SECOND HELPINGS

Restaurant Revelry: If you spend as much time as I do eating out, you're bound to have some bizarre experiences. I've observed almost everything while seated at a restaurant table, except the delivery of a child and a mob hit. Take the recent newspaper immolation I saw at Capers. A lone diner, absorbed in his newspaper, didn't realize that one end of his journal was dangling over the low candleholder. The paper burst into flames, requiring a team effort to stomp it out before the fire could spread. Talk about hot off the presses! Two summers ago, I was dining at a very fancy spot when the electricity failed. Darkness wasn't too much of a problem; the August heat was. It took about ten minutes for the thermometer to climb to the Sahara Desert levels I'd encountered as a Peace Corps volunteer. The kitchen must have reached the surface temperature of Venus. Management tried to alleviate the discomfort by throwing open the doors and windows. Big mistake. Quickly, to the heat and darkness was added the discomfort of one zillion bugs and flying critters. When the electricity finally kicked back on a half-hour later, I expected some sort of gesture--a free drink, perhaps, or a break on the tab. But that's the rarest restaurant experience of all. Once, in Los Angeles, my wife and I were finishing up an enjoyable dinner and called for the check. Two guys in the booth next to us were also on their way out, preceding us to the register. When it was our turn, I noticed the cashier looked a little green. "What's the matter?" I asked. "Those two guys just pointed a gun at me and cleaned out the till," she stammered. Occasionally, patrons get a little rowdy. Here in Phoenix at one culinary shrine, we noticed a man desperately trying to romance his date. But his overtures were undermined by a group of loud, beer-swilling boors at a nearby table. Several times, the disgusted suitor called the manager over. But the manager either couldn't or wouldn't do anything about it.

When check time came, the patron exploded. "You pompous asshole," he raged, rising to his feet in righteous indignation to confront the manager. Diners stopped in midbite to watch the two men argue, while the staff discreetly made a flying wedge and propelled the disgruntled customer out the door. We could hear his muffled imprecations until the valet parkers finally shoved him in his car. Fire, heat, holdups and loud confrontations can all put a damper on a meal. However, nothing suppresses an appetite like an encounter with the Grim Reaper.

We took some out-of-town guests to a crowded restaurant. Our platters had just arrived and we were ready to dig in, when suddenly, a few tables away, a guy gasped and keeled over. His companions screamed. Several patrons rushed over to help, but it was clearly too late.

The poor man lay on the floor for about ten minutes, until the paramedics came and carried him out. We didn't bother with dessert. Got a restaurant story you're willing to share? Send it along.

 
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