Friday, November 8, 2013

Down Under

Several weeks ago I was doing a stint as manager at Twin Rocks Cafe when I had a harrowing experience. Only recently have I recovered enough to comfortably speak of the incident. The episode began simply enough; my crew and I were scheduled to serve an early lunch to a British coach tour that had been thrown off schedule by our latest federal government shutdown. A couple days earlier the tour director had called in the entire order, so we were already set-up and fully prepared for their arrival. The troop of elderly travelers arrived on time, off-loaded the bus and quickly entered the cafe. I noticed right away the pack was miffed by their rerouted and rescheduled tour. In fact, I overheard several barbs aimed at our dear President and Congress. Not wanting to get into a political debate with the grumbling group, I maintained my distance. Unlike my brother-business partner who thrives on dissension, and seems to be testing the waters of political commentary, I prefer to steer clear of that quagmire. As the boisterous Brits filed in to be seated, I greeted them with an all-American smile and directed them to their tables.
Tara, Janelia and Barry Simpson
As they sat down, Tara began bringing forth the repast our cook, Janelia and her staff had so professionally prepared. The Brits settled in and began to loosen-up. I was helping deliver meals and making certain all was satisfactory when a tetrad of matronly English ladies flagged me over. "A question", one queried, "Might it be possible to balance this table?" The old girl emphasized her point by wiggling the table to and fro on the uneven floor. "Certainly", I said with a smile, "I will be right back." Turning to go for the plastic wedges, I heard the eldest of the group say with much aggravation, "And bring me tea, Earl Grey, hot . . . with lemon!" The old girl was tiny, wizened and feisty. Her silvery green eyes met mine without blinking. She was both serious and intense. My wife Laurie will be the first to tell you that I hate, with a passion, to be bossed. It is clear I have been in this business far too long, because I often say what I think without first considering the consequences of my actions. I remind Laurie that I only spout-off when someone is ornery to me. So, without thinking, I turned, looked down on the 90-something year old girl and said with a broad smile, "Now don't be mean spirited you little sprite, I will get you your tea, just behave."

Most of the people in the group must have heard my retort, because, as if on que, the entire room went silent. The spitfire and I looked deep into each other’s eyes. After a moment, a great grin spread across her wrinkled face and she let out a gleeful cackle. "Well then, get after it my boy", she said with a toothy smile. The tension in the room dissipated in an instant, and everyone began to recount the story to those who had only heard a portion of our interaction. Laughter filled the room, and I turned to walk into the kitchen to fetch the tea and table wedges, thinking to myself, "That could have gone very wrong! Here I am picking a fight with a little old lady. This is going to look great on Trip Advisor." Gathering up my tea service, I took a deep breath and headed back into the crowd. Granny was still in a good humor and obviously waiting for an opportunity to even the score. I laid-out her tea then looked beneath the table to correct the imbalance.

Because of the foursome's abundance of Bermuda shorts, chubby legs and knobby knees, it was hard to see just where the correction needed to be made. I dropped the wedge to the floor and tried pushing it into position with my toe. Having missed the mark several times, the ladies began giving me a hard time about my failed attempts. "It looks as if you are going to have to go 'down under'," said Granny with a crooked smile. Looking into their encouraging faces, then under the table with its abundance of bulky legs and bony knees, I knew that was one place I did not want to be. Groaning inwardly, however, I bent to the task. The women above me began giggling like schoolgirls, and started bouncing their knees in excitement. My head felt like a volleyball stuck between strikes at the top of the net. I was trying to keep my Twin Rocks Cafe T-shirt from riding up my backside and my jeans from slipping off my bottom-side with one hand and attempting to place the wedge with the other. I heard one of the bouncing broads say, "Ooh, I love a man on his knees!" Everyone within earshot busted-up laughing at my obviously uncomfortable position, and I am certain every part of me turned a bright red.

Feeling an emotional trauma coming on, I hurriedly slipped the wedge into place and escaped from "down under". As I walked by another table, one of the ladies called out in a brisk British accent, "Our table is rocking as well, can you fix it?" More laughter. Our catering manager, Tara, saw my distress, grabbed an over-large wedge and slapped it into my hand like a baton at a track relay. I dropped the wedge to the floor and booted it into place with a smooth, even motion. An "Ooh" emanated about the room as the group displayed their dismay at being denied another show at my expense. British humor, you gotta hate it! The remainder of the meal was only slightly interrupted with jibes and catcalls. But for that, all went well. As the old guys and gals departed, I received hugs all round, and a kiss on the cheek from Granny Spitfire. The tour director thanked me profusely for the entertainment, saying I had made her life easier and caused the group to relax. Hopefully they would enjoy the rest of the ride. "Happy to help", I replied reddening once again. I am not certain I will ever recover from playing the clown, but my therapist informs me that telling the tale and admitting embarrassment is where true healing begins.

With warm regards;
Barry, Steve, Priscilla and Danny; the team.

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