Lonnie was 24 or 25 years old and must have been of Italian decent, guessing by both his looks and mannerisms. He could have easily been the side-kick to Scarface, a Mafia-Guido-want-to-be, but one with a terrific sense of humor. Standing near six-feet tall, his dark locks of hair were always perfectly in place, the creases freshly ironed on his waiter’s uniform, and when his shift began, an air of quality cologne surrounded him.
He possessed all the qualities of a great waiter. Hard-working, organized, a team-player, charming, intelligent, and he needed money. During our two years of working together, we went from boss and employee, to buddies after work. Lonnie helped organize my bachelor party, we went on a few double-dates, even played golf together. Well, he golfed and I bartended-drove the cart.
Being a Mafia underboss with a sense of humor that could kill you with laughter, Lonnie ranks up there as one of my favorite people to have known. We lost contact years ago, but if he ever discovers what I’ve written here, he’d instantly respond with a puzzled straight-face and a deep Guido voice “You talkin’ about Me?
Lonnie was walking through the huge parking lot of the shopping mall, on his way to the restaurant for his four-o’clock shift. Halfway down the rows of parked cars, his man-radar sounded as the doors of a sporty little coupe swung open, and out popped two very pretty, fresh-faced sorority-types. Their car’s Virginia vanity license plate read “AnnsGT”. They walked in front of him (which definitely, was not a bad thing) and entered the restaurant for an early dinner.
As anyone who’s ever waited tables before will tell you, a day shift server rarely wants a new table of guests at three-minutes before the end of their shift. So, Lonnie was instantly bombarded with pleas to pick-up a table. Being a team player as always, he stashed his jacket into a cabinet, strapped on his server apron, and clocked-in to begin work.
“Thank YOU, Lonnie! It’s table 102. Those two girls just got sat”
So, Mr. Got-Something-Up-My-Sleeve strutted his charm in their direction, going into character as he neared their table. After taking drink orders, and as the young ladies first looked up from their menus, Lonnie’s fake-surprised expression turned towards the driver of the car seen in the parking lot.
“Ann. Right? Saw you over at Tony’s party the other night. G-E-E-Z, that was a drunk fest! I had to leave early. My pal caught the flu or something, you know what I mean! You were pretty drunk, Ann! Was that tequila? Oh shoot, I just got another table. Listen, Broccoli-cheddar is the soup of the day. I’ll grab your drinks and be right back!”
“ANN! Who was that guy? What party were you at?
“I didn’t go to any party!”
“You were drinking tequila?”
“I don’t even know that guy!”
“Right ANN, how’d he know your name?”
That following spring, like every year, the flowers began to bloom. And for Lonnie, so did a new love. Her name was Suzanne. She also worked at the restaurant, and while relationships between coworkers is not uncommon, this one was. Suzanne was a beautiful young woman and came from a reputable family about town. She stood taller than Lonnie, had long brown hair, and porcelain skin. She was always ‘put together’, as the ladies say, with her make-up tastefully applied and the manicure was a bi-weekly, professional affair. She had the reserved poise of a runway model, the excitement level of her speech rarely passing relaxed, and she was not the type to be blaring out a joke. And then there was Lonnie. Apparently, opposites do attract.
Taking full advantage of their “early-off” shifts one evening, Lonnie, Suzanne, and Maz (their classic tag-a-long friend) went across the street to the Pizza Hut, for some beer and Deluxe thin crust. Maz was a little guy compared to the boisterous Italian and the elegant beauty. Of Arab decent and lacking self-confidence, Maz could easily be imagined saying something like “We’ll…never…make…it” But in his own quirky way, he was a lot of fun to be around.
The cheese was melting as the pitcher of beer and conversation was shared. Then suddenly, panic blasted its way through the front doors. Fear filled the hearts of the patrons as four masked men, armed with two handguns and two shotguns, excitedly screamed their demands…
“WALLETS AND PURSES ON THE TABLES!!!”
“EVERYONE ON THE FLOOR!!!”
Terrified customers obeyed orders as two of the gunmen went table to table collecting the loot, the other nervous gunmen keeping a frenzied watch-out for non-conformists.
“DON’T MOVE!!! KEEP QUIET!!!”
“THIS WILL ALL BE OVER IN A MINUTE!!!”
Lonnie and Suzanne faced Maz after they had crawled on their knees under the table. No one noticed the wads of gum under the table because of the darkness. But Lonnie noticed Suzanne struggling with something under the cuff of her pants leg, her fingers fumbling around the tops of her shoe. ‘She doesn’t own a gun’ he thought, as he whispered to her out of the corner of his clinched mouth…
“what are you doing?’”
