I went to a small Mexican restaurant after Christmas shopping the other night. I had been there before but not for a few years. I showed up at 7:05, minutes after their happy hour menu ended. I wasn’t there for the beer, I wanted their Chile Verde Nachos, for half the price than the regular menu. Damn, and I barely missed it.
The waiter walked over with a basket of chips, and salsa that was about to say, “Merry Christmas,” to my tongue. As he set them down on the table, I slid the menu to him and asked for the regular menu. He asked, “Are you sure you don’t want something from the happy hour menu?” I said, “No, looks like I just missed it,” but I secretly chanted chile verde nachos inside my head. He says, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll give you the happy hour price if you want something.” And now dinner tonight would cost a whopping $5.75. I love this guy.
There was a gentleman sitting two chairs from my right. He introduced himself, then continued on about how great this establishment was. He told me he has known the previous owners for 18 years, and that he comes there 3 or 4 times per week. A total ambassador, even noting the ‘A’ sign about its approval of cleanliness from the County of Kern. He wanted to converse, and I’m not sure whether it was his Bud Lights or loneliness or a combination of both, so I ceded. We got to know each other.
Ten minutes of conversation came to an end when my nachos arrived. I have never, ever in my life seen such beauty. Sour cream, pico de gallo, and guacamole sat in a trifecta on a bed of lettuce, shielding it from the lava hot plate. The rest was layers of chips smothered in melted cheese, beans, and the chile verde. I was ill-prepared so I asked for extra napkins. I wanted to lick this food like an ice cream cone but that would have looked weird so I didn’t.
After my second bite, the conversation started again. I really don’t like talking while I’m eating. I eat fast, and chitchat isn’t on the menu. I’m eating because I’m hungry. I’m not one to have small talk. You can talk all you want but don’t ask me questions. I don’t want to respond. I want to eat. That’s why I am there. I’m not one to take you to a nice dinner with engaging conversation. I can imagine my future wife saying, “So how was your…” NOM! “What happened at…” NOM! NOM! “Do you know where…” NOM! NOM! NOM!
I’m two-thirds into my heaven when I bite down on what felt like an actual rock. This wasn’t bone, I understood that instantly. It clanked against my teeth after wincing in pain from the unexpected chomp. Mr. Jibber Jabber noticed the change in my face. My right eye started to water up. Seriously, WTF.
My first reaction is to try and actualize the pain. Am I bleeding? Did I chip a tooth? What the hell is in my mouth? With Chief Talking Wind looking in amazement, I reached in and pulled out a blended mix of beans and cheese, along with a small metal screw, pinched between my forefinger and thumb. Yes, an actual metal object designed to keep other metal objects together. Again, WTF.
Sir Talks-a-Lot calls for the owner, someone he previously mentioned having a great relationship with, being the new owner. She walks up while I grip a napkin to my mouth checking for blood. She asks, “What happened,” so I held up my other hand displaying the silver object. I’ll never forget her words. She proclaims, “We’ve been looking all over for that! You found it! You had the Chile Verde, didn’t you?!”
Okay, really. WTF is going on here.
I wish I could say I was making this up but I had witnesses. I’m not sure what kicked in but I laughed, hysterically. The eyes of the owner grew big, realizing what she had just said was probably not the right thing to say but she was so happy that I found her missing piece of machinery. Even the idea that she knew about this possibility, and the knowledge that there was high chances of chile verde probability was funny. Sure, I had a few WTF moments but this was all combined into one. This was the mecca of randomness.
She asks, almost hesitantly, “Are you okay?” I pulled the napkin from my mouth, took a look and said, “Well, I’m not bleeding, so that’s good.” The pain was real. My jaw and gums were sore. My roots were intact but throbbing. I hurt, laughingly. She said something in Spanish to the waiter, and he walks behind the bar with an empty glass indicating he’d like to know which draft beer I wanted. I said, “No, thanks. I don’t want any beer. Can I just get my check?” At this point, I just wanted to go home. The owner said, “No, we’ll cover this.”
This was my moment. I urged for the check and she handed it to me. She gave a wholehearted apology, knowing she might need to work on some people skills, but she was sincere. I told her that I was happy to pay because one, those nachos were like sex in my mouth but more importantly, her waiter did something he didn’t have to do. He gave me a deal. You can’t get that kind of generosity from a corporate restaurant. Employees would be reprimanded for such a thing, using the excuse that “the computer won’t allow it.” Yea, right. I don’t believe that.
My total bill came to $10 after tip. I placed it in the tray, leaving the peppermint candy behind. I was not about to have something else clanking around in my mouth anytime soon. She apologized again but now it was starting to get annoying. Too much apology can get that way. I told her I’d be back, that mistakes happen and I want to give the Chile Verde Nachos a second chance one day.
I laid in bed with my cheeks feeling like a dentist appointment gone bad but I was smiling. Retribution and recompense, or the negative attention that could make or break a business, wouldn’t happen that night; not on my watch. There was no yelping in the plans. It felt good exercising my right not to complain, and laugh it off instead; I found the funny. If I let the restaurant pay my bill, I would be acknowledging they were wrong. I forgave them the minute I started laughing. Actually, I take that back. I forgave them the instant the waiter said, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll give you the happy hour price.”
He didn’t have to do that. Merry Christmas to me!