Pace Yourself Dahling!

Posted on Monday 2 June 2008

If, within two minutes of checking into the Keys version of the Bates Motel, I hadn’t checked out of it, I never would have seen it happen.

If I hadn’t ditched my editor-in-a-box job three years ago, then landed behind the podium of a hugely busy D.C. restaurant, then started writing a blog about my new hospitality reality, then had a semi-nervous breakdown, and then run away from my life (everyone take a breath here), I never would have had a reason to be in the Keys at a Bates Motel, looking forward to meeting Upset Waitress for the first time in person.

If I hadn’t talked to one of my great D.C. friends a few days ago, who said to me in her exaggerated Long Island accent as she tried so hard not to laugh at my self-described recent antics, “Pace yourself, dahling,” I might not have laughed at the antics that unfolded after I checked out of the Keys version of the Bates motel.

If I had reacted on impulsive fear, as I usually do, and gotten the hell out of the Keys after I checked out of the Bates Motel, and not, as my great friend had suggested I do–paced myself–I wouldn’t have had the most surreal, hilarious, nay utterly hilarious and incredible 24 hours in my life since I began it almost a year ago.

“Everything in the Keys is a dump,” advised Upset Waitress, when I told her where I had booked a room online.

“Oh, I can handle a dump,” I said, so flip in my bullshit.

Thus, within two minutes of arriving in the Keys, I fully admitted I absolutely could not handle the ground floor “cottage” that literally straddled the sidewalk along Route 1 and was conveniently situated adjacent to what passes for a total ghetto market in the Keys.

And I admitted this other fact, as I walked my diva pup on her leash with the little pink “purse” attached to it (hey, it holds the pink bags for the clean-up, okay?): I am such a frickin’ princess.

Which was when the drunk guy exited the ghetto market next to the Bates motel and climbed into his neon green van, engaged the engine, and shoved it into reverse. I watched as he continued to slowly, oh so slowly, back up. Surely he will crank the steering wheel and turn one way or the other, I thought. Even as he didn’t.

Then it was clear he was going to continue his slow back-up in as straight a line as his drunken brain cells would let him, and that meant straight into my beautiful, 9-months-new, shiny black VW named “Bunny” (because she is a Rabbit).

As everything shifted into agonizing slow-mo, I began banging on his back windows, screaming, “Hey! Stop! What the f— are you doing. STOP!!!!!!”

He never heard me. He never saw me. He just kept backing up, right into the back side of the passenger side of my pristine “Bunny,” the scraping sound of metal against metal followed by that of metal puncturing metal as the neon green van’s bumper hooked into my car and pushed it backward some more. Because no amount of my screaming and banging on the van’s windows caught the drunk jerk’s attention.

Until something did. “Of fuck!” he exclaimed when he saw what he had done. When he saw me frantically snapping photos with my iPhone and screaming at him, “What the f— are you thinking you f—ing asshole?”

To which he responded in the best way he could. He took off. Gone. Adios, baby.

Which was when the boy called–the boy I was sure was done with me because I hadn’t heard from him in several days. The boy about whom I had written in a post at 1 a.m. and taken down at 4 a.m., because it was too painful to imagine he was really done with me and then admit that on my blog. Turns out, he was just sick as sick can be, and had just resurfaced to all kinds of crap at work, and he was calling to tell me about all this. You know, calling to have a real conversation about real life, like people do when they need to talk to someone close to them when things are terrible.

Who, me? Oh, okay. Oh, okay. Geez.

And I listened and sympathized, until I got frantic and hysterical and interrupted and said, “Just so you know, I am in the Keys because I hadn’t heard from you for a couple of days, and I got freaked out by the hotel I was supposed to stay in, and I checked out, and then a guy just hit my car and took off and…” And before I could ramble on for too much longer, the boy interrupted me and said, simply, “Call the police. Now.”

Which was when Upset Waitress, whom I had yet to actually meet, pulled up in a shiny cute car, and she was so cute herself. She bounded out the car, and we exchanged a huge hug, because despite everything, I instantly knew this girl. No, I didn’t feel like I knew her; I KNEW her. Sadly, she was going to get to know a frantic, getting-ready-to-go-into-freak-out-orbit Restaurant Gal.

I love meeting other bloggers for the first time. It’s always in a moment that involves so much else, so there’s no awkward “Hi, how are you?” conversations. It’s all for real from the get go. And always hilarious, in an out-of-body, existential kind of way.

“I need to call the police,” I blurted out, after hello hugs were exchanged.

“What?” she laughed.

“No really. Some guy just smashed the crap out my car and took off. I have to call the police.”

“Oh, well, then here,” replied a very calm Upset Waitress, as she dug a card out of her purse. “Call this number. They helped me out last week.”

I love a gal with a police officer in her purse.

