Monday, May 10, 2010

The Karma of Rudeness

It was my day off and I was indulging in my favorite pastime of wondering around the city when I came across a hip, new bistro. I'm hardly a hipster but the prices were moderate and it was late afternoon so the joint wasn't busy.

I sensed that I'd made a mistake the moment I walked inside. A blond bartender of around 35, gave me a "what-you-doin'-here" look. It was so pronounced that I reflexively checked my fly. It was zipped. I glanced in the mirror and saw a good-looking middle-aged man wearing a nice sweater and slacks staring back at me. I walked over to a table near a window and sat down.

The bartender huddled with a 25 year old waitress. They took turns sneaking peaks at me. "Good-looking" and "nice" apparently weren't hip enough expressions for their customer profile. I suppose I could have left but, as a cab driver, I'm used to snobs finding me undesirable and I don't let people with attitudes keep me from doing what I want to do.

What I wanted to do was have a meal and a drink.

After about 10 minutes, it became clear that the waitress had no intention of taking my order so I got up, walked over and took a menu off the bar, told the bartender to send me over a Guinness then went back my table to read the menu.

Another 15 minutes passed. Three couples, proper hipsters, came in, were immediately seated, given menus and had their orders for drinks taken by the obsequiously smiling waitress. As she passed by me, I said in my most booming, bass voice,

"Could you please give me that Guinness now ... and I'm ready to order."

I was so loud that the couples turned and looked over at me. The waitress glanced at the bartender who gave me a blank stare then nodded to her. They rightly decided that it would be less trouble for them to serve me then not. The waitress brought my beer and, with a snippy expression on her face, took my order.

A half hour later, the three couple all had their food and there was no sign of anything or anybody heading in my direction. I held up my empty beer mug and was about to yell for another when the waitress pre-empted me by rushing over with a dead chicken.

It was supposed to be a dish called "Fusion Chicken" but it was just dead. And it had been dead a long time before they sort of cooked it.

I should have sent the chicken back and had them bring me a decent dish but I have a neurotic block when it comes to such behavior. Every time we ate out in my childhood, my grandfather send his food back to be re-cooked. It didn't matter how it was cooked. He send it back. I have a horror of becoming an ass like that.

I ate the third of the chicken that I guessed wasn't rotten, finished my beer and tried to motion the waitress for my check but she refused to see me. This went on for another 15 minutes. Finally she headed in my direction.

"Can I have the check?" I asked politely as she blew by me and went out the door. She came back 15 minutes later and it was yet another 15 minutes before I was able to pay and leave. I seriously thought about having her give me change for a dime and then leaving a penny tip but I decided that would be stooping to her level. I simply stiffed her. It's the first and only time in my adult life that I haven't tipped.

I can't remember exactly how many of my taxi customers I talked out of going to that restaurant but there were at least a half a dozen who had reservations and changed their minds after talking to me.

I also related the tale to every cab driver I knew. This is the ultimate gossiping network. I'm sure that in no time at all, a thousand drivers were trashing the place for me.

"Have you heard anything about "...." Bistro?" My customers would ask.

"Yeah," I would tell them truthfully, "the food's rotten and the service is terrible."

"But the online reviews were very good?"

"Don't be naive," I'd tell them, "they write that stuff themselves."

Several months after my dead-chicken meal, the bartender got into my taxi and commanded me to drive him to the bistro. He was wearing an expensive suit and didn't recognize me.

"Have you heard anything about this place?" he asked as we arrived, clearly fishing for compliments.

"Yeah - the food sucks and the service blows."

It's not easy to describe the expression on his face and as he stepped out of the cab.

He scowled at me with a combination of hostility and deflation. He looked a little like he wanted to assault me and a little like he wanted to cry. Must have been the owner. He kept glaring at me as I smiled cheerfully and drove away.

Three months later he was out of business.

Tough luck, fellow. It's too bad in a way. From what I hear, the food ordinarily wasn't half bad.