The really cool thing about traveling the country for a big corporate chain of restaurants is living in different cities and meeting thousands of different people, then skipping town after five or six months, all the while experiencing something new on each and everyday. There was one ‘typical’ deployment that was spent down in beautiful Savannah, Georgia.
An obvious downside to this nomadic movement was exactly that, the movement. For almost ten years, my camel was an automobile loaded down with clothing, some pictures and a fishing rod. The other, bigger drawback to the constant change, even though I did meet some wonderful people along the way, was never establishing any long-term friendships of any kind. The longest relationships in that ten-year span had nothing to do with two marriages, but were with people who were doing just what I was doing, moving anywhere and doing anything to catch that leprechaun and his pot of gold.
The day before my departure from Savannah just so happened to be my birthday, the twenty-eighth I believe, but I not too sure (the haze of the road). The restaurant’s staff was well aware that it was my last day of work there, and then on top of that, the word got out about it also being my birthday. By the end of another exhausting twelve-hour shift, the offers of “First Drink’s on Me!” became constant, almost to the point of comical. Now, my Mommy taught me good. It would be rude to visit someone’s home and turn down a free meal. In this case, the free meal just happened to be an assortment of liquor shots chased with draft beer, but that’s close enough to proper etiquette.
Cary was one of the first of the wait staff to finish their shift that evening. She grabbed a stool at the bar and let it be known at all within earshot that she had saved me the seat next to hers. My hectic day was coming to an end as well and I joined her a few minutes later. As unprofessional as it now seems, it was common practice for employees to congregate at the bar after work. The only rule in place at the time was that the employee had to remove any obvious connection to the business itself, like a logo-ed server apron or kitchen ball cap. For the manager-types, it was simply removing the neck tie. So I slipped the power tie from the collar of my perfectly pressed starched shirt, just as the parade of “Happy Everything!” drinks began appearing in front of me.
I was in Low Country, coastal Georgia and Cary could have easily been the Belle of the Ball over at Rose Hill Mansion. She was a petite, pretty young woman, with long golden locks and porcelain skin. She was immaculately groomed everyday and spoke with an elegant Southern drawl.
“I certainly am going to miss you” whispered my little Scarlett O’Hara.
I was trying to think of something really Rico Suave to say as I slammed back the first of several B-52’s, when the breaking of glass and screams of angry men spun everyone’s heads around facing the general area of the salad bar, which was proudly displayed near the front entrance and showcased 100 pewter dishes filled with a variety of freshly prepared salads, including multiple vegan options and 8 homemade dressings. But that’s not important right now.
What is important was that the locally based Army Rangers had been ‘discouraged’ from visiting every single bar in the entire city of Savannah, except for two. And ours had a salad bar. One of our regulars had been the sixth soldier off of the first helicopter during the Invasion of Grenada. They wore t-shirts inscribed with motto’s such as “Land Softly-Kill Hard”. They were my buddies. But for some reason, there was an ongoing dislike between the Rangers and the Townies. The Townies were exactly like the Rangers except that they had head hair, pick-up trucks and shitty attitudes. And apparently they didn’t like sharing their girlfriends with the men in uniform.
So after sprinting in the direction of the ruckus, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a four/now five person choke-hold, filled with punches, blood and cursing. The Ocean of Anger finally separated, long before the MP’s scheduled nightly visit and all things returned to normal. Nightclub normal.
I took my testosterone and climbed back onto my hooch throne. The long-sleeved shirt was now missing its top two buttons and the left rolled-up cuff was smeared with someone else’s DNA. The abandoned layered drink sitting in front of me was chugged with a heavy sigh of relief and my attention returned to Cary.
“I’ll never forget you” she said, the pitch of her voice now elevated by the excitement of the moment.
Yep, that was a day in the life of a traveling restaurant manager. Cary and I never saw each other or spoke again. The circle remained empty.