Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Sauce Must Have Been Good

I recently read an online discussion about restaurant dining on a newspaper website. One person wrote about a time he left a 1% tip: drinks didn't arrive until after the entrees, one entrée came out 30 minutes before the other one, the second order was completely wrong although the server insisted other wise and they had to wait an hour for their check. Sure that may justify no tip, but what amazed me, was how long people will actually put up with poor experiences before being pushed hard enough to fight back. If I have to wait more than five minutes to order a drink after I'm seated, I start muttering, "who do I have to kill to get a drink in this place?"
That story reminded me of an incident that happend in our restaurant:

It took a good year and a half before I finally decided that our restaurant was going to make it. I would go home after a successful day then come in the next day wondering if any customers would show up. During this time, as guests were leaving, they frequently asked if I was the owner. I would begrudgingly answer affirmatively while bracing myself for a slap in the face, a kick to the groin, or a challenge to a duel, or at least a firm tongue lashing. But probably 95% of the time, they had really nice things to say about the restaurant. 4% of the time, they might have valuable constructive criticism while the other 1% challenged me to duels. I had gotten used to feeling the love.

One Saturday night, I came in about 5:00. Only one table was occupied by a family of four in the corner. I didn't pay much attention as I went about my business getting ready for the dinner rush. As they got up to leave, I happened to be standing near the door. The father of the family asked if I was the owner. I smiled brightly and almost held out my hand ready to be kissed.

"This restaurant is a disgrace," he started. "I've never had a worse meal in my life. The food was cold and way too expensive. My wife's chicken was raw!"

Like a punching bag hanging from the ceiling I kept swinging back for more. Finally, I managed to jump in and tried to solve the problem. "I'm very sorry to hear that. Did you talk to the server and have the chicken replaced?"

"No, we didn't."

"Well let me get you something else. I would hate for you to leave hungry."

"I wouldn't touch your food if you gave me a million dollars."

(I guessed he wouldn't be enthused about a complimentary gift certificate.)

"We don't want anything," he continued. "We just wanna get out of here so we can go tell our friends about it."

"Yeah," the wife finally chimed in. "And we're gonna put it all over facebook so our friends can tell their friends. No one's gonna come here again."

They stormed out the door as I struggled to find anything to say. I ran back to the kitchen and found the server who was one of our best.

"What happened? Did they say anything to you?" I asked.

"No, everything was fine. They never complained. They weren't talkative, but I had no idea there was a problem."

We went back to the table and inspected the plates. They were empty, no sign of any leftover half-eaten, much less raw chicken. I walked back to the office and sat down trying to comprehend what had happened. The best I could figure was that they were hoping to get salmonella poisoning for a lawsuit payday or just to prove some sort of point.

That day I realized that complainers are nothing to worry about or fear; their problems are usually easily fixed. It's the people that have a bad experience and walk out without saying a word that are the ones to worry about.

Luckily, their Facebook campaign (if they indeed waged one) didn't hurt our business. But at the time I thought, "Yes, please tell your friends that you were served raw chicken. And that you just went ahead and ate it anyways."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How Not to Die from Sitting

I recently read this article about how sitting all day is really bad for you. It listed the usual reasons like standing burns more calories, muscle metabolism changes, and you are at increased risk for various cancers. To top it all off, each hour of sitting results in a loss of 21.8 minutes from your life expectancy. Seeing as how I've been sitting most of my life, I probably have minutes to live.

After crunching some numbers, it's fair to assume that I've lost over four years of my life expectancy. I knew I had to put a stop to it. Not only that, I had to figure out how to get those four years back before it was too late. So I decided to alter my habits and keep a diary to hold myself accountable:

Friday July 11
4:00 p.m. Let's get started!
4:01 p.m. Since I've already been sitting here for the last six hours, we'll just wait and start the diary tomorrow.

Saturday July 12
11:00 a.m. Stood in my office thinking about my next blog post.

11:20 a.m. Sat down to write blog post then realized since it takes about an hour to write one, I'm sacrificing 22 minutes of my life for my dear readers. I hope you appreciate it, all five of you.

11:25 a.m. Decide to take a walk to offset my sitting problem. Walk to refrigerator and pour myself a glass of wine. Maybe alcohol isn't the best choice for my new lifestyle, but I believe it greatly improves my mental outlook so that offsets any bad effects from sitting.

11:26 a.m. Try to stand and type my blog. I do not have a standing desk. Ouch, there goes my back. I take a sip of wine.

