“RG, are you off your break, yet?” asked one of the hosts.
My break? You mean the two gulps of my Emergen-C spiked water and a handful of fries shoved into my mouth as I brought special menus for a private event to the podium and took the back way through the kitchen–that break?
“Sure. I’m headed back to the office. What’s up?”
“Them,” she nodded, referring to a multi-generational family that included grandparents, parents and a newly-minted high-school graduate–all beaming at me when I glanced over at them. “They say they want to go upstairs.”
Upstairs? We have no upstairs. We have no downstairs. We have lots of tables, a couple of private rooms and great food.
“On the roof. I talked to the guys around the corner in security. They said it was okay as long as a manager took them up.”
“Well, great, get a manager.”
“They’re about to go into their meeting. But you can take them. Here.” She shoved a credit card-like item in my hand. “It’s the key card for the elevator to the offices next door. The security guy said it was fine.”
I looked over at the family again, all of whom were still smiling incredibly pleasant and hopeful smiles.
“So you know the security guys or something? It’s really okay?” Because now I was thinking a quick trip to the sun and outdoors for a bird’s-eye view I had never seen before might just provide an opportunity for a real break that I rarely take.
“Really. It’s fine. You just sign in and up you go.”
“Okay, sure. I’ll take them. Just let everyone in the office know where I am.”
I turned and walked toward the family, and extended my hand toward the grandmother, since she was clearly the driving force behind this request–her smile was the broadest. “Hi, my name is Restaurant Gal. I understand you folks want a quick tour of the next-door roof top.”
“Oh, thank you, dear!” she said, grasping my hand with both of hers. “We won’t be any trouble. We’re Navy people. We used to live here years ago when my husband was stationed here, and we loved this neighborhood. We just want to see the view.”
“I am happy to take you up, then,” I said, awkwardly pulling my hand from her grasp that was lasting just a few seconds too long. “Follow me.”
And we wound through my restaurant, out the side door no one uses, and into the lobby of the building next door. The security guard saw us coming and waved everyone through–”Except you,” he said, pointing at me. Right, me, “the manager.” I signed his book, making my scrawl as illegible as I could. “Enjoy the view,” he smiled and pointed me toward the elevators.
“Oh this is so exciting,” exclaimed the grandmother. “Frank! Keep up. We’re going to the roof to see our neighborhood!” Frank and her kids and the graduating grandkid dutifully followed.
I fumbled a little with the card device, but finally got us to the top floor. My entourage followed me down a funny little hallway, around a corner, through a scary door that I was sure would lock us out forever, and then…and then I knew what the birds see, and it was breathtaking.
“Oh my, it so different from up here,” whispered the grandmother.
“Cool!” piped up the graduate.
“Maybe we shouldn’t stay too long, you know?” asked the nervous son-in-law.
Now it was my turn to smile at them, and at the expansive panorama in front of me. “See that spire over there?” I pointed. “That’s the oldest church in the city.”
“Frank, look! Is that our old street?” cried the grandmother. Frank nodded, not saying a word.
“What’s that?” “Is that a famous place?” “I can’t believe this view!” came the comments from everyone, even Frank, fast and furious.
I played roof-top tour guide and pointed out every detail and landmark on the horizon that I could make out on this clear day.
While the kids took photos of their graduate, the grandmother tried to stuff a couple of wadded up dollar bills in my hand. I was, frankly, uneasy with this, especially since I was just doing what I perceived to be my job at that moment to go an extra step for a guest. Especially when I was deriving just as much pleasure from taking in the sights as they were on this roof top.
“No, thank you. I can’t accept that. I’m just glad we could get you up here to see your old neighborhood,” I said, gently folding her fingers around the bills.
“You are such a dear,” the grandmother said, looking me in the eye, still smiling. “You have made this entire trip by letting us come up here.” I thought she was going to hug me, then. Instead, she reached out and touched the multiple strands of my necklace. “And look at you, so pretty. So stylish,” she clucked, like a grandmother should.
I wanted to grasp her hand and hold it against my chest, just a minute longer. I wanted to capture her smile forever against the most magnificent views I’ve ever seen of my city. I wanted to tell her she was making this one of the nicest moments I’ve had since I’ve missed my own grandmother.
“Mom, come over here. One more picture, of all of us!” shouted her daughter from across the way. And we smiled at each other a last second before she turned her attention toward her family.
“Let me take it so you all are together,” I offered.
I lined them up, the graduate standing in the middle, his lanky arms draped around his mom’s and his grandmother’s shoulders, Frank and his dad flanking the sides. Smile! And they did.
Somewhere in the background, blocks away, was a house on a street, where this family had gotten its start. Somewhere, past the horizon, beyond the clouds, well away from this rooftop, an angel–maybe two or three–was smiling down on me.