Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. 1942
No red carpet when I come into your restaurant.
I eat alone frequently. I’m often on the phone while doing so. My headset is on so you don’t even know whether I am talking to you or not.
I eat at weird hours. Your schedule matters little to me.
I’ll stomp in thirty seconds after you open with blatant disregard for your pre-coffee drowsiness, I’ll swoop back in ten minutes before you close.
I look forward to eating weird things in strange places. Yet, I can be a finicky brat giving your serving spoon a long once-over if it’s a little dull.
The right side of my jaw makes a loud audible click when I bite down. People look over.
I ask for a re-fill on my water at least five times usually.
I ask a whole lot of questions.
I interrupt your answers with bad jokes.
Then I repeat the questions again. Obnoxious.
I eat half of this, a quarter of that, ask for more bread, confide in you that none of it was great and then ask you to box it all.
I ask what your Signature item is.
I always ask you what makes the Special special.
I follow that up with a specific request for the Top 5 most popular items.
Then I ask you what the chefs eat. They know best, I explain.
Serving staff can lose patience quickly. I’m exhausting.
I usually lose them early. The goal is to get back in their good graces sometime before we’re through. Send them off to the kitchen happy.
My manners are good, but I would not know what fork works if given the Titanic tableware Buzzfeed quiz.
Eating out is a phenomenon. Eating together is a phenomenon.
I have always been curious about it. In music, in movies, in art… people get jazzed about going out to chow.
All over the world, families and friends look forward to breaking bread in the environs an entrepreneur has selected for their best grub to be slapped onto some wholesale trays and plates. The goal of a restaurant should be to offer hospitality and nourishment. Community, even. It’s a place for connection.
When I hear stories of African-American athletes in the civil rights era, it particularly stings me when they share stories of not being allowed to eat with their white teammates. I simply think that each person deserves the right to eat at any food spot as long as they are respectful and not breaking the law. I have acted the fool in more bistros, cafes, diners, restaurants, inns, taverns and speakeasies than I can recall and I can’t remember ever being asked to leave. Well, there was one time I was asked to leave The Brixton but I understood because I had just seen somebody in an identical Court Jester Halloween costume to mine destroy a whole lot of their property. They also asked me once I was already kind of on my way out so I took it as a suggestion more than a rights violation.
I am concerned by this trend (Has happened twice now, is that a trend?) of public figures being asked to leave restaurants in Washington DC because their fellow diners disapprove of their work. Even if they were not asked, just making them feel like they would be better off leaving is disturbing. It is a slope-ery slip. I completely understand that there is important debate happening currently in America and in the world. I understand that as people, it’s important to be vocal, to be involved, and to be cognizant of all that is going on.
That said, what is the goal? Isn’t it to be better?
If I am upset with somebody and I imply they are not being empathetic, that they are being cruel in the execution of their job – how is it excusable for me to spot them in public and shame them or their family? How can you excuse making them so uncomfortable in public that they have to leave before finishing a meal? Isn’t that hypocritical? Even if it isn’t, it brings nothing good.
This is certainly not a comparison. I’m not here to compare one wrong to others. I am from a country of in-your-face poverty and have closely followed immigration for twenty years. Those are problems and debates I do not have enough information to dissect but I empathize on a personal level with those on the border, now and previously.
What I know about this is this: Americans should not be going down the road of Democrat Diners and Republican Restaurants. If you celebrated those two women getting pressured to leave their respective eateries – just imagine it happened to you or Michelle Obama. It easily could. How far are we from having people with red hats being asked to leave restaurants? How far are we from other restaurants saying you can’t come in without a red hat?
Are we as a society going to strive to only eat with people who we agree with on everything?
If any kitchen out there doesn’t want to see a certain mouth again, just give them crap food with molasses service, that time honored tradition has steered away many an unwanted visitor.
April 5th, 2015
Had the most costly dinner of my trip so far. Adana kebab. Great meat. Clean taste. First proper sit-down meal and it was fresh as can be. Was advised “Go into any place with a crowd” but it was so late, it was a drizzle, all the places were empty and their waiters were standing in each lane trying their best to usher the last few tourist bucks of the night their way. This one guy spoke English and told me he had the best kebabs so I followed him. How did he know I wanted kebabs? He and his uncle wound up keeping the place open for me. He was only nineteen years old but he spoke some of the best English I had heard in Turkiye. After we shut the place down, they invited me to a “FIFA Bar” where buddies drank beer and played Fifa on a massive wall. Eager to destroy them, I tagged along and it turned into a great night despite never actually playing a game.
What is most memorable now is at 3AM we were drinking on the street boisterously, there were about eight of us and I kept asking questions.
Where you from?
Where you now?
How did I get here?
Where you going?
Where do you want to go?
The thing I remember is that nobody there lived where they said they wanted to. But some of us lived where the others wanted to be.
The conversation landed on an upcoming election. The beer goggles cleared suddenly and one of the boys started kind of needling my buddy, and suddenly these two twenty-ish kids were very intensely and loudly debating each other on this quiet street. As people left one by one, including the bald and mustachioed bar owner, we sat in his outdoor patio with 1 more pitcher of Efes as sunrise and the sounds of birds came calling.
I asked the two what they had been arguing about. My buddy told me in his smooth broken English while his friend peppered me with some jabs of English he retrieved from parts unknown. That’ll happen when you want to win an argument. I do not know how accurate the history/geography specifics are but what they shared can be paraphrased as this: My buddy was born in Izmir, a few dozen kilometers away. His friend was born across a border within hours of Turkey. He had personally crossed a border at some point in his early childhood at risk to him and his parents. That was done for survival. In the upcoming election, my buddy supported a candidate that would close the borders completely, as my buddy and family obviously wanted for their own safety. His friend only wanted that candidate specifically to lose the election, because he wondered about his future, and he still had people dear to him on the other side who wanted to cross into Turkey, who wanted to survive.
One friend exclaimed to the other at one point: “You would vote for my death?”
On the train the next day, I thought, if these two can have some beers and debate a subject that hits this close to home with passion and jokes, then I should strive to be able to have a civil conversation with anyone about anything.
I hope their friendship survives.