BRANSON, MO. —The only things we ordered at an Irish pub in Branson, Mo., last week were a couple of chicken Philly sandwiches, a Ruben and spaghetti. It began as no big deal. But it grew.
Let me explain:
My son, Diego and his wife, Connie, joined Bonnie and me for lunch in downtown Branson. We were in the final days of a mini-vacation with the Coppock side of the family. We’d visited many restaurants, but never before had we been regarded with such obsequiousness. Never. We summoned the waiter to our sidewalk table, telling him we were ready to order our drinks.
Here’s how some of the exchanges went:
“Anon, anon, sir. I wish I could have arrived at your table five minutes before you needed me.”
As a language person, I counted five uses of “I’m sorry,” “forgive me,” and “no problem” before he brought our Cokes.
And as he returned, he apologized several more times for 1) being late with them (which he most certainly wasn’t); 2) failing to bring straws (which were a matter of no importance; and 3) forgetting to ask us if we wanted lots of ice or just a little.
We thought it might have been an act, and I recalled a time in my childhood when a school mate I often walked to school with, became such a consummate apologizer that I wanted to kick him. And that’s rare for me, as, given a choice, I’d ask to be the kickee, not the kicker.
But let’s get back to the sidewalk restaurant. Were our Missouri waiter’s mannerisms cleverly designed to earn him bigger tips? Those at the table thought that might be the case, but the waiter’s fawning become annoying. We almost agreed: No more than 10 cents tip for this man.
You see, we were capable of unwrapping our own straws (the ones he brought 10 seconds late). I usually follow that action by blowing the wrapper at whichever son is near. Have you ever been in a situation in which the other person does everything for you, almost literally not allowing you to lift a finger?
I believe the fawning waiter even apologized for excessive subservience. An apology — whether deserved or merely contrived — invariably requires acknowledgement, a mention that whatever offense the apologizer committed wasn’t egregious enough to require papal absolution. It’s almost easier to assure the apologizing waiter that it’s “no problem,” which is becoming the very popular substitute for “you’re welcome,” especially among young people.
Along with the subservience of the waiter, who might have gone home that day with a stash of tips wrought by the very act of being, well, subservient, we became party to yet another form of exchange among strangers. This happens everywhere, but a full-fledged discussion of its effects came out in Branson. Let me explain this too:
In Branson, a mini-mini Vegas, traffic lines are long, and as it rains constantly, the behemoth SUVs go even slower.
Bonnie, when driving, generally lets every creature in Western Civilization through (she gives them a cut in traffic).
Letting someone go in front of you in traffic might not thrill those behind you, but it does wonders for the cutter and cuttee (the one who lets someone’s SUV slide in, and the recipient). And usually there’s an acknowledgement.
But with the proliferation of darkened windows, we’re never sure whether the beneficiary of the good deed made a signal, ignored our magnanimity, or flipped us off, for being unnecessarily generous.
It was in a heavy rain, on our way to a museum where my grandson and namesake used the term “mano suelta,” a term he’d learned in Spanish class which loosely translated means “loose hand.” He noticed that whenever someone in traffic allowed us to cut in line, I made sure the good Samaritan received our acknowledgement by rolling down my passenger’s side window and waving. I think that’s good policy and it forestalls road rage.
Usually, a friendly wave or thumbs up does the job, and it obviates the need to hold up other traffic as we participants stop in order to swap pleasantries.
True, performing such an action in a downpour tends to wetten the passengers a smidgen, but I think the gesture reaps rewards. Then Arthur Roland said, “Well, Pompah, why didn’t you get out of the car, get on your knees, say a prayer of thanksgiving and tell the driver you hope to become his best friend?”
Well, my grandson’s bit of irony jolted me, but it made me realize that often when we use “phatic” communication such as a wave or a nod, we don’t necessarily enslave ourselves into joining these people for coffee, crumpets, conversation and church services twice a week.
So, if you see me downtown, executing the mano suelta maneuver, please know it’s my way of acknowledging a courtesy. It’s neither a challenge nor an act of servility.
• • •
A previous column discussed a flea market that used to be on the lot opposite the old Safeway store at Mills Plaza. For a long time, the sign read, “People’s flee Market.” My urge was to photograph my three much-younger sons running from the place, their faces showing terror, their arms waving, their eyes glazed.
But the trouble was that such a staged photo-op would have required them to run on to the street, Mills Avenue, so we never got the photo.
Last week, I received a photo from Kathryn Newton, a long-time resident of Golondrinas, who noted the misspelling of “flea.” The photo she took shows a large empty area with no one in sight.
Apparently, potential customers followed orders and decided to flee the market.
• • •
And what’s with the sign at the counter at the Abe Montoya Rec Center? It reads: “Smile: You are being videotape.” When did teachers decide that units on past participles were unnecessary?
Art Trujillo is copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.