So, here's a story. Tonight, Carrie and I decided to go out to dinner. After spending New Year's Eve in and the next 2 days sick and in bed, we felt we were owed as much. So we did what we usually do. Spend an hour trying to decide where to go for dinner and then eventually settle on the cheapest place. Tonight, it was a Mexican place down the street we rarely frequent.
I should've known something was up as soon as we walked in there. The place is huge. In addition to the outdoor deck (it was warm enough to have diners this evening), there's a labyrinth of indoor rooms and bars at this place. All of them were empty. Eventually, we came across an out-of-the-way reception desk. As we were seated, I was horrified to realize that there was only one other table occupied in the entire restaurant.
This is an issue with me. While I can appreciate being the only people in a movie theater or a plane or something, I don't like the undue attention of being the only patrons of a store. Put in this position, I don't dare leave because of my innate need to support any non-chain business that isn't terrible. So I just sit there, nervously staring at the entrance in hopes that the place will fill up by the time the meal is over. But oh, it gets worse. There was a musician.
If being the only diners in a restaurant gives me a mild panic attack, then being the only diners in a restaurant with live musicians fucking terrifies me. Are we supposed to act like this is a personal concert? Should we clap? Stare at him? Ignore him? I'm profoundly uncomfortable in situations like these, and usually it's pretty obvious.
Still. I can be magnanimous. I can eating a meal without freaking out. After all, we brought some cash to tip him wit.... shit. The money we had left over from the farmer's market that morning was sitting at home on the table. Making matters infinitely worse was that this guy was amazing. and elderly. and playing solo. I don't know what it is. If this guy was playing on the street, or Dave Matthews songs, I wouldn't even think twice of walking past. But I was watching him play with more passion than just about every live show I've ever seen (and paid for). If this guy was from Brooklyn and singing in English, he'd be on the cover of magazines. But instead I was watching this old guy playing by himself in an empty restaurant and it was too much. I felt like we were taking advantage of this guy, and it was only fair to compensate him. I know you might be thinking "but he's paid by the restaurant". I don't know if this is true. and if it is, it wasn't enough. After all, we were tipping the waiter, and he wasn't even that good a waiter.
I tried to put it out of my mind. I thought if I could convince myself that he was singing some really lewd filth, I wouldn't feel obligated to tip him. I thought maybe he'd give up at the realization that he was only playing to two people, and poor-looking ones at that. But no. He kept playing, sounding better with each song. It was torture, beautiful torture. So we decided that we had to tip him. So I got up, nodded to the host as I walked towards the bathroom, and then bolted out the front door towards the nearest business that would give me cash back.
I don't know what the people at the Trader Joe's made of me, running in through their doors and scanning the aisles before grabbing a Toblerone. They probably thought I was a lunatic. When I went to pay for them, the clerk said "Looks like someone's new year's resolution is to eat more candy!" She smiled, and I probably should've just nodded and smiled back. Instead, with my heart pounding through my chest I huffed "no time to explain", got my cash back, and sprinted back to the restaurant. The guy was still playing the same song when I sat down*. I slipped Carrie the money and she tipped him at the next break. If I tried, the singer might have notice that I was a) out of breath, or b) suddenly had a giant Toblerone in my pocket.
The next song, he played a cover of "Sounds of Silence". I swear this was for our benefit, since before that his set consisted of traditional Mexican songs, but it might've just been that place in the rotation. I'm usually not big on this sort of thing, the zany cover**, but I swear this guy killed it. He was amazing, and I can't swear it wasn't the palpitations or the cold medicine, but I was almost moved to tears.
It was far from the cheapest meal we could've had (In n' Out), but that was still the best $5 I've spent in years.
*I know it's depressing that I was winded after some four minutes of running but, to be fair, I haven't been to the gym in almost a month and I had just downed a taco, an enchilada, and a plate of beans and rice. We're all lucky that my being winded was the worst of it.
**anyone who has visited this site for over a year or so can probably find hundreds of pieces of evidence contradicting this. Well keep yer trap shut.