I looked around the room, all tall windows, green curtains, white marble, and mirrors. “I’ve never been here before,” I said. The light outside was yellow-bright, but faded from moment to moment, a partly-cloudy day outside.
Our waiter brought our drinks, and apologized in advance for being a bit unfocused. “We’ve been open for 24 hours.” Our tall blond waiter looked worn around the edges and his eyes seemed ready to close at any second.
“Oh, right, the concerts. No problem.” I said, referring to the 24 one-hour concerts next door, in Wieden + Kennedy’s atrium, in honor (dishonor?) of the seventh anniversary of the Iraq War. Lindsey and I had just snuck out of there in search of some food. “Have you been up 24 hours?”
“I was up until four AM, I think, and then I crashed,” he leaned on the bar with both arms, “took a nap, then came back. It’s been… interesting.”
We ordered our food, me a cheese pizza, her a Caesar salad (minus croutons). I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, hours ago, and neither had Lindsey. We sipped our drinks and talked and watched the room and the staff and the customers, and the afternoon hour passed pleasantly.
Except… the food kept not arriving. Our waiter apologized for being so out of it due to lack of sleep that he had forgotten to put our order in. “Your drinks are on me,” he said. A nice gesture, and appreciated, though my friend was only drinking a club soda. What we’d like, though, was our food.
A young man, formally dressed, carrying a violin case, approached the bar and asked us if the open stool was taken. “Why, hello!” Lindsey recognized him. She introduced me to him. “This is Jun Iwasaki, Concertmaster for the Oregon Symphony.”
He, too, looked tired; we asked him if he was playing later, and he said that he had played early that morning. “I had just flown back into town, got a brief nap, then met up with the others to practice. That was at 2.”
Lindsey laughed. “Oh, my!” Jun and Lindsey shared a look; I must have looked confused because she said to me, “I could not have done that. But Jun plays at a far higher level than I have ever could.” Oh. Right. An hour to practice with musicians you’d never met an hour before performing; that does seem difficult to pull off. On reflection I was impressed. Writers get to polish their work as much as we want before we let anyone see it; musicians make it fresh every time they perform live, with all the risks and rewards that entails.
She and Jun and I talked for a bit, until Jun was joined by a woman, and they moved to the far end of the bar where there were two open seats.
And we continued waiting for our food. Two ladies further down were served a fondue and the smell of melted cheese floated our way. A couple received a plate of French fries. “They ordered after we did,” I said. Lindsey just nodded.
Eventually a different waiter apologized for the wait, and explained that the pizza I had ordered had just been put in and would be out soon. I asked that the salad be brought out as soon as it was ready; no need for her to wait longer. The waiter assured us he would do that, and asked if we wanted anything else. We ordered some French fries. “Of course, of course,” he repeated. “And I just want you to know that” he gestured at the empty space in front of us where eventually food would appear “this is on me. I’m very sorry for the delay. It’s just… we’ve been open for 24 hours…”
It didn’t even connect with me then. I accepted our waiter’s (perhaps he was the manager; a waiter would say it was “on the house” or “on us”, but a manager would have more ownership and be inclined to say it was “on me”) apology and offer. But primarily we were hungry.
Lindsey left the bar for a moment and by the time she’d returned our French fries waiting in front of me. I did a Vanna-wave over them, smiling. “Look what showed up! I’m so glad you’re back; I’ve been trying to hold back so that there were some left for you,” I joked. We dug in.
And soon enough her salad (with croutons, which were huge and easily picked off) and my pizza (which was 10″ across and would be a “medium” anywhere else but here was an appetizer) were placed in front of us. Again, the waiter (manager?) asked us if we needed anything else, and said, “Don’t worry about any of this, it’s on me.”
That’s when it hit me. Anything? And we weren’t paying? I turned to Lindsey. “We have an open tab.” I picked up my top-shelf gin and tonic. “I could drink a few more of these… Are you sure there’s nothing else we want?” I said, smiling. “Maybe I should call a friend or two…” I laughed. I think Lindsey did, too.
We ended up leaving a nice tip, after all that. I’m OK with the service there, and I’m sure it was a fluke. Things happen, but when they happen, as long as the staff keeps me informed and makes an effort to put things right, as they did that afternoon, it goes a long way toward restoring my goodwill.