The last time my name was in the paper, it wasn't a restaurant review. It didn't detail my latest appearance on the Food Network. And it certainly didn't include a recipe. It was a simple retelling of what happened in a Montgomery County Landlord-Tenant Courtroom. When the gavel hit the hardwood of the bench, I lost my restaurant. Out the window also went all my lofty dreams and ideals of building a restaurant empire in D.C.
Because there are lawyers to pay and a kid in college, I found work quickly. Currently I am a terribly underpaid line cook at a steak house where no one has ever heard of me. And because I'm accustomed to working 16 hours a day (and I really need the money) I drive a limo part-time. There is something very relaxing about that big, comfortable car -- the V8 engine humming as I quietly take folks I don't know and will probably never see again to the airport or the train station. I'm behind the wheel in a starched white shirt, black suit and Donald Trump Collection tie. When I get to the destination I run around the massive black car with dark windows and open the door, standing with my hand on the chrome handle while they get in or out. I'm used to carrying 200 pounds of chicken up a flight of stairs. So it's no problem carrying their luggage and hefting it into the trunk.
I love driving. I take great care of my passengers. I picked up Mr. Mousey in Germantown. He had only an hour until his flight at Dulles. One of the highlights of my limo-driving career was getting him to the airport in plenty of time, despite the 15-car pile up that closed the beltway.
But then there are the VIPs, and one in particular that makes me want to go back to that courtroom and beg for my restaurant back. The trip ticket comes out of the printer and I read the name that I will write with big black Marks-a-Lot on that piece of white cardboard. This name fills me with dread and an ache in my gut. Is it nerves? I always screw up and can't help but notice him look at the sign I'm holding in disgust when I meet him in baggage Claim. I've run out of room and the "ney" is way smaller than the "WHIT." Mr. Whitney (not his real name), to put it bluntly, is an asshole. Every route I choose is the wrong one. He's insulting and borderline verbally abusive. I respond with a "yes sir" to all of his barks of instruction and criticism. The last trip he was late coming out of the hotel and encouraged me to roll through stop signs and cut off slow moving taxis to get him to the airport in time to catch the 4:30 shuttle to Boston. We made it from Georgetown to DCA in 11 minutes.
I've determined there's nothing I can do to make Mr. Whitney happy. He's too busy having a great time being miserable. Thank goodness I screw up just enough to make it interesting. I'm human. It's something Mr. Whitney can count on every time he gets into my sedan.
When I change out of my suit and into my uniform I notice that the dining room manager of the Steak House is standing in the dining room with his shoulders slack and his hands hanging helplessly at his side. It's a familiar posture for one taking a tongue lashing from an irritated table of two. But instead of sucking in his apologies they have their smart phones out and are busy entering text like teenagers (with two hands). I can't help but pause by the table after I've swiped my time card. Comping their meal, the free dessert, the offer of a new entrée -- nothing will fix this. In fact, he's making it worse by continuing to try to stanch the bleeding, he's told. The bit of shell in the lobster roll is not just unforgivable; it's an interception in the end zone. They read him what they've written on the foodie website so far. He presses his lips together and I can see the red go from his neck to his forehead.
It could be Mr. Whitney there in the dining room. Having such a great miserable time he can't wait to tell the world. What I've learned in restaurants and in limousines is that some folks are only happy when it rains. To them there is nothing more gratifying than to experience unspeakable or imagined offenses (the steak house uses cooked and frozen lobster meat vacuum sealed -- no shell could survive the process.) When I come across these folks with nothing in their lives as thrilling as their own complaining, I hear Peggy Lee crooning her Feeling Too Good Blues. And I hope that all of us with computers who come across these digital treatises of indignation remember that there are those who can honestly say "... cause when I'm unhappy I'm tippy-toe-tappy in my shoes." And not take these claims of injustice seriously or personally.