As afternoons go, this one was going pretty well. One of the great difficulties in the restaurant business is taking over for someone else. It can be a little like passing a baton in a relay race. Too much too soon and it feels forced, too little too late and you risk dropping everything. The major difference is that track and field athletes rarely go on social media to complain. Perhaps that is why lunch might be missed by some customers, but it’s not missed by most employees.
Which made the first couple in the early afternoon not only my first couple but the very first couple of the day. They weren’t much different than the hundreds of couples that have sat in front of me on many a different sunny afternoon. Baseball caps? Check. Designer yoga pants for her, designer cargo shorts for him? Check, check. $85 T-shirts for both? Double checks.
“What’ll it be?” I asked, not so differently than those hundreds of other times. A skinny margarita and an old fashioned later and the couple settled in.
BTW, altering the whiskey and the bitters in an old fashioned, or the tequila and soda water ratios in a skinny margarita doesn’t change the overreaching fact that they are both extremely common drinks. We are not being unique by ordering them this way, we are just being more of the same.
“We’re new to the area,” said the woman in her mid-thirties, her long platinum blonde hair pulled through the adjustment hole on the back of her cap.
Some people are easier to engage with than others. Which is certainly welcome in an industry where the act of engagement is so very crucial.
Her scruffy half shaved companion nodded in agreement.
“That’s nice,” I said. “Welcome.”
“Do you get many celebrities around here?” she asked.
Well, that didn’t take long. Usually, people beat around the bush for a while before they get to a question like that.
“It is Marin County,” I said.
“We heard that Lady Gaga has been hanging around,” said Mr. Scruffy.
“I’ve heard that too,” I replied.
“Have you seen her?” asked his companion, her intricately manicured eyebrows arching obviously over her hazel eyes.
“You know, I wouldn’t recognize her if I did,” I said. “I am at the age where when I watched the Grammys, not only did I not know the artists, but I didn’t even know the presenters.”
They both laughed: with me, or at me, I wasn’t sure. But at least they were laughing.
What followed was a conversation about the Grateful Dead, Huey Lewis, local bars, celebrities, and of course, Lady Gaga. I shared with them a story about an uber famous musician who once sat at the bar. I had pretended that I didn’t know who he was. Up to and including the point where he actually introduced himself with his real name.
“What an unusual name,” I had said, not even flinching.
Later when he asked me to make him a margarita with my favorite tequila, I reached up and grabbed a bottle, looked at it and put it back.
“What was wrong with that one?” he had asked.
“Well,” I had said. “This bottle doesn’t have enough tequila to make a margarita, and I don’t feel like running downstairs to get more.”
The look on his face told me clearly that he was not used to such honesty. In his industry, at his level of fame, people will run all over town to get him the exact color of hard candy he preferred, just because. He certainly wasn’t used to someone saying they didn’t feel like doing something for him. And to his credit, he seemed to appreciate it.
I finished that story by telling the young couple that I had never let on that I knew exactly who he was. I was tempted to say something at the very end but I didn’t. Let him think he was just another guy sitting at a bar, even if just for one night, I told them. And they seemed to appreciate that.
When they got up to leave, she stood and somehow seemed shorter than I would have expected.
“Next time, wear the meat dress,” I said.
She looked at me and cocked her head coquettishly.
“Maybe next time I will,” she laughed.
Later on, I looked up a picture of Lady Gaga. Let’s just say that three things may have just happened.
One: Lady Gaga had sat at the bar and I hadn’t recognized her. Two: Lady Gaga had sat at the bar, and now she isn’t sure if I had recognized her. Or three: “Mike” and “Stephanie” – new to town – aren’t quite sure what to make of that storytelling bartender down the street.