Turned out, Upset Waitress knew the van that had hit me. “I see it parked all the time on my way to work. Kind of noticeable, you know, being lime green and all.” Turned out, knowing this information made it easy for the three officers, assorted back-up personnel and a sheriff’s deputy or two to go after the guy.

“Ma’am, follow us,” said one. “You do want to press charges, right?”

Oh, well, I guess. I really just want Bunny not to have a dent in her side.

Thus, the three officers took off down Route 1 to where Upset Waitress had said she’d seen the van parked most days, I followed the officers, and Upset Waitress followed me. I texted the boy while sitting at a red light. “Once I file this police report, I am so outta here. Dinner later?”

Ha Ha Ha.

Ha.

The lime green van was parked way in the back of the seediest, most disgusting trailer park (think rust and plywood galore and tons of actual trash) I have ever seen, despite a locale on a spit of mangrove swamp jutting out into clear blue waters that beg you to fish and swim and dive and languish forever. Only in the Keys….

While the cops did their thing of pounding on a trailer door, Upset Waitress and I chatted the talk of those who are friends from way back, as if I know all the characters. “So, I’ll show you the way to Angie’s restaurant. I’ll drop you there. You can take her to her house. You’ll love her husband, even if he is kind of old. They love each other. A real story. Ask her to tell you. She can’t drive, though, which is why I do, and now you will, because, you know. I appreciate it. I have stuff to take care of, then I’m there with you. I am SO glad to meet you.”

I am standing in a trailer park filled with rusted tin cans that people sleep in. I am surrounded by cops and azure water and I am the center of attention because a drunk in a lime green van backed into my car in the parking lot of the Keys version of the Bates Motel.

I feel so very far from home. Any home. But it doesn’t feel terrible. It feels…kind of…free.

You want me to drive your pal someplace? You need to deal with your own crap and then we all have fun? No kidding, it sounds perfect. I’ll see my boy later, I guess.

They find my drunk driver hiding deep in a mangrove swamp not far from his van. The officers hand cuff him, arrest him, put him in a squad car. Jesus.

“Aw, he’s just so messed up,” points out Upset Waitress, and I am intrigued by her sympathetic attitude. “He’s just drunk, poor guy.”

Yeah, just a drunk.

*******

Angie’s restaurant is where I think I want to work someday. Breakfast served all day, wooden booths, some kind of “famous” something on the menu that only tourists would ask about, much less order. It reminds me of the place I worked when I was 14 with my best sister friend. I watch Angie wish everyone a good evening with “lots of tips” and they say a heartfelt goodnight to her. I resist an impractical urge to call several close girlfriends, because no one will get this moment, because it is over just that fast.

“We had an affair when I was 20 and he was 50,” Angie tells me about her husband. Yuck, is what I am thinking.

“Then I graduated college and I left the city. I married. I had kids. I never saw him again. Until I realized he had bought a house where I was living, after three divorces between us. So I called him. I said, ‘Hear you are down here. Want to have dinner?’ He said, ‘Oh my God, I have waited three decades to hear from you! I don’t want to have dinner with you. I want to marry you.'”

And so she did. To a guy who is now in his ’80s.

They love each other. That is so clear. My dog, who is afraid of most men on the planet, likes the old man. She positively loves Angie. But then, Angie fed her cat treats. They both ask me about D.C., beg me to regale them with D.C. stories, and I do, with the kind of stories that involve inside the most inside of non-news moments that no news source ever heard about. I am surprised at my telling of these stories, just as Angie and her husband are spellbound by my telling them. They are stories I had not remembered for years and years. They are stories that remind me of a time so long ago. Yesterday.

Upset Waitress returns and we gals, including my pup, pile in her car for the rest of the night out. We drink much and eat less at a place overlooking the sunset. Someone offers to snap our photo with my iPhone. I call a friend of my crazy friend and tell him to meet us. He does. We drink and eat and drink and eat at many more places.

We have so much fun, until 3 a.m.

I end up sleeping with the pup on my crazy friend’s friend’s sofa, because I have no other place to stay, having checked out a lifetime ago from the Keys version of the Bates Motel. We get up at 6 a.m. and head to Upset Waitress’s restaurant for breakfast, which my hungover body says will include only the two food groups of water and coffee.

I watch Upset Waitress in her element. I want to leave all that I have to go back to this day and work with her, because she is swamped and in the weeds, but not really, and her place is on the water and the food is excellent and I started out in this business pouring coffee and….

I almost cry when I hug Upset Waitress goodbye. I tell her I will send her all my expensive designer jeans that are too big for me now, but only by one size. Upset Waitress has lost 20 pounds in several months due to pilates and stress at home. None of her clothes fit. None of mine do, again, either.

I give her a clip for her hair, because I have a pretty blue one in my purse that I never use, and her long thick hair is all in her face and driving her crazy.

