By Tim Hayes

After celebrating 37 of them, we have come to appreciate every wedding anniversary for the wonderful observance it represents, even as the details of one year’s celebration to the next have taken on vastly different directions and colors along the way.

We’ve spent days luxuriating at mountaintop resorts. We’ve spent quiet evenings at home after our (then) little ones had all been bathed, read stories to, and put to bed. One year, we really blew the doors off and went shopping for new pots and pans at JC Penney, of all things. You never know. No matter how or where, though, each anniversary brings its own unique opportunities to reflect, remember, and realize how lucky and blessed we’ve been.

And some anniversaries even come complete with bizarre stories sure to be added to family legend. We just came back from one such anniversary earlier this week.

The plan called for an overnight stay at one of the fancier hotels in Downtown Pittsburgh, including dinner and a play. We checked in and called a favorite restaurant in the cultural district. This place traditionally gets absolutely packed with theatergoers, so having our request for a reservation granted on relatively short notice offered a pleasant surprise.

An unexpected anniversary gift, you might say.

After walking the block or so to the restaurant, the hostess ushered us to a window seat where we could people-watch during our meal. Other than a patron or two at the bar and one other table full of young ladies, the place was dead. Hmmm. Tiny droplets of doubt began accumulating on the windshield of my brain.

Soon Chase, our server, swooped in, asking for our drink orders. He just as smoothly whisked away as we chatted, holding hands on our special day. Time ticked away with no drinks in sight. After about 15 minutes, Chase reappeared with my wife’s selection, announced that the bread would be brought out next, and dissolved into the vapor again. Gosh that guy had a way of sneaking up on you then – poof – was gone again. And he forgot my drink.

Many more minutes later – still with no other customers in sight – here popped Chase again, setting down a basket of bread and a small dish of olive oil for dipping.

“We’re out of butter, our apologies,” he intoned, adding, “So I made that dipping sauce just for you.” The double-barreled shock of a high-end bistro running out of butter (?), and our waiter preparing a dipping sauce, jarred my brain just enough to delay my request for my still-missing drink before Chase had vanished again.

Neither one of us touched the bread or the sauce, still keeping our optimism about this anniversary meal relatively high. The beads of doubt in my head began coagulating into larger streaks, though, I had to admit.

Next came the soup and salad, which Chase placed before us with his typical flair, before telling us, “Chef is displeased. We’re having a bit of a tussle in the kitchen. But calmer heads are prevailing. We know what the problem is, and we have a plan to fix it. I hope you like the salads I made.”

Now, just hold the phone. The salads HE made?

“Chase, hang on a second,” I said, buttonholing him before he could zip away. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but are you a chef?”

“Oh, no. But Chef is displeased, and I didn’t want to delay your meals, so I took care of a couple of things. Not to worry. All is well.”

“Could I please get my drink now? And could somebody fire that chef?”

“Oh, absolutely. On both counts, believe me, Buddy. Again our apologies. But things are slow tonight, and when that happens, Chef gets displeased.”

And there went Chase into the ether once more. What in the holy hell was going on in this restaurant? Now we became skittish about eating the salad too! Meanwhile, this mountain of a la carte items kept racking up and jacking up the bill. The doubt index had become a steady rain by this point.

Suddenly, the hostess reappeared. “I understand there may be a concern here. How can I help you feel better about your experience with us tonight?”

“Well, you can start by telling us why our waiter – who just admitted to us is not a trained chef – is making just about everything on the table so far! I mean, who’s cooking our entrees? You? The bartender? What’s happening in that kitchen? This is our anniversary!”

She explained that the only theatrical performance in town that evening was the show we would be seeing, and that was a small cabaret-style event. That meant the restaurant’s capacity would be extremely low, and that we were one of only a handful of clients they would be hosting that night. She added that the wait staff is trained and always prepares the salads for customers, and that the head chef was at that moment indeed preparing our entrees.

I turned on the windshield wipers in my brain and swept much of the uneasiness away. Not all of it, but most of it. The proof would be in the quality of the entrees, because we still had only picked at our salads and were pretty much starving at this point.

“Leave room for dessert!” cried the effervescent and opaque Chase, startling me into dropping a chunk of ravioli down the front of my shirt. “We have something special planned for you two!”

After we enjoyed a truly delicious main course, a chilled bowl of lemon gelato – on the house – helped clear away any lingering apprehensions, sending us off into the night and a great evening of entertainment.

Chef may have been displeased, but he sure can cook like a sonuvabitch. Call it an anniversary gift, you might say.

Copyright 2019 Timothy P. Hayes