Torrential rain, searing heat, snow by the foot, numbing cold–it matters not. Like the mail, my regulars appear at my podium every day, regardless.
They anchor the hours and offer a curious kind of reassurance as I greet the hundreds of unknown others in between.
“Hey Restaurant Gal. Save my seat for me?” Stew asks every morning at 11:30. He likes to eat at the bar–not to smoke or drink, but to chat it up with one of several bartenders he knows so well by now. I see him outside the restaurant now and then. This used to throw me, creating a kind of out-of-context confusion. But now we talk for a few minutes when we see each other on the sidewalk. I have learned he has three grandchildren, one of whom is headed to college with an expensive computer, thanks to Stew. “I’ll do the same for the others, you know. Have to. Want to.”
The Couple–likely in their 60s–always arrives by taxi, just after 11 a.m. He wears one of three expensive, finely tailored suits; she wears one of four designer tweed ensembles. You would think it is perpetually 65 degrees and sunny in my city, based on how they dress–never a raincoat, umbrella, top coat, hat or scarf between them. They make no effort to talk to me, instead heading straight to the same two stools at the end of the bar, where they perch and eat for exactly one hour, before heading back out the front door to hail another taxi. I don’t know their names, I don’t know if they are married, I don’t know if they work together. In fact, I know absolutely nothing about them.
Mr. Caffeine Fiend is tall and lean, with wavy, light gray hair that makes his perpetual tan seem that much more dramatic. He comes and goes throughout the day, pushing open the front doors with a man-on-a-mission force, striding to the bar without so much as a glance at me. I swear he smokes a pack of cigarettes and drinks an entire pot of coffee during each of four or so half hours he spends with us every day. I have never seen him eat anything nor order a drink other than coffee. He clearly works in the area, although where and at what, I have no idea. I figure he hangs out so often with us because he can’t smoke in his office and hates the coffee there as well.
Woozy Woman walks in every morning just after we open, slowly makes her way toward the bar, knocks back a couple that she sometimes chases with a salad, then heads back to work. Three days out of five, she returns in the mid afternoon to hoist a few more. Someone told me where she works. I wonder if they whisper behind her back about how much she drinks during the work day. She makes me sad.
Joe loves booth 118, and I usually hold it open for him for the first hour or so after we open. If he hasn’t come in by noon, he’s not coming. He speaks with a soft southern drawl, exudes southern gentlemanly manners, and has been reading the same enormous book for months. I don’t know where he works or what he does, but he is likely close to retirement. Now and then he sneaks past my podium, and I don’t know he’s been in until he is saying goodbye. “Joe, why didn’t you let me seat you at your table?” I ask. “I don’t want to take up a whole booth to myself when you’re so busy,” he says. I adore him.
“Hey beautiful,” John and Barry wave as they traipse in. “Gentlemen,” I always smile back at them. They are handsome and successful someones, and they always keep their flirting on this side of the line, never crossing it. No matter how bad a hair day I am having or how tired I know I must look, they make me feel like a million bucks.
“Smith, party of two,” Ms. Alexander jokes each time she comes in–always during the rush, always without a reservation. I have given her my card, pleaded with her to call ahead so she won’t have to wait, to no avail. Now when she walks in, I go along with the “Smith reservation” thing and try to offer her a table as soon as possible. She makes me laugh because she got me so many times with the “Smith” routine before I convinced her to tell me her real name.
One very senior-level executive regular came in simply to say goodbye to Restaurant Gal Daughter on her last day at work. Another says he has an internship in mind for Restaurant Gal Son should he need it after graduation next year. These two amaze me.
I know, I know. I’m just a host at the podium, and all these folks are just looking for lunch.
But my regulars sometimes feel like family, albeit members of a frenzied, extended family–some are nice, some are aloof. Some are genuinely interested, some are not. Some have issues, some don’t.
And like family members, I can’t pick ’em. But I get to know all of them.