Not much to say

I don’t have much insight on baseball today, especially since it’s become even clearer that the Phillies apparently need to score at least 10 runs a game in order to win. With that in mind there really isn’t much to say about a team that’s goal every game is to kick in another team’s teeth.

That’s pretty black and white.

Speaking of teeth, I spent the morning at the dentist so I missed the Tour coverage. Nevertheless, based on my reading and eyeing up the results it appears as if the sprinters are back for the next few days. The course remains relatively flat until Saturday when the first of two time trials sets the table for three straight days in the Pyrenees.

It seems that the Tour will be decided in the mountains. Can Michael Rasmussen hold on until then? I’m inclined to say no. How about Alejandro Vanverde? Iban Mayo, maybe? Cadel Evans?

I’d say Levi Leipheimer, but he hasn’t yet engaged.

Speaking of engaging one’s self, Floyd Landis was invited to Google’s Mountain View, Calif. headquarters to discuss his autobiography, Positively False among other topics. Better yet, those wizards at Google even recorded the chat and put it on the Internet.

Check it out:

Here’s what I found interesting – it seems as if Floyd has become a bit of an ambassador of the sport of cycling in that he has spent the past month barnstorming the country and talking to regular folks about his sport. And I’m not just talking about him talking about his pending arbitration case or anything like that. At least in the chat at Google, Floyd was talking about his sport. There are very few people of his stature and ability doing anything remotely close to that.

Of course if Floyd had his choice he would be getting ready to ride from Marseille to Montpellier on Thursday morning, but alas…

Googling yourself

Some more clerical things: first, there’s a chance that I will have a guest writer handling things tomorrow. For now I think I’m going to keep his identity a secret just to build the anticipation and the drama. Hey, I like a show.

Secondly, I think I might watch the Eagles game tomorrow night. I may even show up at the cozy and elegant U.S. Hotel on Main St. in Manayunk. I will probably have a guest game watcher or two with me there as well, but like the mystery writer I’m going to keep the names under wraps.

That’s just the way I am.

Thirdly, occasionally I like to Google myself. What do you want, I’m shameless. But on this instance of digital navel gazing I came across a story I wrote while working for a newspaper in Harrisburg, Pa.. This story isn’t one that appeared in the paper because if it was it would be really, really boring. Instead, it’s a story about the time I went out to lunch and walked out on the check.

Yeah, I was crazy like that.

Anyway, this story isn’t my best work. In fact, it’s a rather stupid story and I dislike it very much. But even though I wrote this in 1999 I figure if I post it here I’ll retain the publishing rights or something like that, so here it is:

Stick ’em up
Remember that opening scene in Pulp Fiction when Pumpkin and Honey Bunny are talking about the advantages of robbing a restaurant? Well, yeah, of course you do. Anyway, it certainly seemed as if Pumpkin had analyzed and rationalized why he and Honey Bunny should steal from crappy coffee shops when he presented the notion to her. He really made it sound like a good idea.

Well let me tell you, unless you have a gun or a well-thought out escape plan, my suggestion is not to attempt to rob a restaurant. It’s way too hard and definitely not worth the trouble. Stick to liquor stores and gas stations. There’s more money in it…

OK, OK. I digress. I never really robbed a restaurant — at least not intentionally. Technically, yes, I suppose I have knocked over a dining establishment, but I didn’t really mean to. I mean, I didn’t go in there thinking I was going to eat a big meal before casually skipping out on the check. That’s just the way it worked out.

Kind of.

Here’s what happened:

In one of those spur of the moment, “Hey, why don’t I go out to lunch at the Indian joint around the corner,” revelations that we are all prone to, I decided to walk from my office on 2nd Street in Harrisburg to a restaurant called Passage to India, which is located near the city’s waterfront. Initially, my plan was to simply order a bowl of take-out soup so I could dine outdoors while staring at the river on what was turning out to be a glorious autumn afternoon. But when I arrived at Passage to India, I suddenly decided that I would indulge in the buffet luncheon. They served the basmati rice, lentils and other delicacies that I enjoy. Plus, there were lots of different curries, fennel and naan.

Yum.

So, just like that my soup in the sunshine turned into a leisurely feast. As I ate, tearing through two heaping plates filled with veggies, rice, lentils and the buttery naan, I read the newspaper accounts about the New York Yankees’ World Series clinching victory against the Braves the evening before. They had some type of cucumber soup, but I decided the soup would have to wait for another day. I already had my hands – and belly – full with the offerings from the buffet.

Twenty minutes passed and I was finished with my feast. I continued to scan the stories about the Yankees while taking in the sights through the window of cars speeding toward the on-ramp of the Capital Beltway. If I craned my neck to right a bit, I could watch boats sailing on the sun-soaked Susquehanna. It was a beautiful day.

Just then the waiter came by and snapped me out of my buffet-induced daydream and asked me if I “needed anything else.” He was a thin fellow dressed in a jacketless tuxedo with a sparse mustache that looked like crab grass sprouting next to the base of a flag pole. In his left earlobe was a bad, stud earring and his dark hair was brushed back and feathered in a way that made him look like he was an Indian adolescent trying to break away from his parent’s “old-world” mentality. This look, more Travolta circa ’77 than Metrosexual, was the waiter’s way of making himself appear “American,” I told myself.

“No thanks,” I answered. “I’ll just take the check.”

