Thursday, April 30, 2009

Muscle Memory

Images flash across the screen of my inner all night movie show. Prone, staring at the ceiling, waiting for the wine or the tequila or the sleeping pill to take one away for a few hours. The stuff that the waking hours produce seems like the dream; the dream seems like the reality. And then the phone call comes.

“Our appointment with Chef Mark has been canceled, he has another emergency.”

That has been happening more frequently lately.

It is like a see-saw of good-bad news. Digging out of this one is going to take longer, I fear.

Last night, sitting around the table with a group of guys I taste wine with regularly. One of them, Hank, throws out the question, “What are some of your memories of food from your past?” We go around the table, everyone with their wonderful memories. Hank’s was especially poignant for me; maybe it was because we share the Italian-American experience. “There were eight of us, and we had dinner at six every night.” Hank is the same age as my older brother-in-law, so there are some early post-WWII memories there. He got to talking about a recent meal he had with his family, I think to celebrate his dad’s 90th or 91st birthday. “When we go to sit down, all of us took our places at the table exactly as we had done as kids, all those years ago. It was like we had muscle memory.”

Ahh yes, muscle memory.

All across the world, the Italians who settled in new lands shared their customs. Meals with the family, picnics, baptisms, first communions, it didn’t matter if it were Pittsburgh, Cucamonga, Sidney, Australia or Maracaibo, Venezuela. Maybe we didn’t have the best wine in the world, surely not like the rare vintages we were sipping last night, but what we had, it took. And deep inside we kept stretching, trying to find it in this new world we planted ourselves in.

The chef never called back. I’d rather not talk to him anyhow. He’s just going to want to shake me down for a bunch of free wine and an ad in the paper to prop his sinking ship up. I don’t have the heart to tell him the truth, that he isn’t going to get it from me or the company I work for. I want to share with him some thoughts on how we can move his business forward; I've been talking to all kinds of people for ideas. I even have a few of my own, after all these years in the biz. But I reckon they will ultimately fall on deaf ears. He wants to do what he wants to do, even though it ain’t working.

So what to do? Johnny Appleseed or George Washington? Plant seeds or chop it down?

More and more, it seems like folks are parading around in their fine new clothes, and nobody can get through to these insulated emperors that they just aren’t quite ready for the big tent. And so we go through the dance, trying to lead, but always picking partners who want to go in their own direction at their own speed. People who don’t listen, tone deaf to the new reality that has plopped down right in front of their empty valet stand.

And so we return to our memories, our dreams, about our family meals with our wine and our friends and our good times. The restaurants that get this, the ones that want to feed our dreams, not their pocketbooks, are winning out there. They know how to listen; they give the customer what they want. And in return for making our dreams last a little longer, they get to live another day, only to wake up and return to the line and start all over again.

1 comment:

Henley said...

Alfonso - well said. If they really got it - they'd terminate the Valet stand - the $8 bucks would go to better use inside all those restaurants...a nice glass of wine upon arrival! Cheers - Ali

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