Saturday, February 03, 2007


I was raised in the depression and, on top of that, my family was poor. My father always had a job but nothing above janitor or laborer. Our idea of a family night out was to go to a Chinese restaurant on Howard St. in San Francisco. (We never ate Chinese. We always had breaded veal cutlets.) For those of you who don’t know San Francisco, Howard St. is the edge of the tenderloin district. It is the wrong side of Market St. But the Chinese restaurant was clean, the food was good and, most important, it was cheap.

When I started to make some good money I wanted to see how the other half lived. There is a famous place in downtown San Francisco called the Palace Hotel. Movies of old San Francisco mention it and sometimes have scenes in it. The Palace Hotel was a cultural icon to me. I determined to actually see the insides.

I put on my best suit and, feeling like an interloper, went to have dinner there. Lucky me, I got a waiter who spotted me immediately as someone who didn’t belong. His patronizing tone was something to hear. For years after I thought of clever things I could have said to put him in his place, but then is then, now is now.

The capper came when I asked if they had Tabasco. I knew immediately I had made a mistake. A look of glee came over his face. “Tabasco?” he repeated loudly. “Yes sir, we have Tabasco. Just one moment sir.” He went to the edge of the large dining room to a condiment cart. He ostentatiously wheeled the entire cart clear across the dining room to my table. By that time I felt every eye in the room was on me.

“There you are sir,” he said snottily. “Will there be anything else?”

I wanted to stand up and tell the diners I had only asked for Tabasco, but that wouldn’t help. I had been put in my place and my place wasn’t inside the Palace Hotel.

At the time, I was the chief surveyor on a large construction project. This guy was just an a-hole waiter. The knowledge of that comforted me a little.


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