The woman asked, “May I sit anywhere?” even though the sign in the hotel restaurant clearly read, “Seat Yourself.” I brought the slumped shouldered woman one menu. Better to hear, “Another person’s joining me” rather than have her sigh, “I’m eating alone tonight,” after bringing over too many menus. The staff marked the white, blue-haired woman for a one-top staying on the “hospital discount.” The hospitals are within blocks of the hotel, hosting people “off the Rez;” “up North” white Minnesotans and occasionally Middle Eastern royalty who cannot grasp the worry of health care coverage. The hospital guests make up one-third of the hotel’s business and rarely tip the restaurant staff.
The servers try to pass off these tables to the bartenders; bartenders get paid more than minimum wage. Rent and student loans were covered and I only had a two-top, so I relished being able to ask her, “How are you doing tonight?” with enough time to listen to her response.
“Tired if I’m going to be honest.” Taking a deep breath she said, “I’ve been at the hospital all day.”
Even those lucky enough to be a hospital guest surrounded by family don’t have the energy for filtered conversations. A guest once explained every detail of his recently removed catheter. He sat alone, but I listened impatiently. A Frenchman waited for me to be “his travel guide through the Great Room Restaurant experience,” so I had no time for Marvin and his catheter woes. Not then, but now, I wish I would have stayed to listen. I too know the pain of a catheter and damn, it hurts.
“What do you need? Caffeine or liquor?” I asked her. Serving duties come first, personal inquiries happen later.
“Gin and tonic. And then I’ll decide on food, although I’m not very hungry.”
“Preference on gin?”
“What’s that?” She lifted her ear.
I said more loudly, “We’ve got Beefeaters, Tanqueray, Bombay…”
“Rail will be just fine. I’d like the limes on the side, please.” Her “please” was more pleasant than usual; the two-top probably wasn’t going to tip.
After taking their order, I told Chef, “One of the guys wants the ‘tastiest’ fish you can make. ‘Marinated so well the juices and flavors soak into the fish and don’t sit on top.’”
“Did you tell him our fish was frozen?”
“Only if he asks. Duh.”
“My silly ballerina.” He tweaked his nipple and I ran out of the kitchen before he could tease me for blushing again.
We did our genuine best to give the two-top the “tastiest” seafood with all the talent and ingredients we possessed. When I asked, “How is your dinner, sir?” the guy gave another eye roll. For the rest of the night his communications included snapping his fingers and clicking his tongue, but few words. I overheard him say to his dining companion, “I’m so angry I can’t even speak to her.”
“Have we decided on food?” I asked the tired, pleasant woman.
“Is it possible to get the quesadilla without jalapenos?” She asked the question like it was an inconvenience.
“Of course. And how is your gin and tonic?”
“I just have to say this is the best, THE BEST gin and tonic I’ve ever had! And I’ve had a few gin and tonics.” Her previously furrowed brow crinkled as she smiled.
“I’m so glad!” I rarely speak in sincere exclamations at work. “What’s your name?”
“Well, I’m Norma.”
“Nice to meet you Norma! I’m Ryn.”
“What a beautiful name! Where does it come from?”
“Katharyn. Too many Katies in the world.”
“Let me shake your hand.” Her grip was earnest.
Our “Where are you from?” conversation turned into “What did you do/want to do in life?” She told me of her husband’s cancer and the increasing health care bills. Their three acres in the woods could get lonely sometimes.
For once her generous tip was not the my goal for this interaction; I just wished her well.
G&Ts: REAL TALK
Neither ingredient originated in Britain, but the Brit’s thirst for domination brought the two together. Quinine gives tonic water its sharp taste. It also helped the Brits fight malaria while the Indian subcontinent fought for their agency and their lives. The Brits co-opted “gin” from the Flemish word genever. A Dutch scientist coaxed medicinal uses out of juniper berries to create Jenever, the predecessor of genever (slightly different spelling and with slightly less alcohol content). Long lost healers--and not so long ago, pharmacists--would like it known: while most modern inebriants come from their concoctions, they were born in the pursuit of science and well-being. Although the buzz they got while “working” wasn’t too bad.
GIN AND TONIC RECIPE
Seriously, you need one?