35th Birthday

by Jonah

Written yesterday

My flight doesn’t leave for another hour and a half. I woke up at 6:50 this morning sans alarm, and after I finished getting ready to go, I knew I would just sit around worry about leaving on time. So I just headed for Denver. There was snow on the ground though not on the roads, and I didn’t want to get stuck in slow traffic on Monument Hill. Maybe I should have spent just a little bit of time worrying; I forgot my hairbrush. Berck has one I can use, though.

As birthdays go, it wasn’t the worst. No one wished me a happy birthday in person, and I spent it virtually alone. After work I headed across the highway to the Texas Roadhouse, where I had a coupon for a free appetizer. It was only 4:30, so they sat me in the bar section, which meant I had the bartender as my waiter. Bartenders make terrible waiters. They need to be full time bartenders, but chain restaurants usually insist on making them wait the tables around the bar as well. All of the bartenders at Tony Roma’s were bad at bartending and waiting at the same time, or maybe they were good at it comparatively but it was impossible to do correctly. Two of them were actually very good servers when someone else was bartending. The main bartender, however, was terrible. He would chat with the folks at the bar while orders for drinks from the other servers piled up. He would take forever to make change; I learned the hard way to carry far more change with me than I thought I would ever need. The other servers would leave his food sitting in the kitchen and refuse to run it out to him because he would never give them their drink orders. I would run it out because I didn’t have anything better to do, and he’d always thank me. But he would still take 10 minutes to open a beer for me (I am not exaggerating). I guess the worst part of it was that we all had to give the bartenders 1 percent of our total tab for the shift, which he would split with the busboys. If I didn’t get a tip from some idiot kids, I personally LOST money.

So I pictured my sweet tea glass sitting empty and my chicken fingers getting cold in the kitchen. It was so slow, however, that the manager would fill my tea whenever it got slightly empty and brought out my appetizer steaming hot. The good thing about being in the bar is that you can watch TV. Normally, I don’t like having a TV around when I’m trying to have dinner with someone, but by myself it’s just fine. It was showing ESPN and college basketball, of course. I’ve recently taken an interest in college basketball.

This is because of my discovery that, if you sign up for chain restaurants’ e-mail lists, they’ll often send you a coupon for your birthday. A lot of them are for buy one entree get one free, which is pretty good, though useless if you’re by yourself. Others are for a free appetizer with an entree. But some are for something outright free. So far I’ve gotten a free burger and fries from Red Robin and a free breakfast at Mimi’s Cafe, though by far the best was anything on the menu at Zio’s Italian Kitchen. I ordered the $18 ribeye steak, which came with roasted potatoes and a loaf of bread.

A family came and sat across from my seat, which is at the gate next to mine but is next to an outlet. They distributed various McDonald’s breakfast items among themselves and began eating. The tween girl greedily ate her chicken biscuit and then stood up and brushed herself off. An enormous cascade of white biscuit crumbs fell to the floor. I looked up first in surprise then with what I thought was an appropriate level of disapproval. Apparently, her father was thinking the same thing, because she paused, looked up at him, and said, “What?” Now a female house sparrow has discovered the crumbs. House sparrows abound in the terminals, and I’ve never seen any attempt to get them out. After a few minutes, the sparrow had cleaned up most of the crumbs and flew off. I think the birds relieve themselves on the criss-crossing beams far above the terminal floor, so their poop is largely unseen. Yet my sparrow cleaned up a mess pretty well. Maybe that’s why they are suffered to stay. I’m eating a loaf of bread Nikki made for me and brought me yesterday as a birthday present. But I’m not leaving any crumbs.

My gate moved, and I’ve lost my outlet. There are several empty ones, but the people sitting next to them aren’t using them. I’ve been assigned a boarding pass for seat 6A! This is fantastic because I’ll be near the front of the line to go through customs.

So I was going to the websites of all the chains I could think of in town and signing up for their e-mail lists. I have a junk e-mail account that I use to give out to all institutions. If I buy anything, I give out my junk e-mail address. I only check it if I need information about an order. Otherwise, it accumulates with junk that I never or rarely look at. I even have a special e-mail address just for Amazon, though that goes directly to my mail program. So I never actually see any of the stuff that gets sent my way unless I specifically log into my junk account to look for it.

I went to Buffalo Wild Wings to sign up, and they had a big banner ad on their homepage advertising a March Madness contest. Now, I’m a sucker for contests, especially online ones for restaurants. I won $600 worth of gift certificates from Macaroni Grill, which came in handy when Berck was stationed in Chicago and could eat at the Macaroni Grill in the airport there for free. So I went over to the contest page and started filling in my bracket.

Now I know next to nothing about college basketball. I know that Duke has a good team, but that’s about it. So I just filled in teams that I’d heard of. For instance, I picked West Kentucky versus their first match because I’ve heard of the state of Kentucky, but I hadn’t heard of the college they were playing against. I was very pleased the other day to see in the news that West Kentucky had won an upset. So I watched the game in Texas Roadhouse with interest, because I figured I had bet on one or the other of the teams playing.

The appetizers at Texas Roadhouse are huge. My chicken fingers came with fries. You also get as many delicious yeast rolls you can eat (I had all four in my basket and refused more) AND a bucket of peanuts. So with my coupon I got so full I couldn’t even finish all my fries. I did have three glasses of sweet tea, though, and was happily surprised that it only took me an extra five minutes or so that night to fall asleep.

When I couldn’t eat anymore, the bartender came over and asked if I needed anything. I told him just the check. He took a long time getting the bill, during which time I nursed my tea and watched the game. He finally brought it over around 15 minutes later, apologizing for it taking so long. He hadn’t charged me for my tea (the only good thing about being waited on by bartenders) but hadn’t applied the coupon either. He took the bill back. Another 15 minutes passed, and the manager stopped by apologizing for it taking so long, but that the bartender had given her the wrong table number. The appetizer was removed, but the tea was still missing. My total was 0.00. I left my last two ones and decided that could be a tip or pay for the drink.

So now I don’t have any ones to give the shuttle driver when he brings me to the hotel in Vancouver.

Berck asked me how I would spend my birthday all alone. I told him I would spend the evening talking to my family. I’d already talked to Dad that morning. Indeed, as soon as I got home, Ben called. In the middle of talking to him, Berck called. He bought a calling card for $5 that has like 400 minutes on it. Then while I was talking to him Mom called. Then I had to call UPS to tell them to hold the map of Vancouver i’d bought from Amazon with 2-day shipping but which UPS refused to leave at my house because I was at work. While I was on the phone with them, Steph called. So I called Steph back and then Mom back, and then it was time for bed.

Free appetizer

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