one of my first family trips to Virginia, where aiming to please by waitstaff was the the highest priority and raison d'être, as it should be.
Unfortunately, I chose to settle in New York City, not Virginia, and I was to learn that this city was not the ideal place to fulfill my mother's promise. Here, a diner is often made to feel like a waiter is doing them a favor. Special requests are often greeted with an expression of annoyance. Frequently, you are told that something cannot be done when, in reality, it is the waiter that is unwilling to do it. Multiple requests mean multiple trips for the waiter, and soon one begins to learn that living with things the way they are is better than getting what you want at the expense of having a surly waiter, someone often disgruntled, frustrated, and resentful in having to work tables rather than their chosen profession.
Of course, someone with chutzpah pays none of this any mind, so perfectly illustrated in The Last Detail. In the film, Jack Nicholson and a buddy, both sailors, are entrusted with escorting a young sailor, Larry Meadows, to naval prison to serve eight years for a petty crime committed. Feeling badly for such a harsh sentence, Nicholson and companion try to show Meadows a good time on their last detail from Norfolk, Virginia, to the Portsmouth Naval Prison in New Hampshire. On the journey, there is a scene in a diner where Meadows is served a cheeseburger with the cheese not melted, as he had hoped. As many of us would, he is ready to accept his fate, but Nicholson notices the kid's displeasure, sends the burger back, and makes a statement that I will always remember: "See Meadows? It's just as easy to have it the way you want it." Easy for Nicholson, the perennial assertive bad boy.
Recently, while eating at the Olive Tree Cafe on MacDougal Street, I ordered my favorite drink, Passion Punch. This non-alcoholic beverage is made from a variety of juices and laced with pieces of fresh fruit and maraschino cherries. Perhaps not the acme of cuisine, but nonetheless I have a small fondness for these cherries, which are something of a prize as each one is found in this punch. As of late, however, there has been a decline in the number of cherries, with even as few as one solitary cherry on a recent visit.
On my last visit, however, I was served by Gerald, who has worked the place for eons. Gerald is astute and fast and gets it right the first time. There is nothing like a waiter who has much experience and is good. When he delivered my drink, it was awash in maraschino cherries. I complimented him, mentioning my recent misfortune in the dearth of cherries and the extraordinarily good fortune I now found clustered at the top of my drink. Eric responded that the bartender was busy and that he had made the drink himself. Aha. Good fortune and service explained. Much like Bill Schimmel, who was the Redeemer for the torture of accordion of my youth, Eric restored my faith that somewhere out there, when you're lucky, a restaurant is a place like my mother promised, and without traveling to Virginia, even in New York City, you can get things the way you like it :)
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