11:30 a.m. A brilliant idea! Some exercise should get me some time back on the lifetime clock. I get on a stationary bike and start pedaling. But now there's a new problem: although I am exercising, I'm still sitting down, so the two acts just cancel each other out. I've got it! I take my laptop and get back on bike. Although I'm not gaining any time, I'm not wasting 22 minutes of life writing this blog. 

11:32 a.m. Sweat starts dripping onto my laptop. I'm now worried about getting eletrocuted. I put laptop back on my desk and get back on bike.

11:34 a.m. This is boring. I get my glass of wine and sip wine while riding stationary bike.

11:45 a.m. Lunch time! Prepare a big healthy salad of spinach and spring mix. Pour half a bottle of bleu cheese dressing on it.

11:57 a.m. Maybe that salad wasn't so big as I'm still hungry. I fix a large plate of bacon (it's okay, I'm on a low carb diet and can eat all the bacon I want). 

12:15 p.m. I happen to glance in the pantry to see a bag of Fritos. I grab a handful, but I eat them while standing. Unfortunately, you can't have just a handful of Fritos. I take the entire bag out. But I walk around the block while eating the bag. I'm starting to get the hang of this.

12:45 p.m. Feeling a little sleepy. Decide to take a nap. That article said nothing bad about laying down or sleeping.

2:30 p.m. St. Pauli Girl hands me a grocery list. The store is too far away to walk to but I really hate the thought of sitting while driving to the store. While driving, I open the window and poke my head outside the window. I believe that trying to keep my head still against the speed of the car offsets the sitting in the seat. I stop at a traffic light with my head still outside the window. A dog in the car next to me pokes his head out and barks at me. I bark back.

2:55 p.m. A genius move! I have the checkout kid bag my groceries in plastic so I can strap them all onto my arms. I load up all twelve bags on my arm and with my free hand pick up the 12 pack of pop. The cashier asks if I'm sure I don't need a carryout. "No," I grimace. I get to the car and realize I have to drop all of the bags to the ground to get the keys out of my pocket. I don't care; this exercise has probably added a solid 90 seconds to my life expectancy.

3:30 p.m. Decide to watch some golf on tv but while standing of course. To make it more interesting, I imitate all of the players' swings as they happen. I've never played so well in my life.

5:35 p.m. Happy hour! St. Pauli Girl and I sit on the patio and discuss the day's events over a glass of wine. I want to stand but my heels are actually killing me. I come up with an idea:
"Let's arm wrestle!" I challenge her.
"Yeah, we're killing ourselves by sitting here. So let's get some exercise. I'll even go left handed!"
"You're stupid."
"You'd be stupid not to play! I'm going left-handed plus I'm pretty sore from golfing."
"Why don't you be useful, and cook dinner," she finally said.

6:15 p.m. That was a great idea; I can easily man the grill while standing. We have three grills, so I choose the manly Weber charcoal grill. I light the fire and stand next to the grill as it burns down.

6:45 p.m. I throw some hamburgers on the hot grill. I lean down and inhale deeply that wonderful charcoal hamburger cooking aroma. Then I slap myself on the head. I sit down next to St. Pauli Girl.
"I don't know. I just can't win," I say.
"What's the matter?"
"Charcoal has carcinogens. That breath probably cost me four seconds of life expectancy."
We sit quietly for a minute before St. Pauli Girl refills our wine glasses. She holds her glass out to me, "Here's to life."
"Every single day of it," I reply with a smile. Clink.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bearly Escaped

Alert readers will remember my previous reminiscence on bears. This past weekend we returned to the remote New Mexico cabin of St. Pauli Girl's brother and sister-in-law who I affectionately nicknamed Mr. and Mrs. Grizzly because they built the cabin themselves on a mountain in the middle of nowhere.

This cabin is in an area populated by people who do not wish to be found (all six of them). It is so remote that mobsters will tell you that you only need to go about a quarter ways up the road if you want to bury a body. It is so remote that even UFOs are afraid to go there (and we all know how much UFOs love New Mexico). But more importantly, this is a place where you learn what "night" really means. If you haven't been in the dark hundreds of miles from the nearest city light, you don't know about night.

During the weekend, St. Pauli Girl kept making fun of me for being afraid of bears while I maintained that I had a healthy respect for bears. She apparently thought that if a bear appeared, you packed it up a nice picnic basket and sent it on its way. We spent the day hiking up the mountain while practicing our bear scare tactics like stepping on broken branches, banging on rocks and calling out to the bears so as not to surprise them. Meanwhile, I imitated the sound of a .50 caliber machine gun and World War II howitzers thinking that would best scare bears. After barely making it back to the cabin before a thunderstorm, we spent the remainder of the day and night in the cabin.

