Fear and foreboding in Los Angeles

We sat in the restaurant located in West Hollywood, but this wasn’t any West Hollywood that I recognized. Usually the streets of any city in the greater Los Angeles area are teeming with people. Sure, they might be an odd group of eclectic people, but they are people, nonetheless. This night was a different night than most, because as it turned out, it was the last night that people could eat out in restaurants in L.A.

A loud cackling was coming from an overly inebriated twenty-something bar patron. She was hunched over in a drunken slouch, her long gossamer wrap was blown back and her bright white patent leather high heeled ankle boots were locked in the top rung of her barstool, causing her to show far more of her leg, than one might normally deem appropriate in a fine dining establishment.

It all could have been shrugged off as an oversight, except for the fact that she kept rearranging her wrap for maximum effect and stared openly tilt headed sideways at every man in the room, one by one. Including, as it turned out, the married man, his wife, and his daughter out for a birthday celebration.

Bars and restaurants are gathering places, social hubs, especially in times of stress. Even in this era of cellphones and Instagram, people still like to go where other people are. If they didn’t, then all restaurants and bars would be filled uniformly. And we know that isn’t true. If there’s a line or a wait, the place must be good, right? Rarely do people feel at ease when they walk into a restaurant with plenty of seating. Just look at all the current social media postings of empty bars and empty restaurants. It’s kind of creepy.

Social distancing is the new norm, at least for the time being, but on that night, that term had yet to be fully articulated, much less fully implemented. The fact is that birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and yes even nights off, continue, no matter what the adversity is. Think of the movie Casablanca, Rick et al, are all hanging out in the bar listening to Sam playing it again on the eve of the United States’ entry into World War II. But on eves of adversity, things can go a little off the rails.

“I think she’s an off-duty employee,” I said to my dinner companions.

“What makes you say that?” asked the most annoyed of those companions.

Miss gossamer was getting her glass refilled by two or three different servers, she was sitting immediately adjacent to the service station, even though there were plenty of other seats, and the manager, instead of cutting her off, was doing shots of a dark colored amaro with her.

It wasn’t just her, the other servers were overly mingling with the guests, the chubby waiter in suspenders was openly drinking a glass of wine at the table next to us, and our own server was spending most of her time chatting with Miss Tilty, rather than with any of the guests sitting at her tables.

But you know, adversity puts a lot of things in perspective. Minutiae becomes less important when things become scarce. Dare I say we aren’t our best people when things come too easily. When there is no coffee to be found, suddenly any coffee becomes valuable, not just dark roasted arabica/Ethiopian blends. An argument about medium-rare-rare vs. rare- rare-medium seems far less important when there is only one thing to eat. And don’t even get me started on gluten.

On that night we weren’t there yet. But we were getting there, fast. Just the night before I had finished my own work week. I knew on that day, that it might be quite a few days until I would be at work again. Perhaps we handled our last day of service better than Miss Tilty and her friends, and perhaps we didn’t, things are always a matter of perspective, especially in the service business. I do know that I finished both nights with an adult beverage.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

  1. I really appreciated that restaurant was open at all on that night, no matter what.
  2. The band on the Titanic kept playing while the boat was sinking. I have a hunch the bar stayed open too.
  3. I will miss the hospitality industry in the coming weeks, both from inside of it, and from outside of it.
  4. One of the first places “liberated” during The Liberation of Paris in 1944, was the bar at the Ritz, or so Hemingway tells us.
  5. The hospitality industry will welcome us all back when this is all over. It is called the hospitality industry after all, isn’t it?