An Odd Night Out (The Beer Garden Botch)

I walked into a local restaurant and saw five folks dressed in business attire standing by the bar. A harried forty year old woman wearing a too short German peasant dress rushed out of the kitchen with a platter.  She reminded me of one of my aunts at a family function attempting to manage a crisis.  A long line of tables were pushed together down the middle of the room, and about forty people chatted, drank and picked at their food. The waitress flitted and hovered from customer to customer, but never smiled or offered a pleasantry.  Steamers hung across the room:  cartoon cut outs of German men in lederhosen and Alpine hats were suspended row upon row.

No one greeted or offered to show me to a seat, so I wandered to a table near the back and waited for a server to approach.  Loud German drinking songs played on the sound system, and the odd mix of folksy cheerfulness set to a frenetic martial beat made the tunes slightly unnerving.  No one came to bring me water or a menu, and I realized that while the lone waitress had seen me, she had no intention of coming anywhere near.

I debated leaving, but decided to try the beer.  I strolled up to the bar and saw that they had five selections on tap.  The bartender looked like a 1970s stoner with bags under his eyes, a stubbly beard and stringy, long blond hair.  He poured me a large mug of porter, and I sat at a stool by the window.  I sipped the brew and found it watery but inoffensive.  A middle-aged couple exited, but didn’t head to their car.  The woman sat in a chair in a row of chairs set up on the sidewalk for smokers.  She buried her face in her hands, elbows to knees, and her shoulders began to shake.  Her partner, a lumpy man with a torso shaped like a potato, stood helplessly nearby.  I looked away.

The angry waitress pushed more tables together with the help of the manager (?), and glared at me as she worked.  I couldn’t tell if she had wanted me to help her, or whether she had taken offense when our eyes met. She scurried back to the bar to try to shoo the carousing customers to the tables, but they ignored her, drank their beers and continued their conversation.

I finished my porter and went back to the bar counter.  I asked the bartender if I could order food.  He said, “Sure!  What do you want?”  I shrugged my shoulders to let him know that I hadn’t seen a menu yet, and he grabbed one for me.  I chose a pork schnitzel, a dark honey beer, and a side of a cabbage dish.  He surprised me when he delivered the food five minutes later.  Pre-made and fired up in a microwave?  A man walked up and asked for a Bud Lite, and the barman explained that the restaurant was a micro-brewery and served nothing but the five selections on tap.

I sat at the bar and stared at the evening news on a wide screen TV, sound muted, while the room buzzed with conversation and the German drinking songs plunged forward one after another.  A sign at the back of the bar read, “If you’re still standing, you need another beer.”  The schnitzel tasted okay but required dedicated sawing with a dull knife to tear off a chunk.  The cabbage had been spiced with chilies and melted in my mouth, but the beverage had the flavor of a lite beer spiked with honey.

The angry waitress came to the bar and directed her formerly suppressed rage at the bartender.  They exchanged curt snarls in a running skirmish.  Once the waitress looked past the barman to the window and called out in an accusing tone, “Hey, has anyone called an ambulance yet?”  I turned and saw the woman who had been sitting in a smoker’s chair lying on her back on the sidewalk.

A man, not her partner, knelt beside her and held her hand.  Another man draped his arm across the comforter’s back to comfort him.  The woman stared at the sky, and her eyes looked glazed.  Some customers standing near the door ignored the drama outside and stood sipping and chatting about sports and business.  They were about ten feet away from the stricken woman, but studiously ignored her.  Next to me at the bar, a young business woman with black lacquered hair and bright red lipstick flipped through screens on her smart phone and muttered about so called friends who had failed to meet her.

An ambulance arrived, and a paramedic gave the woman on the sidewalk an injection.  When they lifted her onto a gurney her head lolled toward me, and her eyes were half closed.  They loaded her into the ambulance and closed the door, but didn’t rush off.  A paramedic stood with the potato torso man and took notes for ten minutes.  Potato man looked worried, weary, but not panicked, and I got the impression that similar scenes had happened before.

I paid my bill and left to run a few errands.  I picked up a good porter at an ABC on Semoran and headed to a Walgreens to fetch prescriptions for Judy.  I had hoped for a night out with a bit of a diversion, but as I drove home I kept thinking, “I like my wife.  I should have stayed home with her.”

I felt like Dorothy Gale wishing for Kansas.