Coastal Georgia. It was dark and rainy when we pulled into the tourist-trap restaurant parking lot with 4,236 other cars. We were running on fumes, we were low on calories. We’d been on a highway for six hours, our stomachs were empty.
All evening we’d been hunting a place to eat, but everywhere was slammed with tourists. Each local restaurant had one-, two-, or three-hour wait times. This particular seafood joint only had a 25-minute wait.
I gave the hostess my name. The perky high-school-age girl added us to the list and told us we would have to wait outside. But there was a big problem with this.
“It’s raining,” I said.
Although the word “raining” would be putting it mildly. It was Hurricane Hugo out there. Furthermore, this restaurant had no covered porch or outdoor shelter. Only a dirt parking lot.
“Why can’t we wait inside?” I asked.
She shook her head. “We don’t allow people to wait inside, sir. Ain’t enough room for the servers. If you wanna give me your cell phone number, I’ll call you when your table’s ready.”
I pointed to the empty bar at the rear of the restaurant. “Can’t we just sit at the bar and wait?”
A second head shake. “Bar’s closed. You’re not allowed to sit there.”
“You won’t even know we’re there.”
I turned to look at the Old Testament rainshower outside the window. A sudden clap of thunder exploded, shaking the windows and dimming the lights.
“You’re actually going to turn us out into the driving rain?”
The hostess reached behind her lectern and handed me a plastic-covered menu. “Maybe you can use this as an umbrella?”
She was all heart.
So my wife and I raced back to our car, through the muddy parking lot, clomping through hip-deep puddles. After waiting 25 minutes in our front seat I had received no phone calls.
I charged inside to see what the hold-up was. I stood dripping in the entryway. “Nobody called me,” I informed the hostess.
She shrugged and said, “Sorry, sir, we had a shift change. We musta lost your number.”
“Lost my number? It’s been almost thirty minutes, and our name’s on your list. Is our table ready?”
She made a frowny face. “Sorry, we called your name earlier, but we couldn’t find you so we gave your table to another party.”
“Sir, please lower your voice.”
I drew in a calming breath and silently recited the Serenity Prayer that my uncle taught me.
I gestured to the empty bar again. “Ma’am, I am tired, I’m hungry, and I am drenched all the way down to my Fruit-of-the-Looms, can we sit at the bar?”
I could almost feel it coming. “No sir, not allowed. But if you wanna give me your cell phone number I’ll call you in an hour…”
Back to our car. We sat in our idling vehicle while thunderstorms violated the Georgia coastline. I was ready to cut my losses and leave, but my wife was hanging in there. Then finally, I received my phone call. The tinny voice said, “Your table’s ready, sir.”
Praise the Lord and pass the cocktail sauce.
My wife and I sprinted through the howling torrent once more, squishing in our footwear, hair matted to our faces. My wife’s mascara was running down her cheeks so that she looked like Tammy Faye Baker after a very bad night.
The hostess cheerfully led us through a crowded restaurant to our table, which was sandwiched beside an enormous and loud family reunion that was happening. I counted 42 adults and seven newborns at the long reunion table. And as if on cue, all infants began screaming.
“Is there another table available?” I asked the hostess over the screams. And at the risk of being redundant, I added, “Maybe we could sit at the bar. It’s quieter over there.”
She shook her head.
So we took our seats beside the screaming babies. And as it turned out, the newborns were just getting warmed up. In a few moments, their animated tantrums were soon followed by an awesomely foul aroma that filled the dining hall.
“Uh-oh,” remarked a young mother seated near me, peeking into her infant’s diaper. “Did Jon Jon make a stinky?”
Give me strength.
Come to find out, yes, Jon Jon did indeed make a stinky. In fact, Jon Jon had made perhaps one of the most soul shaking stinkies I have ever laid eyes on. I know this because in the center of the dining room, the mother transformed two chairs into an impromptu changing station and proceeded to unleash the nightmare.
After our meal my wife and I were exhausted. We were both ready to return to our quiet hotel and sleep until the next millennium.
Before leaving, I walked to the cashier station to pay the damage. The cashier happened to be the manager, he was maybe midfifties. He asked if everything had been okay this evening.
So I leveled with him. I told him this was not one of my top-five dining experiences, then I told him about Jon Jon’s recent gift to humanity.
The man apologized sincerely and said, “Gosh, sir, I wish you’d said something earlier. We could’ve always sat you at the bar.”