Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Unusual friends - The waiters and barmen

Continuing with the third of as yet unlimited stories under the banner of 'Unusual friends'..

Now almost two years ago, we (that is us and a couple of friends) happened to be sitting in the terrace of a bar on a brilliant sunny and warm day sipping our drinks and munching calamares, (or rabas as they are known) the local delicacy. The waiter came by and brought us some tapas and I knew that he was Peruvian. The football world cup qualifying rounds were going on and I happened to know that Peru were struggling with a few matches to go. So I made a comment to the guy saying that Peru looked like going out, and he cheered up to know that someone was aware of Peru's progress (or lack of). With a grand gesture he announced that he would take a bet that Peru qualify. I accepted and we agreed to bet on the value of a round of drinks and rabas, about 15 Euros.
The bar in Laredo
My logic was that although I was neutral in what happened in the matches, it would give me and the waiter some common ground for interaction and having some fun. As many of you will know, Peru qualified by the skin of their teeth. We were both very happy that this happened and although I happened to be on travels when the result became known, and the waiter may have thought that I had fled without paying, but I happily paid up my dues when next in town.
A few months later the scene repeated itself and the same waiter offered to repeat the bet if Peru got to the second round. Again I accepted, and this time Peru failed dismally and I won my money back. Perhaps as an exercise in financial gain this was a minor flop, but in terms of making a longterm association I gained a lot. This man is always happy to see me, and even if we pass by without sitting in his terrace, he will still say hello and smile. Also if Peru lose an international game I give him a thumbs down and he shrugs, and if they win its a thumbs up and his face lights up.
There are other bars in Laredo where I find equally friendly faces. Most of them know a bit about me and will tell me that they saw me on the TV or that there was photo of me in the newspaper. This goes for the surrounding towns as well. I have been recognised in Santander and Bilbao bars for being from Laredo, and there is this restaurant in San Miguel where all the waiters and cooks come together and tell me, 'yep, we saw you again' or 'what happened, we have not seen you in the press for a while'.
On another occasion we were in a group driving around Cantabria enjoying a lovely day out, but got late in finding a restaurant to have lunch. Suddenly the thought occurred to me that there was a restaurant in the general area where we were, that I had visited a year or two before and that the people had treated us really well. It was almost 4pm and everyone agreed to give this a shot as a last resort.
So we showed up at the restaurant and as we entered they seemed to be clearing up and looking forward to calling it a day. We were looking for a table for ten, so I could see that it was going to be impossible. And I was right, they said that the kitchen was closing and that they could not accomodate us. I kind of remembered the guy who had hosted us in the past, so on a hunch I described the man to see if he was around. They said yes, he is upstairs and called out for him. This familiar face came down, looked at me and his face lit up. 'Hombre, ya era hora' (Man, about time we saw you around here again) he said and gave me a hug. To my friends he said 'You guys probably dont know how this guy can eat'.
Turned out he was the owner and once he realised what we wanted, he told us to wait five minutes and they set a table and we all enjoyed a late but delicious lunch.
Something similar to this happened to me New York once, where in a similar situation, Sunday, 3pm, a restaurant where we had no reservation and which had a queue outside, and again about eight of us including my sister and her family we decided to chance our luck and I went in and said to the person in charge of reservations and seating 'Hi, do you remember me'?
''Were you not here last week'?
'Yes, it was great and that is why I am back, but I need a table today too and don't have a reservation'.
She shrugged her shoulders and nodded over to the pile of people waiting.
'Please, I have about eight people outside and some children, its late and we are hungry. You have to help me'.
'Impossible', she said.
I hung around a few minutes and she saw me and came over and said 'give me fifteen minutes and I will put together a couple of tables and I will call you'.
I could have hugged her but refrained, but my face probably said how I felt. I came out and gave my folks the good news and we had the most amazing lunch at the Rosa Mexicano, on 58th with 1st Avenue. Those of you who have sampled my Guacamole should know that its based on a recipe from this restaurant.
Rosa Mexicano - 58th and 1st NY

There is something to be said for a long cool Margarita waiting at the bar of a hotel, where you arrived after a long flight from London and then a two hour drive down Interstate 78, something that I used to do on regular intervals when working for a company in Pennsylvania. The barman used to be given advanced notice of my arrival!
It pays to have some emotional intelligence and appreciate what people do (and show it) and you get more than you invest back as a reward.

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