When you have a reservation at a resort restaurant, you check in a half hour before your reservation time so you can get your table approximately 20 minutes past your reservation time.
But RG, you ask, how is that a reservation? Trust me, in resort time, many reservations are a modest goal that hosts try to meet. If you know this ahead of time, you are not disappointed when it’s your turn to wait with a pager for your reserved table.
“You folks want something to drink while you’re waiting?” asked the bartender as he planted two bev naps in front of us, poured peanuts in a glass and placed it in front of us, too, then wiped down an invisible spot on the bar–all in one smooth, unbroken motion.
At first, I only focused on this bartender’s fluid movements. Where was I? New York? Miami? Certainly not central Florida, where the predictable boundary-establishing, must-ask question, “Where are you folks from?” was, finally and thankfully, not asked.
“A drink would be great,” I answered. “How about a glass of the Pinot Gris?”
“You’ll love it. I do,” he said.
Again, in one seamless motion, he provided the wine glass and poured the perfect-sized taste. A taste? Of a wine by the glass? Here?
“That’s nice,” I said after I had sipped the taste and watched him pour a generous glass. He smiled at me, as if to say, “To you!” And I was simply and immediately caught up by his shining dark eyes and tiny left dimple, and his undeniable being–all in that smile.
So I asked the predictable boundary-establishing, must-ask question. Because now I was curious about the deft style behind this bartender’s technique, and the honest warmth of his smile.
“Where are you from?” I really wanted to know.
“Oh, far from here,” he laughed.
“How did I know that?” I laughed in return.
“I am from Chicago, but I have been down here for a while. A long time. This is very far from Chicago, you know?”
Oh, I know. “Well, the weather is better here, I think,” I stammered, the way people do when they are rendered speechless by a layered answer and only have a lighthearted rejoinder to offer.
Again that smile. Those eyes.
“Yes, but I miss Chicago.” And he told us where he had worked, for years and years, in Chicago. And he told me about the celebrities and local VIPs and everyone else he had met and befriended, in Chicago. He had overseen a huge staff. He had been a Big Boss, in Chicago.
“And now I am here,” he gestured, grinning, waving to the cramped set-up of surprisingly decent spirits displayed behind him.
“Clearly in training,” I laughed.
“Ha! Yes! In training,” he laughed in return. “But I am here for my kids,” he added, no longer laughing. He paused. “And that makes me happy, you know?”
“Oh, well, that’s great!” I said in the awkward way people do when they are unsure of how to respond to a personal admission from someone they don’t know.
“They miss Chicago, too. But my ex, their mom, she moved them here. So, now I am here, too, for them.” He poured two more drinks for two more pager people, cashed out another couple, helped the other bartender void a sale, then returned to us a few minutes later.
“My one son is graduating from high school this year. He is going back to Chicago for college,” he continued. “He cannot wait. The other one is younger, though” he said, and again he paused. “Too young, you know?” he said.
We looked at one another for a few seconds, neither of us knowing what to say next.
“Too young to leave?” I asked.
Again, we exchanged looks, and I wished we hadn’t strayed quite so far from the conversation topics that had encouraged him to smile his magnificent smile.
“Maybe in a few years, I think, he will be old enough to tell a judge what he really wants,” he said softly. “And then we will move back to Chicago. But for now, I don’t want to do anything against their mother. It’s not right, you know?”
I know that you know, I thought. Because I had no answer.
“But, I am happy here, too, you know?” he said, clearly shifting away from the not-so-happy reality. “And this is your beautiful daughter, yes?” he asked, nodding toward RG Daughter, smiling once again.
We chatted about her college and her major and how lucky I am, and all the while he smiled that smile.
Our pager flashed, and I counted out the cash I owed him. As the host motioned us to follow, I told my daughter to go on ahead, that I would catch up. I pulled out a card I rarely leave for anyone, and scribbled a note wishing him a return to Chicago much sooner rather than later.
Maybe he read it, maybe he tossed it in the trash. It doesn’t matter so very much. What matters is he left a job and a city he loves to be with his kids–on everyone else’s terms. Which makes him happy, you know?