By Jason Offutt
Soft mariachi music played over the loudspeakers as my wife and I perused the menu at a restaurant I won’t mention here. Not because the food wasn’t good (it was), I just hate free advertising, especially when I won’t get anything out of it.
Hey, this is America, Land of I Scratch Your Back … No, Wait, Give Me $50 or I Ain’t Scratchin’ Nothin’. Kind of long for a slogan, so I guess we’re stuck with Land of Opportunity. Fits better on a bumper sticker anyway.
My wife and I like to try a local restaurant in new towns, avoiding those with a memorial to health inspectors who have fallen in the line of duty. Which brought us here.
The music picked up tempo as we scanned the menu. I once read Mexican restaurants play fast music so patrons would get in, get out and keep the tables flowing with paying customers. Brilliant.
Then there’s us.
“Have you decided?” asked our waitress, a kindly, patient sort who had obviously dealt with people like us before.
My wife shook her head. “No, not yet.”
Deciding what to eat at a restaurant uses the same part of the brain as shopping. Men walk into a restaurant/ store already knowing they want a cheeseburger and fries/biker wallet with a chain. So we immediately get a cheeseburger/biker wallet.
Women have to window shop, and at a restaurant, a menu is the window.
“Do you know what you want?” my wife asked.
I nodded. Of course I did, I’m a guy. “You?”
She shook her head and turned a page. “Not yet.”
I think we often choose a Mexican restaurant not just because we love Mexican food, but because of the built-in appetizers. If it weren’t for the chips and salsa, I might get dizzy and fall over by the time my wife ordered.
When our waitress came back, we were ready, but I knew my order would come back wrong.
I’m the kind of diner waitresses and cooks hate, which is kind of scary because these people are in charge of things I stick into my mouth. So I smile a lot and tip well.
I don’t eat a lot of meat at restaurants. Partially because men in my family tend to die of congestive heart failure and partially because I’ve gotten food poisoning twice while eating out, and I figured twice was enough.
“I’d like a Number Four (burrito, refried beans and rice),” I told the waitress.
“What kind of meat?” she asked.
“No meat, I’d like beans.”
I got a beef burrito with two sides of beans.
“Sorry to bother you (I told you I was nice), but I ordered a bean burrito.”
She apologized and walked to the kitchen with my plate. She came back with a bean burrito, with two sides of beans, which now didn’t resemble a Number Four at all. It was more like a Number This Guy Can’t Read.
“You basically just got a plate of beans and a flour tortilla,” my wife said, smiling. Of course she could smile, she was eating a burrito stuffed with beef and chicken because IT WAS ON THE MENU.
I eventually got my rice, and it was delicious.
That’s OK. Happens to me all the time.
Jason Offutt’s latest book, “Across a Corn-Swept Land: An epic beer run through the Upper Midwest,” is available at amazon.com.