“Oh, hello, yoo hoo…” (think: fingers tapping impatiently) “We’re over here and we’re hungry!”
It’s well after 9 p.m. Quite a while ago the IHop hostess seated my friends and me in a lonely corner booth. When we first entered the restaurant, we noticed a packed house, tables full of families clinking coffee cups and chowing down on pancakes adorned in mountains of luscious whipped cream. The hostess marched our party of four past these happy tables where adults chatted and children hooted. She led us to the back room, crammed with vacant tables. Perhaps, I thought, a server assigned to this section needed some business and the hostess decided to help out by seating us in the back room. I didn’t realize IHop would need to hire someone off the street before we would get service. Hours passed, then weeks, and not one server approached our table. Perhaps I exaggerate the length of time we waited. But how long does it take for someone to acknowledge us and take our order?
Suddenly we notice a young lady in an IHop uniform standing at the other end of the vacant room. She flirts with a young man also wearing an IHop uniform. They chat. They gush and giggle. The young man attempts to appear busy and folds napkins.
My friends and I continue to sit stranded in our corner booth. The four of us turn our eyes toward the lovesick servers lost in their bubble world where only they exist. If we lock eyes with one, they might get the idea that we sit unattended without a glass of water or even an ash tray. Of course, none of us smoke and besides it’s not even legal to smoke in a restaurant. But my friends and I may take up smoking if we don’t get service soon. And if we did, who would notice? Or care? We could light up cigars and puff away and our server and her IHop Romeo would only see the light in each others’ eyes. We could start a fire in our corner of the restaurant, maybe torch the fabric on the seats and our server would continue to transfix her gaze on Napkin Boy. I’m convinced she would giggle and bat her eyelashes as the flames licked her IHop uniform.
We tried to gain her attention with our lightening bolt stares. But she never once turned her head to see the four of us in the corner with only the menus we had memorized by heart. She continued to smile gaga eyes at her handsome Napkin Boy.
Julie says, “I’m going to see if we can get some service.” Julie, who is fearless, leaves and soon returns without saying a word. But she obviously said something to someone as the young lady stops her flirtatious reverie and saunters quite lazily toward our table. She doesn’t greet us with a cheerful, “Hello I’m Tiffany, I’ll be your server tonight.” But I know her name by her name tag. Tiffany asks in a rather bored tone, “Are you ready to order?”
“Uhhh, yeah, we were ready to order two days ago.” That’s what I want to say, but I don’t. I want to reprimand Tiffany for her behavior, “Tiffany, hand over your car keys to me. You’re grounded for two weeks. I’m sorry but forget Prom. You will have to sit home and think about how to treat your customers in a more caring manner.” Of course, I don’t say this either.
We are a polite group of friends, and when I’m with them I try to be polite so not to embarrass them. But my politeness can only go so far.
What? Is Tiffany chewing gum? Wow, now that calls for me to say something that might be a little abrasive and necessary. But yet, I hold my tongue. When Tiffany looks at me, I tell her I’ll have the short stack as she chomps and scribbles on her tablet. I want so bad to send her to her room.
Julie and Jen order decaf coffee and I order water…that is, free water in a glass. I refrain from ordering decaf because it has 2-4 milligrams of caffeine per cup. It’s not honest to call it decaf as it should be called “almost decaf.” I fear even one milligram of caffeine will keep me awake since it’s late, almost Saturday, and so I wait for the water.
Eventually the water arrives for me and for Aubrey also. Tiffany has a carafe full of decaf and two cups for Jen and Julie. She saunters away.
“This decaf is cold,” Julie says.
“It doesn’t taste fresh,” Jen says. And all of us know that Jen, one of the nicest persons we know, wouldn’t say this unless it were true.
Tiffany flirts at the other end of the room with Mr. Napkin Folder. By a stroke of luck, she dodges the forks and knives we hurl toward her. At any rate, we catch her attention and gesture for her to return to our table.
Jen and Julie explain the decaf is cold and stale.
She forces a plastic smile and grits her teeth as she says, “I’ll make a fresh pot.” This is a huge clue the pot she had served wasn’t fresh. Yes, a novel idea, a “fresh” pot instead of a stale pot.
Who wants to be ignored in IHop at 10 p.m. on Friday night and then served cold decaf? Not many of us, I’m sure.
Before stopping for breakfast at IHop, we enjoyed a rip-roaring night of painting peacocks at an event called Paint Nite. At a cafè on the other side of town, about 33 women and two brave men scrunched into seats at tables set up with an easel and canvas for each one. We had only enough room for our paintbrushes, cup of water for cleaning the brushes, and a palette with paint. The leader of the event directed us in the steps to paint a peacock while a tired, elderly lady (who looked like she had worked two shifts before arriving at Paint Nite) dragged about the room serving wine and appetizers to those wanting to drink and eat while painting.
As the night proceeded, we heard a lot of high-pitched, cackling laughter at the other end of the room, which made me think the wine was flowing more freely than the paint at that end of the room.
As we painted, I glanced over at Aubrey’s artistic brush strokes. Aubrey does everything with exquisite style. I’ve always admired her style.
A lady across from us swept her brush across the canvas in swoops of purple and blue with such grace and ease. I suddenly realized I needed to give myself a pep talk to keep my insecurities from emerging. “Hey Bronwyn, you’re just there to have fun, not create a masterpiece. Remember, you won a short story award in high school! You won smallest pet in a pet show in the second grade. Your picture, taken with your guppy in the mayonnaise jar, appeared in the newspaper. Your mom bought seven copies, remember?”
I felt grateful for my pep talk to myself. It always helps.
When Paint Nite ended, Julie, Jen, Aubrey and I decided to go out to breakfast. I turned my attention away from peacocks and the four of us headed for IHop.
When the night ended, I drove home and purposefully left my peacock painting in the backseat of my car. Two days later, I took it out and showed it to Jerry. He silently looked it over. I explained it could have come out much better if we were given the opportunity to first draw the peacock with a pencil and to use smaller brushes.
“Now you know for next time,” Jerry said. “You can cover that painting with gesso and paint your peacock again.”
I guess I could. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to ever paint a peacock again. I actually prefer to never even hear the word ‘peacock’ again…(hint to all who might feel the urge to use the word in my presence).
However, this experience reminds me that we all want to know we matter.
When I think of people who made the biggest impact in my life, it was the people who had sincere belief in me.
The people in our lives want that same validation. In fact, every single person wants to know they matter.
Even while ordering pancakes, we want to know we matter as we sit alone in a corner booth.
I will give IHop a second chance some day. But I will need time to heal from our IHop treatment. Yes, it will take time and lots of pancakes for me to heal …