With a flourish, Travolta produced the check for $7 from his back pocket and placed it on the table. Before he could walk away, I stopped him with a wave of my right hand as I searched my pocket with my left. I knew when I left for work in the morning that I didn’t have any cash on me, but I always carried a credit card. After digging around for what seemed like 10 minutes, but was actually only 10 seconds, I corralled the card from my pocket and handed it to him with corny flair. When he took it and left, I returned to the Yankees.

Lost in my reading, I suddenly realized that it had been five minutes since Travolta took off with my credit card. Scanning the room, I saw him shake his head at the register that held the credit-card machine before ripping off a receipt and holding it high above his eyes to read it. Then, he thrust his arms back to his sides and made a beeline toward me.

“Uh, sir. There was a problem,” he said when he reached my table. “Your card came back like this… “

He showed me the yellow slip with the word DECLINED printed beneath my name.

“Uh-oh,” I said. “That’s weird. I just used that thing this morning when I bought gas. I doubt that I could be over the limit.”

He had no retort. How could he? I figured I had paid off most of my balance the month before, but apparently the gas had pushed me over the top. But since I owned a few maxed out credit cards dating back to my days as a penniless, jobless, shiftless undergrad, I figured the folks at MBNA were sick of my act. No more free lunches for Johnny-boy, the message said.

Nevertheless, Travolta remained standing over me searching for ways to help me out of my jam. After all, it was his tip that was on the line. And if I didn’t pay that $7, it would probably have to come out of his pocket. Judging from my natty business attire, he undoubtedly assumed that I liked to take care of the people who served me, even when it was buffet style. Then again, he could have thought that I was some type of scam artist who went to cheap lunch joints using nice clothes as a cover so that I could sneak out without paying my $7 tab. Come on, everybody’s seen that act.

Suffice it to say, I was nervous. My palms began to sweat as my eyes scanned the restaurant for a familiar face or anyone who wanted to slip me a 10-spot.

No such luck.

“You don’t have any cash at all?”

“Who walks around with cash these days?”

It’s always good to answer a question with a question when you’re trying to skip out on a bill.

Without a word, the waiter picked up my declined credit-card slip and marched to the cash register near the door. I folded up my newspaper, tucked it under my right arm and followed my card, which was now in the hands of the large woman manning the till. Quickly measuring her body language and demeanor, it was plain to see that she was the owner of Passage to India. Hopefully, she would listen to me as I pled my case and come to some kind of agreement for a payment. With any type of luck, I thought, she would notice that my way-too-soft hands would become cracked and damaged if I was forced to go in the back and wash dishes.

“My credit card worked this morning when I bought gas, but now I don’t know what the problem is,” I offered. “Can I give you my driver’s license or passport to keep until I come back with the cash?”

I emptied my pockets right there at the register. She could take whatever she wanted as long as I could escape without performing some form of manual labor.

“Don’t worry about it. You’ll be back. Just bring the money when you come back.”

I flashed a sheepish, apologetic grin as I refilled my pockets. Just then, the waiter chimed in.

“No. Take something. Make sure he comes back.”

Damn. If I had any money I would have docked that smart ass’s tip. No one likes a lippy waiter. Not even people who are skipping out on the bill.

Nevertheless, the waiter was silenced by his boss’s angry stare and my anguished look. Who did he think he was? All he did was poured me a glass of water. I got up out of my seat to get my own food. Sure, I didn’t pay, but he didn’t have to be a jerk about it.

“You’ll be back,” the boss said, still staring at her waiter. “Just sign your name on the back of the check in case you don’t come back.”

I signed. Happily. I wrote my full name, address, work and home phone numbers and my e-mail address. She had enough information to dabble in identity theft or at least run a credit check on me if she wanted, but we all knew how that would have turned out.

“Thank you. Thank you very much,” I said, working the doe-eyed-boy routine to the max. “I’m so embarrassed. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Thank you very much.”

The next day when lunch time rolled around, I walked back toward the river and Passage to India. This time, I didn’t want any soup and I didn’t want any rice or lentils. I was going to walk in, hand over a $10 bill, and walk out. Bing, bang, boom.

But as soon as I walked through the door, my eyes immediately locked on my waiter. He was still dressed in the jacketless tuxedo with the crabgrass over his upper lip, and the bad earring pinned to his left lobe. His dark hair was just as puffy as it had been the day before. I took two steps before he noticed me and gave me a look like I was coming in to rob the place. Then again, technically, I did rob the joint a day ago.

“I know why you’re here,” he smiled like one of those evil cartoon cats with all of the horizontal orange and black stripes.

“Yes. Here you go.” I handed over the $10 bill and turned to walk away.

“Wait for your change,” he hollered. “You must have your change.”

“Keep it. I owe you.”

I thought that was fair. A $10 bill for a $7 check. So what if it was a day late. But for some reason, he wanted me to take the $3 in change. He pulled three bills out of the register and started after me.

“No. Seriously. I’m not taking it. It’s yours.”

He insisted. He was becoming a pain in the butt – kind of like that kid in that John Cusack movie who follows him around on his bike repeating the same thing over and over again to the point that it has become a part of the pop culture lexicon. Actually, whenever I see John Cusack, with his dark coif and his sincere eyes, I immediately think of that crazy kid riding around on his bike and repeating the same damn phrase.

“Three-dollars. I want my three-dollars… “

I did not want my three dollars, but this guy wasn’t getting the point.

“No,” I finally shouted. “I don’t want it.”

With that, I put my head down and trotted out of there. I didn’t want to look back because I was afraid Travolta might be chasing me with $3 in his hand.