lunch outside.

The Waiter
The Waiter seemed to have all of the outside tables assigned to him. There were five tables outside, ranging from one with a single woman eating a reuben to a party of eight having brunch and cocktails. The service was slow. He took my drink order, delivered my sweet tea, and then disappeared again. My menu was sitting in front of me, closed, and I made a point to be looking around so it would be clear that I was ready to order. Finally, he came over again and I asked for the reuben with fries, please.

As I waited for my sandwich, I watched people. I watched the passersby who stopped to pet the dog at the table behind me, I watched the little family at the table next to mine, I watched the Waiter. At first, I thought he might be choosing to ignore me because I was eating alone and likely to have a low check total. Better to focus his attention on the tables where the tip potential was higher. But he didn't seem to be managing his time all that well. Every encounter was rushed. He would go to one table, then go inside. He could have done short check-ups at his other outside tables while he was out there. I began to hope that he did have more tables inside, rather than think he was just bad at his job.

I began to think about the tip. The meal would be around $10. Ordinarily, I would tip $2 on a check like that. I had an argument in my head.

You shouldn't reward bad service.

That guy lives on his tips.

Right, so he should be concerned about providing good service. There is a direct correlation between his job performance and his take-home pay. They all live on their tips, but if you give even the crappy waiters 20%, then there is no incentive to ever do any better.

It's a fifty cent difference.

I came to no conclusions. The service was slow, but it was a nice day, and I didn't have to be anywhere.

The Grandmother
The Grandmother was not all that old, but she walked that way. Something was wrong with her, such that each step advanced her mere inches and took ages. She leaned on her husband as they walked slowly past my table and into the restaurant. Minutes later, they came back outside with the hostess, who set out menus on a table in the shade. They conferred with her, and in another minute, the table was moved out into the sun, in front of my table. The sun would be in their eyes, but it was the kind of day where it was only warm enough to eat lunch outside if you sat in direct light.

Once their table was resituated in its new position, they continued to stand next to it. I wondered if whatever was wrong with her ability to walk affected her ability to sit. Maybe they were looking at the dog behind me. The waiter came and took their drink orders, then disappeared. The Grandmother and her husband stood awkwardly by the table, until a young man with a stroller walked up. The young man hugged them both with one hand on the stroller to keep it from rolling down the slight incline of the sidewalk. I compared the faces of all three of them, trying to see any resemblance between the young man and the old couple.

The stroller was sort of like a cart with the ability to lock in a carseat. It was space age and new. I'm not a stroller expert, but I'd never seen one like it.

"Does it lock? Can you lock it so she doesn't roll away?" asked the Grandmother. I thought it was a stupid question, of course a fancy new stroller would have the basic function of locking. Then I realized what she meant was to tell the young man to lock the stroller. I realized this three days later.

Whether he understood her true question or not, the young man did lock the stroller in place next to his seat, across the table from the Grandmother. The baby inside faced him, away from the sun.

"We can't see her!" the Grandmother wailed.

"I don't want the sun to be in her face," the young man explained. There was more discussion which I didn't hear because I was listening to the woman behind me talk about her dog, until the old man suggested moving the stroller on the other side of the table, next to the Grandmother, still facing away from the sun.

"That's what I've been saying," the Grandmother said.

The men switched places, the stroller was unlocked, re-parked, and locked again, while the Grandmother looked on and the baby ignored everything. Once the baby was next to her, the Grandmother stroked her hands and fat cheeks and cooed. Even as she participated in the conversation of the adults and gave her order to the waiter, she kept one hand on the baby. First I had been sympathetic with her and her painfully slow walk. Then I had been irritated with her nagging and insistence of getting her own way. But now, I softened toward her again, because all she really wanted was to see the baby.

The Dog
There was a red water bowl on the ground next to my table when I sat down, I assume for some previous customer who had brought along their dog to lunch. Perhaps it was left behind, but more likely it belonged to the restaurant, a fancy little extra to let wealthy pet owners feel welcome to bring their dogs and spend their money.

A thin blond woman sat in the table behind me, holding a leash attached to a huge and beautiful dog. The Dog was restless, no doubt due to the onslaught of smells coming from all the food, the people, the other rich dogs. He paced as much as his leash would allow, but did not bark. A man in leather shoes showed up and sat down with the woman.

It seemed that every person who walked by smiled at the Dog, every other person complimented his owner, and every third person asked permission to pet him. He sat patiently as children and adults alike pat his head, stroked his ears, rubbed his back. The woman told a pair of kids that his name was Jethro. She told another woman that he was a Swiss Mountain Dog.

The hostess, not the waiter, brought out my reuben with fries and a bottle of ketchup. I tucked in and forgot about the Dog and the Waiter and the Grandmother until I looked to my right and there was a big dog face, level with my plate, watching my fries. He was not begging, but instead looked curious, wondering why I hadn't ask his owner-woman for the right to pet him. I hate it when dogs beg, but Jethro was not bothering me. We were friends. The man called out "Jethro!", then got up and took the Dog away, explaining to him that the lady, who was me, did not want to share her fries. That wasn't strictly true, but Jethro didn't understand what we were talking about anyway, being a Swiss Mountain Dog. I smiled at Jethro as he departed, to show the man that everything was fine and I was not upset. I wished I could have taken his picture with my phone while he was so close. I did not talk to him or ask to pet him, but even I am not immune to the charms of Jethro.

The man must have tightened the leash, because Jethro lay down on the warm sidewalk then, periodically lifting his head as more passersby pet him and told him he was a good dog. He was a good dog.

A few minutes later, I picked up a fry and saw a short, black hair perched on it. I paused, the fry in midair on the way to the ketchup. It looked like dog hair. I could complain, further stressing out the waiter and embarrassing Jethro's owners. Instead, I flicked the hair away, dipped the fry in ketchup and ate it anyway. I blamed the wind for bringing the hair to my plate. Even when it does not deliver black dog hairs, the wind probably brings all manner of germs and detritis to my fries, and I eat those things, too. No big deal.

I finished my fries and continued to sit, half a sandwich left. The waiter asked if I wanted a box, and I told him I wanted the check, too, while I had his attention. I paid, tipping $2 on the $10 check, then got up and left, deciding not to pet Jethro on my way out, who made it look like the life of a Swiss Mountain Dog was pretty good.

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