When A Regular Guy Goes Missing, by Rich Paschall
It was just about time for Tiffany’s favorite customer to arrive, so she took a spot at the server’s station. That was located at the end of a long bar. There, between the bar and the back wall, was an area for water, extra glasses and silverware. Neatly tucked into an alcove was a computer with a touch screen. On the modern device, the waitresses could place their orders which would go back to the kitchen or alert the bar tender of something to prepare. They also had a spot to bring dirty dishes for handsome young Hispanic bus boys to take to the back kitchen. It was not unusual for a waitress to be there, but Tiffany was there for a particular reason.
From the end of the bar, at the server’s station, one could look down the length of the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar and see the front door. When Tiffany’s favorite customer arrived promptly at 1 pm, Tiffany planned to direct him to a table that was in her serving area. If he sat outside that area, she would have to let one of the others wait on Harold. She just did not like that idea.
Tiffany had started working at the restaurant and bar three years earlier. She was in her earlier 30’s then and had a friendly and energetic way that got her hired by the hard-working managers. After a while, she became a favorite waitress for many of the regular patrons. She usually worked through the lunch hour and into the early evening. Sometimes she covered on a later shift where drunken patrons tipped her well. Despite that, she still preferred the afternoons.
After she was well established at the restaurant, a retired gentlemen from the Midwest became a regular Wednesday and Saturday afternoon customer. He was very punctual, arriving right at 1 pm each time. Tiffany knew his order and he was easy to serve. When Tiffany had left for a few months to try a new, and allegedly exciting place, she found she missed the atmosphere and the friends at the Wild West. She did not realize how much like family they were until she went away. The customers were nice, the managers were fair and friendly and the other waitresses were like sisters. When she got the opportunity, she returned.
Harold started coming to the Wild West Restaurant and Sports bar shortly after he had left the cold Midwest climate for sunny retirement on the Gulf Coast of Florida. He liked the Soup and Sandwich special each Wednesday and Saturday so he quickly made that part of his schedule. You see, Harold was very well-organized and when he put something on his schedule, you could depend that he would follow through on it. That’s why all of the employees knew Harold was about to walk in the door.
Tiffany had a sweet spot for Harold, as the saying goes. Even though he did not say a lot, she found him rather endearing. She looked forward to his dependability as well as his smile. It just sort of indicated that there was some order in the world. Despite the lack of conversation, she knew he appreciated these twice weekly visits
When the front door opened at 1 pm, Tiffany was ready with a smile, but the patron was not Harold. Nevertheless, she politely smiled as a young man took a seat where Tiffany had planned to place Harold. It was OK, there were other places for Harold that he would like. A few empty tables had a good view of one of the televisions. So, she brought the young man water and a menu and returned to the server’s station. She tried to watch the door diligently, but the lunch crowd kept taking her away from her post.
At 13:30 it was apparent something was wrong. Time had gone by quickly before Tiffany realized Harold was late. He always came through the door at the exact minute. Some days she was convinced he waited around outside for a few minutes so he could be precisely on time at 1 pm. This particular Wednesday he was not there at 1, 1:30 or at 2. Harold did not arrive for lunch.
Tiffany’s disappointment was noticeable to her coworkers. She liked how nicely Harold fit into the routine, and now he was missing. Could he have gone to another restaurant? Could he have scheduled some place new? Could she have lost her favorite customer? Questions swirled through her head. What could possibly be the answer? Perhaps he was sick. Perhaps he had an accident. Perhaps he was stuck at home and had to make his own lunch. Whatever was the issue, she hoped Harold was doing well and had good food.
At that very hour Harold was indeed having lunch. A middle-aged nurse, who looked like she had not slept for a day or two, was hanging a fresh bag to feed Harold intravenously directly with the stomach tube. It was not the sort of meal he was used to on a Wednesday afternoon, but it seems he was in no position to object as the stroke had left him rather speechless. Today’s meal definitely was not on his schedule.