waiting tables can be the people who sit in your station but oddly enough they can be one of the best things too. A few weeks ago, I had an amazingly cool lady sit in my booth. She was an older woman who was all decked out in that Old Lady attire that was totally in style when she bought it 25 years ago. She was with a younger couple and it seemed like they were taking Grandma out for dinner. When I told her that the special of the night was gnocchi, her eyes lit up and she suddenly became very animated. She hadn't spoken to me before that point, but she exclaimed, "I love gnocchi! That's what I want." Her voice was deep and gravely like if Lauren Bacall and Harvey Fierstein had a love child together. It sounded like she didn't just smoke Pall Malls, she gargled with them. Like if she coughed too hard, she'd poop out a cigarette or if she blew her nose, ashes would come out. "I grew up eating gnocchi so I know what good gnocchi is like. I hope this passes the muster." I looked over at the open kitchen and smiled at the cook who would be making it; Juan. Surely Juan had been making gnocchi ever since he was a little boy in Mexico. "Is it good?" she wanted to know. "Well, I like it a lot but I didn't grow up eating it," I said. "Hopefully ours can compare to the memory of what you had but if it doesn't I can promise you that I will serve it with a smile." She laughed at that and then the laugh turned into a disturbing and violent cough that ended up with her grabbing a napkin and spitting into it. "Goodbye, piece of lung," I thought.

Ten minutes later, I placed the bowl of gnocchi before her. "Is there anything else I can get for you right now?" She shook her head as she grabbed a utensil and focused on the food in front of her. "I'll be back in a few minutes and double check on everything." Already she had her first bite on the fork and was blowing it to cool it down. I stood across the dining room and watched her taste the gnocchi. She popped it into her mouth and her eyes rolled into the back of her head. It's usually a good sign when someone rolls their eyes after taking a bite. Occasionally it means they are going into anaphylactic shock because I forgot to tell the kitchen about their peanut allergy but most of the time it means they are loving the taste of the food. It was time for my two-minute check back.

"How do you like your gnocchi? Is it everything you wanted it to be and more?" I asked.

She took a look at me and in her gravely-Eileen Heckart voice she said, 'My dear, it is perfection. You made my night. Thank you." She put her hand on my wrist and gave it a squeeze. She smiled revealing yellow teeth and nicotine-stained gums. I smiled back at her.

"Good, I'm glad you like it. Enjoy your meal and let me know if there's anything else you need."

Sometimes waiting tables can give you varicose veins, a sore back and fallen arches, but every once in a while it gives you a gift. That night it felt good to give this woman something to smile about. Clearly she was already a happy woman out for dinner with her family but somehow I felt responsible for the smile on her face that night. When I cleared her plate, it was completely wiped clean. "I think you really liked it, huh?"

"I loved it! Thank you so much and please tell the chef how wonderful it was." I wondered how one says "The Pall Mall lady loved your gnocchi" in Spanish. "And you were a delight as well."

She didn't care for dessert or coffee because she said she didn't need anything else after such a perfect meal. They paid the check and left after one more brief coughing spell. As I wiped the table, I felt this weird sense of satisfaction that I don't get very often. That woman had a wonderful time in my station and she was completely fulfilled by the food and experience. She loved the gnocchi and my service. I felt good about it.

So thank you, Pall Mall Lady. You reminded me that servers have the ability to create new memories for their guests or bring back old memories and in your case, I think I did both. It's nice to know that she went home after having a wonderful night and I had something to do with it. I imagine that as she crawled into bed with her pack of cigarettes and thought about her day, it's possible that she thought of me and the plate of gnocchi I gave to her. Sometimes waiting tables can be not so horrible.


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18 comments:

Ninja Kitty Extraordinaire said...

*smile* Perfection! It's precisely moments such as these which keep one out of the aforementioned Bermuda Triangle of Eating Establishments, no? By the by - I'm really hoping her name was somehow Myrna. I love that name. It fits saucy old temptresses and just makes me downright happy!

Chunky Mama said...

I like that every now and then you go and get all mushy on us.
Sweet. :)

Anonymous said...

These are the moments that make our jobs worthwhile...however, they are always few & far between.....

Ally said...

Hopefully the Gnocchi will bring the Pall Mall lady back again!

NellieVaughn said...

Your writing never disappoints. I have to admit, your blog is the only one I visit on a regular basis. I have been ill for three weeks now. This is all I have!! Thank you for making my life a little brighter through the cough, fever, and aches.

diatribesandovations.com said...

A decidedly un-bitchy, yet touching, tale. Thank you so much for sharing it!

Mary A. said...

Thanks for being so nice to my mom.

Smoking may kill you, but it takes 70 years to do it. At least in my mom's case.

thefeebleartichoke said...

Thanks for writing this delightful, well-rounded and well-thought out post! It openly showed your affection for the events of booth 21.
The Bitchy Waiter does unerringly know when its best to fold up the bitchiness, hide in his pocket, and save it for another day! Thanks!

BTW-- thanks for remembering and mentioning Eileen Heckart-- she was wonderful!

♥ Braja said...

Oh yay, 2nd laugh of the day, at 8.20pm! It was the peanut allergy bit that made it burst out of me, just when I was content with the one laugh from the other post....thank you. Twice. :)

Josie/Push The Fish said...

Your stories are AMAZING, Bitchy. Through your detailed descriptions, I meet each and every "character" in my mind's eye and feel as though I've personally somehow come in contact with them myself. Much like NellieVaughn, I've been visiting your site on a regular basis for some time now and I always leave with a genuine laugh and a smile on my face. Thank you for entertaining me with your natural talent and spunky personality. We love Bitchy!

California Girl said...

That's nice B. Every once in a while I like my clients too.

Serving It Back said...

Aw, I loved reading this positive post about waiting! You are so funny bitchy, and I liked your message here. Makes me remember the times I've made some old person's night. I'm always inclined to be nice to the elderly. Like, nice for real.

servingitback.com

Erin said...

Thank you for this story - I'm a server in Los Angeles and as much as I enjoy hearing and telling sardonic anecdotes about the many, many morons that cross our paths in this line of work, it really helped shift my jaded perspective to be reminded of the nice folks who actually enjoy and appreciate a lovely dining experience. This lady would have even put a smile on my face. That being said, there can never be enough camel toe stories, either. Keep up the great work!

Practical Parsimony said...

Now, it is time for me to check and see if my clothing is considered old lady clothing...lol...sigh. That was such a sweet post. I don't want to be an old lady, but at least I won't be coughing up a lung when I laugh.

busana muslim said...

I like that that you say {as|like} my friend thanks

Anonymous said...

I have had a great server save an otherwise craptastic night.
We'd started at the Johnny Rocket in the mall, across from the movie theater entrance. Were seated and actually ignored for 15 minutes while the wait staff got drinks and took orders for people seated well after we were. When we flagged her down and asked if we could order, she was rude. So we left.
And went to Ruby Tuesday's. We got there hungry and pissed off. When we were seated, the waitress asked if I was okay (I get woozy if I don't eat and was apparently greenish), so I told her what happened at JR's, and that we were probably going to miss being able to see our movie because the ticket line was getting out of control.
That girl got our appetizers to us in record time, got us discounted movie tickets, and turned a shitty night into a great date.

Sometimes you guys make a huge difference.

Anonymous said...

What kind of tip did they leave BW?

Anonymous said...

Aww, this was beautiful.

The preciously wonderful moments in our jobs are what make it worthwhile.

It seems to be that it somehow makes the world a better place.