Italian Fire Drill

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photo Carrabba's

The birth of a new addiction is both exhilarating and frightening. I’d just come from my friends’ home in Melbourne where the seeds of obsession had been planted over the restaurant Carrabba’s. Even though I had just eaten there the day before, when I saw that beautiful sign looming over the interstate, I found my car steering itself toward the exit ramp. I tried to talk myself into Panera or the adjacent southwestern restaurant that looked promising but to no avail. I wanted pasta, and no red lights, divided highways or cleverly hidden entrances were going to stand in my way.

Minutes later a hostess showed me to my cozy booth for two, and I sat down against the advisement of my bladder that had started a countdown about 23 miles back.  I was determined to make it through the meal for reasons that are soon to be revealed, but when my server Farrah placed a glass of ice water on the table, internal containment facilities went ballistic at the thought of incoming liquids. With a sigh, I folded my napkin neatly and went in search of the ladies room.  After restoring balance to the force, I approached the sink where a mother stood making discoveries about her small child.

“And just how did you manage to get five rub-on tattoos today?  This goes against our agreement.”

“I did them myself.”

“Yourself?  Where was your Aunt Lisa when you were applying body art?”

“Asleep on the couch.”

The mom snorted in disapproval and looked at me.  “That’s my 36 year old sister for you. Can’t even watch a five year old.  Guess I’m back to looking for a babysitter.”

The little girl with the flowers and butterflies winding up her forearms tried to aid her family member. “I didn’t get bored, Mommy. I walked over to the neighbors’ house a couple of times while she was napping.”

“Excellent,” Mommy replied as a dark thundercloud settled over her brow. I guess the thought of her child strolling around the neighborhood unattended really put the skin art into perspective. I reentered the restaurant and made my way back to my booth. Or to at least what I thought was my booth. The two-seater now had two women occupying its vinyl and looking right at home with those menus.

Farrah shot out from the bar. “I’m so sorry, but they thought you had left, and they gave your seat away. We’re working on getting you another one right now.”

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why it’s so dangerous to be single. I can handle car repairs on my own and take care of burglars with a shotgun and a few shells, but when it comes to booth reservation, I’m completely at the mercy of the world. Without someone’s fanny parked on the seat munching on bread, the bus boys will pounce on utensils and have the wood wiped down in less time than it takes me to crank up the hand dryer. You’d think they had trained as a NASCAR pit crew before going into food service. And I have yet to find a solution to this problem. Leave my lovely winter coat as a flag on the territory?  Not unless I’m just into giving Wilson leather tips. Or worse yet, my purse?  I think having to replace my cell phone, driver’s license and ATM card would lessen the victory substantially. So what do I do?  I just smile and allow them to move me around the restaurant like a game piece on a Candy Land board.

Oh no!  They're pushing me to Peppermints Mentas!

Oh no! They’re pushing me to Peppermints Mentas!

The hostess joined us, apologized for the confusion and asked if I would accept a table instead. Not wanting to be difficult, I agreed. Moments after I had started warming my second seat of the evening, the manager approached me and was so effusive in his apologies that you would have thought they had swapped my baby at the hospital. I assured him that I was perfect and looking forward to the meal.

One thing I love about Carrabba’s is that they run an evening special in which you can get three courses for only $12. Considering that I’m a huge fan of both food and sales, this works beautifully for me. Just as I was starting to wonder about my appetizer, a server rounded the corner and plopped my plate in front of me while exclaiming, “Thank goodness!  I thought I’d never find you!”  Which caused amusement to bubble up for two reasons: one, her tone indicated that I had been moved into another zip code when I was approximately four and a half feet from my previous location (If I had leaned a bit to the right, I could have forked a shrimp from my original homestead), and two, her breathless manner suggested that we had been engaged in a rigorous kind of hide-and-seek and she had just now gotten the better of me.  I could picture it now.  I would dive under tables and in between the shoes of patrons while she chased me around corners, balancing my plate of zucchini fritters above her head. Thankfully, my loss resulted in my gain of fried delicacies.

These were worth losing the game.

These were worth losing the game.

The rest of the meal was fantastic, and I had enough for another repast at home the next day. Just as I was loading my bounty into a brown paper bag, a family party numbering around twenty showed up next to me, and other waitresses snatched the remaining chairs from my table, leaving me as an island unto myself. Time to go. I left Farrah a generous tip since the mix-up wasn’t her fault and set off into the night.

© 2013 – Traci Carver

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10 responses »

  1. Just wondering, but does it work to ask the server where the restroom is while they’re standing at your table? That way they associate you and the table together? Or maybe you should just carry a laminated “OCCUPIED” sign in your purse. A very large one.

  2. If you’re nice to me I’ll give you the recipe for the zucchini AND the garlic aioli sauce. 😉 Yes, yes, I DO have those precious bits of delight in my cookbook. 😉

    • Wait while I dig out my shocked face . . . Of course you would have the secrets to those dishes! You’re one of my two chef friends, which is why I love visiting your restaurant 🙂

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