Monday, November 03, 2008
My restaurant is in a major metro area. That means with all the good of a large population comes some of the bad - like a large population of homeless and transient people. I generally try to help out those in need, though I won't give them money. I do give to a local homeless shelter, and I do buy people meals. But never money. Ever.
From time to time we will get a transient through our store since we are close to the downtown area where many panhandle and live. In my years, I've waited on a handful of people who fit this category. Often with interesting stories to tell from that experience. My most recent experience was over a lunch, and the man while dirty, smelly and unkempt was nonetheless polite and still tipped. He had the endless soup, and he was one of the few who got their monies worth. Had it not been scalding hot soup, I might have suspected he was storing it, but he deliberately ate more soup that any person I have ever seen. Almost 4 bowls worth! (1 bowl +5 cups, and a salad and about 4 biscuits!)
Other times things don't go so well. A few years ago I was working in our bar area and a homeless woman sat herself in my section. It was a slow Saturday afternoon, so I wasn't particularly worried about her costing me a table. I approached her, and it was clear from the start that something was off, she had some mental problems, which are all too common among the homeless population (we'll see if Obama does anything toward that end, I doubt it). I began my table approach while she was trying to avoid direct eye contact - but it wasn't the look down of shame, it was the look around like something is trying to get you. This lady was scary crazy looking and appeared to be quite unstable besides, quite possibly drug related from her twitchy neurotic behavior. As I told her about the fresh fish she slapped her hand on the table and looked me dead in the eyes.
"Bring me some chicken or I am going to shit my pants." she said in a fairly low tone. Wow. That's a new one I thought. I looked around to see if anyone was else was close enough to hear her. I was also wondering if I was on "Punked". The bartender was watching, but he was far enough away that he couldn't hear her (I confirmed later).
I explained we have a grilled chicken breast, a chicken sandwich, or chicken strips and pointed in their general direction on the menu.
"I need chicken. Bring me some chicken or I am going to shit my pants!" she said much louder this time. I saw the host's head snap around toward me out of the corner of my eye. The host was 20-25 feet away, so this time it was pretty loud.
I was weighing whether this was a form of extortion, or whether it was the full-on crazy in effect. I was leaning toward extortion.
"What can I get you to drink with your chicken ma'am?"
"Whiskey. (she slaps the table again) Put it right damn here! The whole bottle if you know what's good for you!" She then looks away and begins to pick her nose. A strange, but clear, dismissal.
On a normal slow afternoon I might let this one ride to see where things go, but I got a feeling from my interaction with the lady that things were not going to improve if/when I brought her some chicken. So I approached the manager (a new but quite competent manager), and asked what she thought we should do. In the moment it took for me to talk to the manager, the lady apparently walked up to our lobster tank and reached in and started fishing around for a lobster. I couldn't see it, but I could hear a host pleading for her to put the lobster back in the tank. Manager heard too, and we made a bee-line for the lobby where the tank was. We arrived to find the lady holding two lobsters, looking at one like she was going to eat it, and the other dangling precariously like she might drop it and kill it. $60+ worth of lobster.
"Where's my chicken?" she yelled. The manager sent the host to grab the other manager and have him call the cops. The manager sprung into negotiation mode, trying to convince the crazy lady to put the lobsters back in the tank. There was even a reference to the movie "Little Mermaid" used.
Within about 2 minutes, the police arrived. They must've been within a block or two as quick as their response time was. As the cops entered the front door, you could see a recognition on their faces of the sitation.
Big burly cop: "Alice, put those lobsters down!"
Alice spins around. "I want some chicken or I am going to shit my pants!" When Alice turned, it became clear to those of us who were in front of her, that she was no longer threatning about shitting herself. Mission accomplished. Amazing how quick that soaked through her tight sweat pants.
The officers asked people to clear out of the lobby, it seems she likes the attention.
"Alice, put the lobsters down. You don't want to hurt them." said cop #2.
"Come on Alice, put the lobsters in the tank and we'll give you a ride to the shelter so you can get cleaned up. I think they are having chicken tonight." said burly cop.
Alice turned, nearly tossed the lobsters into the tank (they appeared to have survived just fine) and walked right out our front door. Cop #2 went with her to get her into the back seat. The smell had begun to make it's way through the lobby and into the bar where I had moved to. I could only imagine what that car ride was going to be like for those two cops.
Burly cop waved me over to where he was talking with the manager. I heard him ask if we wanted to file a complaint or anything, and them manager asked if that would do any good.
"No, not really, it would just create paperwork for me, and she's already got enough in her file, so another one isn't going to make a difference. We don't even know if Alice is her real name. We've had these sorts of run ins with her before. We tried to get her into a state institution, but they wouldn't take her. It is quite sad." Interesting, burly cop has a soft heart.
Manager says that if she comes back that they'll file a complaint, but that in the mean time they'll spray some air freshner and pretend it never happened. Burly cop agrees that is probably the best course of action, and says that he'll tell her she's not welcome here anymore, and that saying that usually helps keep her out of a place for a while.
As the cop gets into the car, I see both officers rolling down their windows. It's going to be a long ride to wherever they are going.