Back when I was in college, IHOP was an institution both to those of us that were going to college and those of us that were not.
A new Denny’s opened up down the street from our usual IHOP. I can’t recall what it was that made us decide to go there as Denny’s is generally more expensive than IHOP (unless you get one of their Grand Slam meals) and the food isn’t as good. I think we went just tto check it out (because, you know, Denny’s is such a unique dining experience).
They’d been open a week and they hadn’t gotten their act together yet. Having worked at a McDonald’s that had just open, I could certainly understand. Even allowing for new-restaurant chaos, our water was one of the most incompetent that I’d ever seen. I’d had bad waiters before, but generally they had an attitude problem. This guy meant well but just didn’t know what he was doing. We felt a little sorry for the guy.
Everyone except Walt, anyway. Walt had a bit of a short temper, but often found ways to have fun with a situation to prevent himself from getting irritable. And so it was with our Denny’s waiter. Walt had already eaten, so he decided to just get a dessert. However, the chocolate sunday he ordered had somehow become a strawberry sunday by the time it got to him. Walt had actually been debating between a chocolate or strawberry sunday, so he was cool with it. He said, “Oh, strawberry. Well this will work.”
“Isn’t that what you ordered?” the young waiter asked.
“I ordered a chocolate, but this will be-” Walt started before the waiter swooped the sunday from his plate from under him and said that he would get a chocolate sunday to him pronto. Pronto at the new Denny’s meant twenty minutes after we’d all finished our plates. He was apologetic when he came back out. He said that they’d run out of chocolate which is why they gave him a strawberry.
“You’ve only been open three days and you’re already out of chocolate syrup?” He asked.
“Oh. Well we have chocolate syrup, just not a chocolate sunday.”
We all looked at each other confusedly.
“If you want I can put some chocolate syrup on your strawberry sunday.”
“Shouldn’t my strawberry sunday be melted by now?”
“Okay. Well I could make a new strawberry sunday and put some chocolate on it.”
“Couldn’t you just put chocolate syrup on a sunday without the straw-” Walt started before reconsidering. “No, that will be fine.”
“Wait,” the waiter said as a little light bulb magically appeared on top of his head. “I could just put the chocolate syrup on a regular sunday and give you a sort of chocolate sunday.”
“Chocolate on top of a sunday constitutes a chocolate sunday. But nevermind, you can give me strawberries. Or not.”
“So wait. Which do you want?”
“I would like my sunday now. However you want to make it.”
“Okay, but I can make it either way.”
“I’m not sure about that, but just do whatever is easiest and will get it out the quickest.”
“Whatever is least confusing for you. Just do that.”
Walt’s tone was a little exasperated, but not angry. He was fighting off the irritation that comes with having had to wait almost an hour for a sunday, but fighting it off ably. The waiter didn’t even seem to understand that someone might be upset at this turn of events. We decided we would call that “charm”. “So what do you want?”
“Whatever is easiest for you.”
“How about I get you a sunday and put some strawberry and chocolate syrup on the side?”
“That’ll work. How quickly do you think you can get this done?”
“Five minutes, you can time me!” he said excitedly.
Without batting an eye, Walt pulled a stopwatch from his trenchcoat pocket. Walt was a martial arts instructor. He kept a stopwatch on him to time sparring matches or something. The waiter stood there in awe. “The stopwatch is going…” Walt told him with a smile.
It took a nick under twelve minutes for the sunday and its accessories to come out.
We left a fifteen percent tip. What he lacked in competence he made up for in amusement.
We never went to the Denny’s again. When at IHOP, we would often joke about timing the waitstaff there. It became a bittersweet comedy, more funny each time we told it. It was our way of smoothing over the fact that the night of the incident was the last time we saw Walt alive.