Main Cabin
The cabin had only one bedroom and a loft which is where we slept last year. However, this year, Mr. and Mrs. Grizzly had set up an old small camper behind the cabin as a little guest cottage. We said goodnight and headed to the tiny camper.

Guest Cottage
After we went to bed, I looked out the window and noted, "It's much brighter tonight than last night."

There was a half-moon and some cloud cover which provided a surprising amount of light. About forty minutes later, as I was drifting into unconsciousness, I suddenly opened my eyes. I didn't hear anything so I must have sensed the dark now coming through the window. I saw a silhouette of an animal's head and two large paws in the window. A bear!

My bear survival instinct immediately kicked in, and I screamed. As St. Pauli Girl sat up, the shadow disappeared. We looked at each other and realized I had had a bad dream. But then the shadow popped back up in the window. So apparently, dreams can't come true, but nightmares can. I leaned forward and closed the window while we both yelled and screamed at the bear to go away because bears are supposedly frightened of humans making noise. The bear disappeared again, and we thought we were safe.

Then it appeared in the back window. I struggled to find the handle to close that window. We kept yelling and pounding on the side of the wall. I got the window closed then tried to close the curtains thinking that would save us. Then I thought that's stupid, I can't see what's happening. I pulled the curtains open and saw that was one ugly, mean looking bear. So I closed them again right as he slammed a paw against the window.

Meanwhile, St. Pauli Girl put a pillow up against the window. I sat back and tried to think of something to scare the bear.

"Oooga-Booga-Boo!" I shouted.

"Wait," St. Pauli Girl said. "Did you just go Oooga-Booga...?"

"Well you're the one trying to start a pillow fight with him!"

I then resorted to pirate talk, "Arggggghhhhh!" I shouted. I noticed the cabin lights had come on. "That's good, I guess Mr. and Mrs. Grizzly heard us. They'll save us. They must have a machine gun or a bazooka to deal with this thing."

A minute later, we heard Mrs. Grizzly on the deck banging on pots and pans. At last, this disrupted the bear because he was torn between engaging in a pillow fight and getting called to dinner.

Mr. Grizzly came out onto the deck and sized up the situation. He looked at the bear then at the twisted, dented skillet in Mrs. Grizzly's hands. "You're gonna need a bigger pot."

He grabbed a shovel and waved it over his head, cautiously approaching the bear which lumbered away. He grabbed a small flashlight and set off after the bear. And by small flashlight, I mean it would have been good for a dentist looking for cavities but not so much looking for a 300 pound black bear in the dark night.

We finally felt safe enough to step out of the camper. Figuring our noise and the shovel had scared the bear away, we began to calm down and relax. Mr. Grizzly called out from the darkness that he couldn't see the bear anywhere.

"I think he went under the camper," St. Pauli Girl said.

I jumped back about five feet. "Then why are we standing right next to it?"

Mr. Grizzly shined the light under the camper, but the bear was nowhere to be found. We all stood next to the deck and breathed a sigh of relief. After a few minutes, Mrs. Grizzly shined her flashlight just beyond the camper and onto the bear's head. He had been sitting there less than ten meters from us the whole time. Now if Yogi was smarter than the average bear, this bear was valedictorian with scholarship offers from Harvard, Yale, Stanford and naturally, the University of Maine.

We shouted and yelled and banged on the pans again. He slowly got up and began to saunter away like he had been caught with a fake ID at a bar. As he moved up the trail, he looked back over his shoulder at us. I couldn't decide if he was thinking, "You guys are no fun" or "yeah, I'll be back."

We weren't taking any chances. We moved our belongings into the cabin and the spent the rest of the night in the loft.
Outhouse in the distance. That's a really long walk after dark.
The next morning we conducted a postmortem over coffee. We decided had we simply closed the windows and kept quiet, the curious bear would have eventually left of his own volition. We also learned that bears can be vewy, vewy, quiet, fearless and leave no footprints despite the rain of the previous day. In short, bears probably prowl the area more than anyone realized. But then the discussion degenerated into puns like "we bearly escaped" and "it gives you paws for thought."

But if you're keeping score at home: Bears: 1, Pots and Pans: 0 (with one skillet on the disabled list).