“And how long have you had this hunger?” the hostess asked, staring at the computer screen positioned on the counter between us, never once making eye contact.
“Uh…” I searched my brain for a response that might get me seated faster but could only come up with, “Since a little bit after lunch I guess.”
Tap, tap, tap, tap… Without pause, her fingers assaulted the keyboard for so long that I wondered what in God’s name she could be doing; after all, I simply wanted to be seated for dinner, and running a complete background check or writing a novel prior to handing me a menu and guiding my party of four to a booth seemed superfluous.
Was this a question? Fearing that I might miss a clue as to where she was taking me with this declaration, I held fast my gaze as I removed the wallet from my rear pocket and pulled the AMEX card from its designated sleeve. Sliding it across the counter which separated me from my customer service appointee, I sensed a glimmer of hope as she actually looked at me for the first time. But my glee vanished once I realized that her inspection was only to confirm that the photo on the card matched my puzzled face, and any dream of an expedited seating faded with the metal clang of the partition’s window shutting (and I think being locked), precluding any chance of physical contact between us; a quarantine separating even the air we were breathing.
After many, many minutes of pressured typing, she cracked the sliding window a fraction of an inch, just enough to pass the card back to me along with the admonishment,”
“We don’t take American Express.”
Achieving more success with a MasterCard, I was directed back to the waiting area where my companions stood among a crowd of similarly hungry patrons. When the next couple arrived and were instantly given menus and seated, a gentleman (who was one of the lucky few to actually have found room on a bench near the door) asked, just before the window could be slammed shut, “Why did they get a seat? My wife and I have been here for twenty minutes!”
“They are hungrier than you,” the irritable gatekeeper responded. “The hungriest are served first!”
Eventually, we were seated and, menus in hand, we perused the restaurant’s offerings noticing that no prices were listed. The busser approached bearing glasses of water and asked us why had we come. Confused and a little bit irritated, we informed him that we were hungry and intended to eat dinner, as discussed with the hostess.
Wondering once again if this utterance begged a response, I handed over my MasterCard after which the young man retreated to his sanctum by scurrying across the dining room and swiping his name badge across a digital pad next to a door in the rear of the restaurant through which every employee seemed to disappear at the slightest opportunity, leaving alone the helpless, bewildered, and famished customers. Each of us stared anxiously at this magical portal in the hopes that the next person who appeared would be our table’s savior.
When a waitress did finally arrive, face buried in her handheld device and without acknowledging the hour that had passed since our seating, she sighed heavily and asked why we had come. Once again, we reported our hunger and requested food.
“You’ve been here before and needed food that time too, right?” the waitress inquired; her tone betraying suspicion. “The restaurant is for very hungry people. You don’t really look that hungry to me but I guess I’ll go ahead and give you some food just in case.” Clearly annoyed, she continued, “We are obligated to serve everyone who comes in here, you know?”
In stunned silence, and again unsure if the comment was rhetorical, we looked helplessly up at our provider, knowing that our fates were in her hands and hoping for a bit of empathy. We were given a pile of forms to fill out regarding the nature of our hunger (it’s duration, quality, severity, etc.), any history of previous bouts of hunger, and whether there had been any similar episodes of hunger amongst our relatives. After snatching these papers and our menus, and disappearing through the mysterious door, we were left with growling stomachs and no explanation as to the next step in the process.
Sometime later, our mouths began watering as another server approached with several trays of food. As he distributed the selections, our delight succumbed to disappointment upon the realization that the dishes – while containing adequate calories and nutrients – lacked any of the flavor or pizzazz we had hoped to enjoy. The meal was consumed in relative silence and with a growing desire to leave the restaurant and return home. Each of us recalled a time in the past when we retained an established relationship with our food server and meals were not so impersonal. Now, it seemed that waiters and waitresses were so over-worked and had so little time to spend with each group that customers were treated like table numbers instead of individuals. Moreover, every time we came to a restaurant it seemed like we saw a different person; sometimes not even an actual waitress.
Returning to the table one last time, the hurrie server informed us that we were likely to remain full for several hours but if the hunger returned to try some food at home. If not satisfied, we were told to return to the restaurant immediately or call an Uber. She then admonished us that it was really the responsibility of our primary food provider (PFP) to satisfy these cravings and we should get in touch with that person within one to two business days. It was clear from her affect that she hoped we would never require her services again.
I then asked for the bill. With an awkward glance at the busser, and after an uncomfortably long silence, our waitress sheepishly peered at the floor while stuttering an unintelligible response to the effect of, “Well, that depends on the bank that issued your credit card and some other issues that I am not really privy to.” As confused as the rest of us, she continued, “I guess just go ahead and leave and someone will probably send you a letter or an invoice or something.” Some months later, I did indeed receive such a letter from a collection agency and, upon checking my credit score, realized that the bill had been mailed to my previous address and went unpaid.
The hunger continues to return three times a day.