She is beautiful, this Upset Waitress. I adore her, this girl. I will be back, very soon, I tell her. It is very hard to say good bye.

“Hey, you have a case number with the police,” points out Upset Waitress before I leave. “You’re one of us. And now you HAVE to come back.”

I regard her, then hug her tight. And I think about what my friend has said as a joke about Keys husbands: “A good Keys husband always makes sure he gets his wife to her second and third jobs on time.” Good luck to you, my new friend.

I tell this long story to the boy this after work at midnight on Sunday, because he has texted me to meet him at the bar where we met. No matter the time.

He takes my hand after we close the bar a mere hour later, and we walk to our cars to say goodnight and to go home to our own homes. I like this slower pace with the boy. For some reason, this moment reminds me that I love my new girlfriends in the Keys.

I could have run screaming from this place. From all of these places. Especially from the boy. But then, I would have missed all of it. And learned from none of it.

I am trying so very hard to pace myself. Dahling.

13 Comments for 'Pace Yourself Dahling!'

  1.  
    June 2, 2008 | 11:28 pm
     

    Would you be interested in linking our two blogs together? Mine is for banquet managers and I usually sound-off against waiters. Hey, it might be interesting. Please check out my blog and let me know: http://soyouwanttobeabanquetmanager.blogspot.com

  2.  
    Julie
    June 2, 2008 | 11:50 pm
     

    The drunk is a couple sandwiches short of a picnic.

    Poor you. I’m very upset by a little ding in my car but my car is otherwise pristine — especially for being 8 years old. It’s tiny and I notice it every time I leave the house. I can’t imagine how it would feel if it was less than a year old.

    I’m glad that you had fun despite the beginning of your time in the Keys. Nothing like a good night with good friends to wipe it all away.

  3.  
    Dawn
    June 3, 2008 | 1:04 am
     

    First time comment here – I remember the Keys as just such a place as you’ve described. Sounds like things haven’t change much since the early ’80s. Sorry to hear that your trip wasn’t as stress less as you’d wished. d

  4.  
    June 3, 2008 | 10:58 am
     

    Sounds like a fun outing (except for the car thing). All kinds of interesting things in Florida.

  5.  
    Jennifer
    June 3, 2008 | 11:28 am
     

    Relocate your story to any other place and I would gape in shock. But in Key West? It’s just another day. Now where’s my shaker of salt…. ?

    GLAD you had a good time and that you were not actually IN Bunny when the crash happened!

  6.  
    June 3, 2008 | 12:03 pm
     

    Beautifully written ๐Ÿ™‚

  7.  
    Katherine
    June 3, 2008 | 1:04 pm
     

    I can’t believe the drunk hit your car and than ran!! How Rude!!! I’ve never been to Florida, I always thought the Keys was a nice place. Guess I’ll just stick with the rain of Oregon.

    Thanks for the great post.

  8.  
    Restaurant Gal
    June 3, 2008 | 7:48 pm
     

    Julie–I am so angry about the car. But so glad I stayed overnight.

    Dawn–Actually, in the end, the one-night trip was perfect. Thank you for commenting!

    JoeinVegas–This whacky South Florida. Just when I thought MY corner of it was la-la land!

    Jennifer–I wasn’t in Bunny, but my dog was! She was scared out of her mind. And yes, after that, we didn’t need prompting to pass the shaker.

    Kim– ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Katherine–Nah, just another crazy day in the Keys, as far as I could tell. I can’t wait to go back and you should definitely come visit! Although Oregon is pretty sweet, rain and all.

  9.  
    Angie
    June 4, 2008 | 11:06 am
     

    Yea for you and the great attitude. As much as I love Key West, I might of not been able to bounce back like you. Love that you made new friends. Man, I miss Key West.

  10.  
    June 4, 2008 | 3:44 pm
     

    sugar, i’ve been reading you for a long time, but i swear, you tell a story like no other person i know! well done! btw, you KNOW if you ever get to savannah, drinks are on me! ๐Ÿ˜‰
    p.s. we’ve been talking about going down to the keys for ages, now i KNOW for sure, it’s a must do asap! xox

  11.  
    June 4, 2008 | 8:48 pm
     

    Listen Dahling(saying in my hillbilly voice), hopefully the next time you come down, you come with The Boy! I have the perfect place. The essence of the Keys. The true grit. I do feel bad about Bunny. Your dog is dreamy. And YOU, you are a blast, full of energy. Cute as a button too. I love the post. You are so eloquent. ๐Ÿ™‚ You are welcome here anytime sister.

  12.  
    retired restuarant manager
    June 6, 2008 | 12:23 am
     

    that was the perfect post….now your gettin some real kicks!!! I think of the beat writers when I hear about misfortune and friends that make it all good!

  13.  
    June 7, 2008 | 7:46 am
     

    Wonderful story. Really well written. Loved it.

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