Don’t call me sweetheart if you don’t know my name

The young Irish waiter called all the women at Thursday’s church ladies luncheon “dear.” On my trip last week, the waitress at Denny’s called me “hon.” The young black man taking away my used plate at Sizzler asked, “Would you like to keep your knife, sweetheart?” I got sweethearted at another Denny’s farther north and at a Black Bear Diner just south of Bakersfield.

The waitress at the Black Bear called the young adult male in the booth behind me “young man,” which I suspect is insulting to any male over age 10. I know I have always hated being called “young lady.”

I also got called “sweetheart” at a gas station where I had trouble with a malfunctioning pump. The woman clearly thought I was an idiot.

I’m a 66-year-old woman. Why are strangers calling me sweetheart? I can’t help but think of the nursing home employees who call everyone honey, sweetie, darling, etc., or use their first names even though the residents are elderly adults deserving more respect even if their minds have turned to melted Jell-O.

But let’s get back to restaurants. I ate out approximately 20 times on my recent trip, so I got a pretty good survey of low-budget sit-down eateries, the kinds of places with sticky menus and tables wiped down with dirty wet rags. The servers, mostly in their 20s, mostly Mexican south of San Francisco, gave out the “sweeties” and “hons” freely. (They were also prone to rate my orders as in “awesome” or “perfect.”) I don’t expect them to know my name. I know I’m just the “club sandwich at table 12.” Even at my favorite local restaurant, they don’t know my name, just that I’m the solo diner who wants iced tea–no lemon, lots of ice.

I know the words trip out automatically. The servers don’t mean anything by it. But why not call me “ma’am?” I know some women bristle at that term because it makes them feel old, but I’m okay with my age. If I were dining in a Spanish-speaking country, I’d like to be called “Señora,” because that’s what I am. For me, the terms of endearment should be reserved for one’s lover, spouse or child, not for a stranger eating a waffle at Denny’s.

We in the U.S. are casual people, probably more so on the West Coast. Earlier generations were taught to address adults as “sir” and “ma’am.” When did it degenerate to “sweetie,” “hon,” and “dear?”

Then there’s the waitress at the truck stop in Corning, California, who probably should have retired a few years ago. I remember her from eating there with Fred back when he was alive and healthy. She walked as if she might fall over any second. She was already confused, and it didn’t help that it was a Friday in Lent, so I couldn’t eat meat. I was craving a tuna sandwich, but the menu was a meat-lovers dream, not so good for even seasonal vegetarians. She recommended the buffet. I served myself a hard piece of mystery fish, salad and a brownie, wishing I’d gone to my sixth Denny’s instead.

One of the great things about this truck stop restaurant is that they give you a whole pitcher of iced tea. I watched my waitress walk toward me with a glass and a pitcher. She gave me the glass but walked away with the pitcher. Then she got busy with other parties. I ate and waited. She wandered around, sort of serving the group of six men nearby. I waited some more. Eventually she brought my tea in a to-go cup that was already leaking.

“You should have thrown something at me,” she said.

I considered what I would have thrown. My book? My phone? My pen? She looked like she would bruise easily.

She walked away and came back. “Did you have the buffet?” Yes, yes, I did. She handed me my bill. She did not give me my senior discount.

But bless her heart, she didn’t call me “sweetheart,” “honey,” “dear,” or anything else, at least not where I could hear it.

So, darlings, what are your experiences with strangers calling you by terms of endearment? If you have waited tables, I’d love to read your comments on the subject.

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Just Give Me a Plate of Hash and Eggs

20750606 - a frying pan with corned beef hash and eggsI seem to be a food peasant. A plebeian. Totally lacking in culture, even if do have a master’s degree.

I splurged on a slightly expensive hotel on my way to California two weeks ago. It was about a thousand degrees out, and I was exhausted from planning, packing and driving all day. I dreaded what lay ahead in San Jose, and hell, I deserved it. Too beat to leave the building, I ate dinner in the adjoining restaurant. Mostly I just wanted cold air and a cold drink.

A hostess dressed in a silky black dress and wearing far too much makeup for off-stage led me to a small table against the far wall, one of those places they put people who dare to come in alone wearing faded jeans and a T-shirt promoting a literary magazine.

A waiter dressed in black and packing a snooty attitude handed me the menu. Holy smokes. All the entrees cost at least $20, nothing included. And there was nothing ordinary. All chipotle this and cream sauce that. As I pondered, a different black-suited waiter brought me a basket of cold French bread, a tiny bowl of ground nuts, and a plate on which he poured olive oil and a swirl of balsamic vinegar. How are you supposed to apply them to the bread? Where’s the butter? Yes, I’m a peasant. The oil made my lips feel greasy.

A couple specials were written on a blackboard in chalk. I couldn’t read them. Glare, plus half the words were in French.

When a third black-suited waiter arrived to take my order, I asked him to tell me about the specials, and I chose the steak and linguine after asking, “How much?” $22. Fine. It came with steak slices carefully arranged in a half circle, the odd-tasting sauce decorated with peppercorns, bits of red bell pepper and flakes of aioli cheese. Laid across the plate was the big spoon in which I was supposed to swirl my noodles, something I never do at home.

Folks at the next table were all dressed up and raving about the food. I savored the memory of the hamburger I had eaten for lunch at the Apple Peddler in Sutherlin, Oregon.

I hate to admit it, but on the road I usually seek out the familiar chain restaurants: Denny’s, Apple Peddler, IHOP, Black Bear Diner, Elmer’s. I already know what they have and know I can read, write or stare into space and not feel out of place. Plus when you order pasta, you get a salad, too, even off the senior menu. Sometimes you even get dessert.

Maybe it’s how I was raised. Mom was not an adventurous cook. Slab of meat, potatoes, canned veggies, white bread. We went out to eat at the Burger Pit or got takeout raviolis from Pianto’s. I never tasted any kind of Asian food until I was in high school. A lot of foods—Swiss chard comes to mind—I never saw until I got married. Heck, I had never used a salad bowl. Kabobs? Tofu? Quinoa? Are you kidding? Homemade bread? Why? And booze? At our house, it was canned beer, screw-top wine or highballs, and only for special occasions.

As an adult, I like to create with food. I make some weird salads and Boboli pizzas and freely adapt recipes. But apparently, I’m not as sophisticated as I thought.

At the fancy restaurant in Redding—Redding, off I-5, where the locals still wear cowboy hats—you can watch the flames as a chef deglazes a pan with his favorite liqueur. You can order almond-encrusted halibut with apricot horseradish, pan finished pork tenderloin—free range, of course—with creamed pan jus, apple burrata crème fraiche and fresh sage, or pulled chicken with smoked gouda, carmelized bacon and onion jam on artisan bread. They’ve got peach bourbon bread pudding for dessert.

Can I just get a turkey sandwich on whole wheat with lots of mayonnaise and a scoop of vanilla ice cream?

Sigh. I have such a plebeian palate. On the way back to Oregon, I stopped at my usual place in Yreka, a little cheaper, best bed ever, and across the street from Poor George’s. The lone aproned waitress, limping with a broken toe, served me hash and eggs and biscuits and gravy–$11—and told me the saga of her pit bull who ran away and just came home. She even showed me the dog’s picture on her phone. That’s my kind of restaurant.

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For those following the Dad saga, I helped my father move home from the nursing home and hired a homecare agency to help him with meals, cleaning, errands and such. So far, he’s not getting along very well with his caregiver, but he’s happy to be back in his own house, walking very carefully with his walker.

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Text copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017

Photo Copyright: markstout / 123RF Stock Photo