At the upscale New York City restaurant where I work as a waiter, the Rail consists of six tables with roomy armchairs across from six booths lined up along a wall of windows facing a side street near Central Park.
The two big, broad men in dark suits who sat at my Rail table forty-five seemed distracted, fidgeting a bit, and they kept looking at the Deck, the VIP section with a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline overlooking Central Park. They informed me that they were the security detail for the New York State Senator dining with the wealthy businessman on the Deck, where such affluent, celebrity clientele congregate.
Since my two guys had to be ready to leave as soon as their Senator was, I took their order promptly, and when I warned them that their well-done meat request would take twenty minutes or more, they registered surprise. It appeared to me that they were not used to eating in places like this.
Of course, from this side of the apron my dining experience is not so much upper as lower rung, as in Dante’s infernal rings. Waiting tables, I am a slave to the unconventional hours of the restaurant trade, working evenings, weekends, and holidays. I am beholden to management, but even more so to my diners. In a way, they are jailers and I the inmate, captive to their every whim. My incarceration lasts until their stomachs are full and their throats no longer parched. When they linger to chew the conversational fat I’m stuck until all is said and done and paid for.
Speaking of tabs: by the time their dessert had arrived, I pondered the payment of their bill, assuming the Senator would take care of it. Or even his wealthy entrepreneur companion, who, it so happens, is also a major backer of the restaurant. Surely, currying favor with an elected representative warranted putting out for his physical protectors…unless it was the other way around; you never quite know just what transpires across the tables of power.
When I asked my manager if any arrangements were made for table forty-five, he said the Senator and our esteemed investor had finished their meal and paid their check. He added, bluntly, that table forty-five pays their own check and make sure they know that.
Reluctantly, I told my guys that, indeed, this was no free ride for them. Incredulous, one of them asked, are you sure? Indeed, I was; I offered to go ahead and query the Senator to make sure. The gentlemen declined, and decided to employ the “wait, see, and hope” maneuver.
The bodyguards stood at their table to watch and wait. The Senator and his friend got up and briskly headed straight for the door without looking in the direction of table forty-five. My security tag-team followed in quick pursuit, but the compact, wiry Senator beat them to the exit.
While one of the security guys raced to catch up, his buddy and I watched and waited at the front desk. He shared with me, “This is something new, here. We haven’t done this before. Let’s see what happens….” The other guy returned with a frown. No dice. My boys had to pay. One fished out his credit card. I ran the charge, and after he signed and totaled the voucher, he asked me if that was okay; meaning, was the tip sufficient. The gratuity was average, and, to be honest, more than I feared I would receive. I told him it was fine. They both thanked me for my service, and I in turn thanked them for their patronage.
After they left, I reflected. Waiters get what’s called family meal before their shift, but apparently for bodyguards, it is a crapshoot. And I wondered: just how diligent would you be, how selfless would you be when it came time to risk your life for the guy who couldn’t be bothered to buy you a steak and order of fries?