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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I’m eleven bears from my dad’s house

black-bear-2We call it “The Bear.” Stop and let your imagination wander for a minute. No, it’s a restaurant. The Black Bear Diner. Twenty years ago, it was started in 1999 in Mt. Shasta by Bruce “Sugar Bear” Dean and Bob “Papa Bear” Manley. Now the list of Black Bear diners fills a whole page—64 locations in eight states. We could measure trips in Black Bears. Eleven bears from my house on the Oregon coast to Dad’s house in San Jose, California.

What do they serve? Nuts and berries? Well, that, too. I’d rather eat one of their giant bear claw pastries. They’re as big as a baseball mitt but a lot tastier. They have the usual diner food: omelets, biscuits and gravy, Black Bear Benedicts, Mama Bear and Papa Bear burgers, Bigfoot chicken fried steak, etc. The kids’ menu is for Cubs. Naturally. There are even bear footprints on the plates and pictures of bears on the coffee mugs.

The Black Bear diners play on the idea that bears are cute and cuddly while those of us who live in bear country know bears are enormous animals with extremely long claws that they’re not afraid to use. Their long fur is probably not nearly as soft or as clean as it looks from afar.

Giant wooden bears carved by chainsaw artist Ray Schultz greet customers at the door of the Black Bear restaurants. Mom, Dad, baby bear. Sometimes there’s one on all fours that children (and childish adults like me) can sit on.

Signs continue the bear theme: Caution: Mama bear on duty. Bear with us—Please wait to be seated. Welcome to Camp Grin and Bear It. The menus are printed inside old-fashioned newspaper pages with actual stories from a long-ago year—I got 1937 last week. You can keep the menus if you want.

Bears eat big. Even the so-called smaller orders are huge. My meat loaf at the original Black Bear diner in Mt. Shasta last week would have lasted me three days at home. And my Reuben sandwich down the road in Willows was so big I needed a couple of those bears to help me eat it. It’s all good. Not spectacular but dependable, down-home comfort food served by friendly people in Black Bear tee shirts and suspenders who might just call you Sweetie or Honey.

The Bear is always crowded. Expect to wait in line for the little bear’s room while singing along to oldies playing over the speakers. In Willows, I found myself belting out “Aquarius” with the Fifth Dimension, then looked around and realized all the others in line were too young to remember that song and were probably thinking I was a little crazy. Too bad. Mama Bear can sing whatever she wants.

Don’t forget to hit the gift shop for a bear mug, T-shirt, water bottle or even a wooden bear to keep you company until next time.

No, the Bears didn’t pay me to write this, but I couldn’t resist.