“Can you take my reservation?” asked the man, his voice a little shakey. I couldn’t tell if it was a bad cell connection or him.
“Sure, I can help you with that,” I told him.
“Oh, good, you can do this for me,” he said, sounding relieved.
“Have you talked to someone else?” I asked, a little confused by his reaction.
“No, but I hate being put on hold. You never know who is going to answer again.” No, I suppose you don’t.
“How many people are in your party sir?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
I loathe that answer. Please, you really don’t know? I despise that answer almost as much as I can’t bear it when people check in for a reservation and don’t know the name: “There’s a reservation, but I don’t whose name it’s in. Can I look at your book?” Oh good God. How can you not know? And, no, you cannot look at my book, my computer or my handwritten notes. How about a guess? You really don’t know who you’re dining with? You don’t have an inkling? What is wrong with you?
Sorry. Momentary rant.
“Sir, is the party larger than five?” I asked the gentleman. In the words of one of the best old-school maitre d’s I know, “Don’t sweat the large parties unless you have to move furniture.” For us, a party of more than five is considered to be a large party.
“Maybe. Could be. I just don’t know,” his voice trailed off.
Hmm. Something in his tone put the brakes on my annoyance meter. Even if the phone was ringing off the hook on this Valentine’s Day, despite horrible weather. It was all hands on deck, everyone answering phones.
“Well, when did you want to come in?” I asked.
“Today. In an hour. Can we?”
I looked at the computer screen. So few open slots, so many reservations. It’s Valentine’s Day. Are you kidding?
“Sir, if you could just give me some idea of how many people are in your party, I would be better able to judge our availability.”
“Let’s say five. Could be six, but I don’t think so. He’s not feeling well today, our neighbor.”
Okay. “I can take a reservation for five, but it will be in an hour and a half. Will that work for you?”
“He could feel better, you know,” the man continued. “Of course, my wife will be there. So will the priest.”
“Sir, we’ll plan on five, but if you end up being six people, we’ll work it out,” I told him.
“I haven’t been to your part of town in years,” the man said. “Does it still look the same?”
“Well, um, yes and no,” I said, uncertain.
“Oh, I know, things change. I just have such nice memories of it when I was younger. Did I mention my wife and I are celebrating an anniversary?”
“No, sir. You didn’t. Congratulations! Is it a milestone?”
“Do you consider 65 years to be a milestone? I do!” he laughed.
“Most definitely,” I agreed. “Are you celebrating at this lunch today?”
“We’re trying to. At our ages, it’s hard to get people together. And in this weather. I’m 86, you see. You never know who’s sick, who’s not feeling up to going out. You know how that is.”
No, not really. But, yes, in a way, I do. Making plans with a group is always tricky. Making plans with elderly friends must be more than tough.
“But as I said, my wife and I will be there, and so will our priest.” The man paused. “He married us, you know.”
“Really! How great that he can be with you today!” I told the man.
“Oh yes, he’ll be there. So three of us are on for the reservation. Is that okay?”
Three, five, six, twenty. Here’s a man celebrating his 65th anniversary. The priest who married him is not only alive, but is still in the area and willing to come to lunch on a day when every school is closed and most folks are canceling their reservations. Are you joking? You, sir, are today’s VIP.
“Sir, you just come on in–now, in an hour, whenever you like. I’ll have a table ready for you when you get here.”
“Thank you, young lady,” he said, and I could hear his smile. “We don’t live downtown now, but we did when we got married. Haven’t been to your neighborhood in 40 years. But I’ll find you!”
“Ask for Restaurant Gal when you arrive. I can’t wait to meet you and offer my congratulations in person,” I told him.
I couldn’t wait to pour glasses of Prosecco all around. And chat for a few minutes to hear his and her stories. And hope their magic stayed with me long afterward.
“That’s very nice of you. I will ask for you. Restaurant Gal. Yes, I’ll ask for you the minute we arrive.”
An hour passed, as did another. Soon it was late afternoon. Then it was dark, and the night shift arrived. I lingered another half hour. No elderly couple, no priest. The younger Valentine’s Day crowd took over and took the tables. Hundreds of them, flowers and stuffed animals and cards in tow.
I hope everything is okay. I hope the gentleman calls to reschedule. I hope he had a wonderful 65th, wherever he and his wife and his priest who married them ate lunch.
I hope they celebrate Valentine’s Day for many more years to come, anywhere.