Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bright Lights, Big City

Tell the Devil I say "hey" when you get back to where you're from

There's been points in my life where I've wondered if I'm somehow broken; things that were big emotional deals for my friends somehow avoided my radar, or more often than not Poncho will marvel at my apathy toward something she would have started busting skulls over. The more people I encounter at my Big City restaurant, the more apparent it's becoming that it is truly not I who is broken: as my bar manager would say, "homies is crazy here, yo."

Back at Suburban restaurant I had my fair share of amusing, frustrating, and infuriating customers, though I am now realizing that those people fell within a normal range of behavior. The guy who told me I wasn't getting a tip because "you don't get [anAmEx Black Card] by giving away money to servants" was exhibiting a familiar, albeit appalling, arrogance. The lady who expressed confusion as to why she had to pay her server because she "has a ponytail" was a perplexing yet recognizable imbalanced person. People who got upset about one thing or another all fell within the standard derivations of frustration and passive-aggression.

Perhaps it is simply the fact that being located in a town with a population of three million just within the city limits means there is a greater chance of encountering people who push the limits of my sanity. I'm more inclined to think that something about the water sanitation or the air pollution in Chicago makes the people here Really Fucking Crazy. At least once a week I'm witness to yet another act that makes me think "surely, this is the most insane thing I will ever see. People can't possibly be more ridiculous than this."

And yet. And yet. My first week at the restaurant I witnessed a dozen dine-and-dash attempts where teenagers would literally go dashing across the dining floor. My first week in the bar I had a lady ask for a bag to puke in so she didn't have to go to the restroom, and some lady leapt the railing on the patio to chase a homeless guy with one of our steak knives. More people than I can count have decided that out and out yelling is a good way to solve their problems. A couple weeks ago two men tried to physically fight their server when they thought they'd been overcharged. Last weekend an angry "guest" accused my afore-quoted bar manager of being "too Jewish" to give him a discount, and an angry family emptied the ketchup and mustard bottles on a table because their server "insulted" them by returning the 10-cent tip they gave him.

This is not normal behavior. The reactions these people have to their food being overcooked or finding themselves without a refill is mind-blowingly disproportionate. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, in my life and experiences would ever have encouraged me to think that acting like some of these people do is okay. Some of the things are just baffling (like thinking it's somehow less public to barf in a bag at your table than inside a stall in a bathroom) while others have outright shocked me. I don't think these nutters are actually nutty in a conventional sense. I do think they are, at some level, psychopaths, because nothing else explains how someone can go from "my hot wings look a bit dry" to calling their server a "dumbass chink bimbo" while demanding new wings for free and threatening to just leave if their dinners aren't perfect.

As my infuriatingly passive-aggressive manager suggested to me, my skin is pretty thin when it comes to some things. I used to be able to shrug off problem customers because I could always see some semblance of logic in their behavior. They would make me angry, but it at least resembled human behavior. This complete lack of rationality or control behind the customers I encounter now gets to me. I don't like the unpredictable. I don't like not knowing if an apology and a free dessert will diffuse the situation or result in a security guard flying across the bar to come to my defense.

The good news is, should I go back to my home base, I'll be prepared for anything.

Strawberry Lemonade,

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