Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Free Lunch

I was running a little late yesterday so I tried a new Chinese restaurant a couple miles from work. New isn’t quite the right word. There’ve been three Chinese restaurants in the same spot in the last five years. The middle one which served a combination of Vietnamese and Chinese food shut down rather suddenly. Actually, it was a couple weeks after I went there for lunch with a colleague and she saw a mouse running in front of the garbage can out front. I never went back after that, but figured that I’d give the latest incarnation a chance. For some odd reason, Chinese restaurants, of all ethnicities, have a knack for odd names. This one is called “Half Moon Bay” which happens to be a town with very few Chinese people about ninety miles south of me.

The service was fine and the food was okay. In different ethnic restaurants, I have certain dishes that I order to gauge the food. With Mexican food, it’s the chile relleno. In Thai places it’s the pad thai or the green curry with chicken. With sushi, it’s the rock and roll. In southern Chinese restaurants (not that many of them anymore), I usually try the chow fun, a dish made with flat noodles and some mix of stir-fried items that either turn it into a greasy mess or serve as the equivalent of Cantonese comfort food. Anyway, their beef chow fun was okay enough that I’d consider going back, but not so good that I’d tell my wife that she absolutely had to meet me for lunch at this new place.

I get up to pay the bill and discover that I don’t have my wallet with me. I apologize to the young man behind the register and offer to leave a phone number, my mp3 player, or some other form of security. Of course, my car has about a gallon of gas in it which means that if I have no wallet and no money, then….He sees my distress and says, “Don’t worry about it. Just come back some other time and make it up to us.”

Wow, actual trust between strangers! Maybe it’s the Chinese homeboy thing, but it still felt awfully good. I mean it’s not the sort of thing you could do at McDonald’s. Well, for one, you pay first in places like that before you get your food. Still, I imagine you get my point. One of the problems with franchise America is that whoever happens to be behind the counter would give you a lecture on “company policy” and you’d go through all manner of hoops to deal with having eaten and having forgotten to bring the means to pay for the meal.

This guy, I’m pretty certain he wasn’t the owner or manager, just looked at me and more or less said, “Okay, my guess is that you’re good for it.”

As it happened, I was. I borrowed ten bucks from my work pal and drove back to the Half Moon Bay after work, happened to find the guy who had been behind the counter, and reminded him that I was the guy who didn’t have his wallet at the end of the lunch hour. He looked slightly surprised then said, “Oh yeah.”

I handed him a ten dollar bill. He started to make change ( have no idea how he remembered the amount) and I told him to keep it. I think lunch was something like seven dollars and fifty cents.

I told him, “No, don’t worry about it. I appreciate you’re having trusted me.”

In truth, I was just leaving a slightly larger than normal tip, but somehow it made me feel magnanimous.

I’ve been sick for the last four days and this made my day. It’s a funny thing about little acts of kindness, they make life seem so simple. I don’t know if you follow Dale’s adventures with the Korean Bagel Lady, but it is interesting to actually know the people who are serving you food. I’ve tried to be nice to them ever since I read Richard Wright’s expanded version of Black Boy where he talks about working in a restaurant and watching the Swedish cook spit into the soup. As a black man, Wright knew that if he said anything about it, he’d get fired instead of the cook. Anyway, whether or not I loved the food, I’ll probably have to go back to eat at Half Moon Bay a few times though with my wallet. Once in a while, I'm reminded that restaurants don't just serve food.

In the meantime, I’m trying to remember if I’ve done any nice things for strangers in the last couple days, weeks, um er months. God, this is really embarrassing :{.



At 12/12/2007 11:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a nice present. The marvel of language is that you can cook up the Patient Samaritan tale and cheer the rest of us up too.

The Patient HalfMoonBayian tale.

At 12/13/2007 12:15:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I often think the world would be a lot better if all of us just took a moment to do one small but nice thing for some stranger say once a week.

No, I'm not thinking of some Kevin Spacey movie.

At 12/14/2007 08:19:00 AM, Blogger None said...

Half Moon Bay.. such a wonderful place. Perhaps the environment helped you out a bit too..

At 12/15/2007 08:19:00 AM, Blogger Dale said...

This is a faith restoring slice of life Chancelucky!

At 12/17/2007 03:38:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Yes, better to name your restaurant for Half Moon Bay than say Fremont or Newark, California.

I still haven't been back there though :}


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