“hiding my tips”
No one was physically harmed that evening. The gunmen were arrested a few weeks later, after a string of similar robberies. Suzanne survived that evening $57 in the black. In the dark.
One of the benefits of running an establishment that serves alcohol is that the sales representatives, of the distributors that supply you with these products, go to great extremes to entice you into selling and promoting their products. One of the more popular lures presented were free tickets to big concerts or professional sporting events. A pair of Megadeath concert tickets wasn’t getting any beer posters hung on the polished wooden walls behind the bar, but they did help in raising the work ethics of a few kitchen staff members.
As appreciation for their hard work (and just because I liked them), Lonnie and Suzanne were presented with two tickets to a Washington Capitals play-off hockey game. Lonnie was excited about his first live hockey game. Suzanne was excited about doing something different.
The journey would begin some thirty-five miles south of our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. The destination was the (now defunct) Capital Centre, in Landover, Maryland. Even before the days of GPS and the Internet, getting there was easy. Just ask any Man. Find an interstate highway, drive north to D.C., take a right over the Potomac River, and you’re there.
Simple as that. What could go wrong?
The interior of Lonnie’s Geo Metro oozed with giddy excitement as the its balding tires met the asphalt of I-95N. What a day it’ll be! Just a man and a woman, a blossoming young love, and 12 grown-men skating around on sharpened blades of steel, beating the crap out of each other using their bare fists. It was a Saturday, Cupid’s day-off.
Somewhere around the Dale City exit, the traffic began to slow, as did the chirping of our little lovebirds. Lonnie’s coos of “Honey-Bunny” merged into shouts of “YOU IDIOT!” and “HEY, MORON!”, as renegade cars with no turn-signals swerved in and out of traffic lanes, like Kamikaze doves trying to lead the flock that was already landing. As the skyline of the city came into view, so did the traffic lights, one after another, separated only by an occasional Metro bus stop or a double-parked taxi.
A little wisp of concern escaped Lonnie’s left ear, as it half-secretly seemed to Lonnie that the Corner Store coming-up at this intersection looked a Whole lot like the Corner Store four intersections ago. Only the sounds of car engines and honking horns entered Lonnie’s right ear. Suzanne has struck The Pose. Intertwined manicured fingers drew the knees of pressed slacks against an argyle sweater. Maybelline lashes peered straight-ahead at the same trash truck seen above the dusty dashboard for blocks. The Revlon lips occasionally squirmed from the confusion of what to do next.
The ‘Rose Velvet’ lip color could restrain the words no longer.
“Maybe we should stop and ask someone?”
Like that would work.
After an hour had barely passed anything, yet the Revlon was still moist from movement, Lonnie made a promise to Suzanne that he would stop and ask for directions “from the next person that I see!”.
As the GEO Metro came to a stop at the next light, Lonnie looked determinedly to his left as he cranked down the car’s window. There in the next lane, sat an idling taxi. Behind the wheel of the taxi was a taxi driver. The driver had dark skin and dark eyes, even his long beard was near black. His white turban was a drastic contrast in color.
“How do you get to the Cap Centre? Lonnie yelled over the constant noise coming from hundreds of automobiles.
“It is very easy. Just drive down this road for 3 or 4 more miles. Then you go east. At the next stop, it will be there in front of you.”
Lonnie let go with a “There, ya happy now?” as the stoplight turned green. “I knew that we were close!”
After traveling 3 or 4 miles, Lonnie decided that ‘this must be’ the time to take the advised right turn. He negotiated his way into the far right of the two turning lanes, completing his swerve east while screaming a question to the driver of an old, uncooperative Ford Bronco…
“New License There, BUDDY?”
Not breaking their consecutive red-light streak, the GEO Metro and its frazzled passengers made one-more unwanted stop. With both hands gripping the steering wheel and impatiently chewing on the inside of his right cheek, Lonnie took a long glance across the street. Then a slow glance to his right, brought their two sets of eyes to one conclusion. With a deep exhale of breath, his body straining to create a chuckle, he took one more slow glimpse of disbelief across the street.
There it stood. The Capital Building, home to the United States Congress. Not the Capital Centre, home to Hockey, Beer, and Nachos.
The Morale to that little tale? Always, always listen to the words that a woman speaks. Whatever they were. I don’t remember.
I think that’s what she said.