What does the world cost? Oh well, then we'll just take a small coke.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Drouble dropping first date

Heather was a cute girl from a part of town that just appeared in the last ten years. You know, middle class track homes with pastel stucco and 1/8 acre backyards. There's probably a neighborhood like that in your town, in in a suburb of your town. Her house looks exactly like the one you conjured up in your mental image. Exactly.

Heather's dad worked an office job in the Bay Area and commuted a lot. Her mom worked a part time office position about thirty minutes from home, mostly to pay taxes. When I picked up Heather at 6:00 on a Thursday evening, my first thought was that maybe the family was carrying an upside-down mortgage. It just seemed like that kind of situation. My second thought was that the neighborhood's irrigation policy was lax. I'd arrived during a peak time, but at least three houses on her block were using their front yard sprinklers. I also wondered about air conditioning use. My third thought was that Heather was a pretty cute girl and that her blouse carried itself well on her.

I selected a quaint, out-of-the way eatery on the north side of town. I'd checked the location on Google Maps and knew it was only a few minutes from her house. Yum Yum's Chinese Grill seemed a good choice for a first date with a middle class white girl and I was ready to make a good impression.

Restaurants do a weird thing when you enter and ask for a seat. A "host" asks the number in your party and, if there's a wait, for a name they can call when a seat is available. Then a "seating assistant" guides you go your seat and, depending on how expensive the food is, pulls back your chair for you. Soon a "server," which is the politically correct term for a "waitress," comes and takes your order. If you eat for long enough, another waitress comes along to spell the first one while she's on break. If something goes wrong, you see a "manager" or, if the food is cheap, a "shift supervisor." Finally a "bus boy" (note the lack of a politically correct, gender-neutral alternative) comes along to clean up the mess and ready the table for the next diners.

Heather and I took our seats and I was relieved that the seating assistant did not pull back our chairs. I might be able to get out of the evening for less than thirty bucks! Conversation before the order was casual. Heather was starting at school again next week at community college. She didn't like her classes and wasn't sure what she was going to do with herself. I nodded and feigned interest, but the whole time I wondered at the pattern of our waitress' table assignments.

Normally serve staff are responsible for tables in a particular region. If five waitresses are working a shift, they will split their assignments geographically. I'd noticed this pattern before and was expecting it again. At Yum Yums, I could not make any sense of the table assignments.

Marissa finally came to take our order. I had seen her at three corners of the restaurant and was immediately suspicious. I ordered a beverage and so did my date. We ordered our food at the time. I had the pasta and she had the Macadamia nut chicken and shrimp. I remember because I'm allergic to Macademia nuts and I made a mental note not to try her food. This recounting is tedious but hang on, there's a point.

The date went well. Heather talked. A lot. I listened. And watched the wait staff. And laughed when Heather laughed. I was working well. We were having a good date.

Then Marissa dropped the bill. I waited a second, hoping Heather would reach for it. When she didn't, I grabbed the bill slowly. The leather cover felt heavy in my hand. Again, I waited for Heather to protest. Again she stayed silent.

Oh well, I thought, and opened the mini-binder.

Jumping bullfrogs, I thought, making a mental Mark Twain reference as I looked down at the itemization. This wasn't the right bill. The items were listed wrong. There was no "Macadamia" next to the chicken reference, my pasta was titled "angel hair" (as if I would order angel hair pasta on a date!), and the beverages were not labeled. Ice tea is always a labeled beverage.

My suspicions about Marissa were confirmed. She had given us the wrong bill. Maybe she had even double dropped us, giving us the same bill as another table and pocketing the difference. I knew she was manipulating the restaurant's geography to get non-adjacent tables. She had the suspicious eyes of someone hiding something other than a deep hurt. I should have trusted my gut and requested a different waitress!

"C, is everything okay?" Apparently my brow had furled and I was staring at the bill like a poker player holding a low pocket pair after an all-in call.

I had a major dilemma on my hands. I could announce Marissa's error in front of Heather and let her know I was on my game. But doing so would betray the fact that I had been restaurant watching for the last hour instead of engaging her in meaningful conversation. And what if Marissa argued? I could end up looking like a cheap date who didn't want to pay for the drinks. I would that guy, the one who stiffs his girlfriend with the bill whenever the pay arrangement is pre-arranged.

"Is everything all right?" It was Marissa asking the painfully obvious waitressing question. Ironically, it was the same question Heather had asked moments earlier. Marissa and Heather both expected answers. The moment of truth:

"This isn't our bill. The food items are inaccurate the beverage items are listed incorrectly. Also the total is a good fifteen dollars off what this meal should shave cost, given menu-advertised prices." Heather looked at me, obviously surprised by my show of restaurant genius.

Marissa didn't look at the bill. "You must be mistaken, this has to be your bill. There is no way it isn't." Manager arrived. I asked to speak to the manager alone and told her my suspicions about Marissa. She nodded wisely, weighing the evidence about the non-sequential seat placing and bill inaccuracy. It took me about five minutes to lay out all the evidence, but the manager listened to me attentively the entire time. I think she blinked three times.

When I was finished, she nodded again. Apparently Yum Yums had suspected Marissa of double dropping bills for a few weeks, my observations were enough to put together the case. Marissa was fired on the spot and Heather and I got our meal for free.

In the car on the way back to her house, Heather seemed unimpressed. "You saw that on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, right?" she asked. She caught me. That's where I'd heard about double dropping, but how in the world did she connect the dots? I thought briefly about lying but instead gave a truthful "yes."

"That is so cool!" Came Heather's unexpected answer. Apparently the brash sit-com is her favorite TV show and Sweet Dee's double dropping escapade was her favorite episode. And, Heather wants to see me again before she leaves for school. I think I am going to keep being attentive at restaurants!

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