Who’s bad? This question was asked by the so-called King of Pop Michael Jackson, at the end of his hit song, “Bad.” Four years later, Michael’s own brother, Jermaine, released a song entitled, “Word to the Badd” as some sort of message to his brother. Apparently their differences ran so deeply that they couldn’t even agree on the spelling of bad/badd.
I mention this to illustrate the differences that even the closest of loved ones can have, even after decades together. This issue began a few weeks ago when my wife Theresa and I went to The Ale House, a local sports bar, for dinner. Well, actually it began several months earlier, when I purchased a particular shirt at a thrift store.
The shirt was a polo, new with tags in my size. It was somewhere between a plum color and eggplant and at $2.25 was a bargain at half price. But the best part about the shirt was the emblem. It was embroidered with the “Miller’s Ale House Restaurants” logo with the word “COACH” stitched below. It gave me an idea.
I have been buying shirts with interesting logos for years. Most of them go unnoticed, but a few have received a surprising number of comments. For example, I had a shirt with a logo for a TV station, Carolina 14, assumedly in somewhere in North Carolina. It seems that people from North Carolina are friendlier than I am accustomed to. People were constantly coming up to me like we were old buddies because we watched the same station at one point. Being from New Jersey, I might have been inclined to respond with something along the lines of, “What the hell are you talking about?” Theresa would ask why I wore the shirts if I didn’t like the comments. Hmm, good question.
Another shirt had the logo of Flanagan High School, located in southwestern Broward County, Florida, about 20 miles from our home in Coral Springs. A quick peek at their Wikipedia page shows their most famous alumni being two major leaguers, Mike Napoli and J. D. Martinez, and porn star Riley Reid. I’ve seen at least two of them. What the web page fails to mention is that the school supplies the waitstaff for every restaurant in the county. For some reason, every time I wore that shirt to a restaurant, the server would ask, “Did you teach at Flanagan? I went there!” Seriously, 100% of the time.
Theresa and I had just returned from out Christmas trip to Raleigh at 3:00 that Friday morning. She had to get up a few hours later to go to work and I took care of several loads of laundry. Since we were pretty tired and had no food in the house, I suggested that we extend our vacation one day, and treat ourselves to dinner at The Ale House. I showered and got dressed. At the last minute I remembered the shirt and put it on.
While in Raleigh, we visited several restaurants. The odd thing was that we had a surprising run of mediocre service in North Carolina. This was unusual as the service there is typically better than in South Florida. We chalked it up to it being during the holidays and also some bad luck. We are not the type to complain or screw a server on the tip. Everyone has a bad day. I mean, we all got our food and we were all together. That’s what counts, right?
On the other hand, I always check restaurant reviews before going to a new place. I’m looking for the overall tone of the reviews and try to avoid places described as dirty. I also can’t help checking out the one-star reviews just to see what the lunatics have to say. The reason I say this is that I have never seen a review of ANY restaurant that doesn’t have at least one review that describes a worse experience than I have ever had in my entire life.
I figure as a rough estimate of a restaurant per week for my adult life, that’s roughly 2000 visits, 5000 if you count fast food. I’ve certainly had my share of crappy waiters and food. Still, how high can my expectations be from kids making $2.85 per hour plus tips? I’ve even seen reviews where people are clearly writing the review course by course while in the restaurant. What kind of narcissist thinks anyone is waiting for their opinion?
We went to Cracker Barrel for breakfast on the way to dropping someone off at the airport. There were eight of us and it was pretty crowded. We were given a waiter, a big Mennonite-looking kid, named Eli. Eli had only one star on his apron, so our expectations were already lowered. As expected, Eli was very new and clearly in over his head. I also noticed that neither the manager, nor any of his three and four-starred co-workers lifted a finger to help or advise him. We didn’t complain. We left a fair tip. We didn’t post a review. We even joked that we should come back every Christmas to see if Eli ever gets his second star.
Back at The Ale House, we were seated in a booth and the server, Nicolette, came by. She immediately saw my shirt and pleasantly said that she figured I would be watching her closely. To continue the bit, I said something mildly neutral like, “I’m just here to help.” The funny part was that we received the most remarkably attentive service that we had ever received at a sports bar. It’s not as though we received anything special, but after our experiences in North Carolina, it was both noticeable and extremely pleasant.
If we asked for something, she moved quickly to take care of it. She also moved quickly to get to our table. If my drink reached the one-third level, Nicolette was there for with a refill. When I happily related my joy to Theresa, she said, “You’re so bad.”
I was immediately taken aback. Bad? I could see if you called me provocative, or a screwball, or odd, or a freak, or a psychopath, but bad? This wasn’t meant to be bad. At worst it was an example of antics. Sure, buying a shirt specifically to wear to a restaurant so I can freak out the waiter is a bit goofy, but it’s hardly bad. Actually, I might even be doing Nicolette a favor. She may realize that if she treats all customers as though they were evaluating her, she might do a better job and make more money. Why I should be a restaurant coach.
Theresa is a Compliance Director. I figured that in her career, there is no place for antics. But I realized that it’s deeper than that. Her family was comprised of primarily stern people. They didn’t get or tolerate antics either. I grew up watching The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, and Bugs Bunny. My grandfather was the biggest needler of all time. My childhood was immersed in antics. She grew up in a world where antics were bad.
As usual, Theresa scoffed at my theory and Nicolette brought our check. She brightly said, “I don’t know how we do discounts from other stores, so my manager is coming by to see you.” Theresa turned white and said, “I’m going to the bathroom.” She literally ran away.
A moment later, the manager, Carl, walked up and introduced himself to me. I shook his hand and explained that I was just a screwball having a bit of fun. I told him that Nicolette was spectacular and that I had no reason to believe that she gave us any less than her normal level of service. I also tipped her at over twenty percent and asked Carl not to tell her that I was a fake. “Tell her that she did a great job. I don’t want her to be embarrassed as she has nothing to be embarrassed about. Why ruin her day?” He agreed and I hope that he kept her in the dark. No harm, no foul.
While walking to the car, I told Theresa what had transpired, but I don’t think she changed her opinion of the incident. I dropped my hand behind her and gave her a nice squeeze on the ass cheek. She wriggled away and said, “You’re so bad.” Well, maybe I’m a little bad.