Sunday, December 4, 2011

Continental Lunch

The Continental on Des Moines' east side.
You can sit in the sunny front or the dark alleyway for privacy.

  I got to work an hour late on Friday like I do every Friday when I teach chess at St. Francis. This was cleared with my company when I took the job and I make up the hour by taking a half hour lunch and staying late or using any extra time I spent taking care of production related matters at night during the week to account for the lost hour. I had worked till 12:30 when my cell phone rang and my friend Dan Troxell was calling me. Dan normally works on the other side of Des Moines but had the day off and wanted to see if we could have lunch together since he was in a nearby neighborhood. Since the company moved to the new building 3 weeks ago, I’ve only gone out twice at lunch. Once I took a walk to get an ice cream bar at the marketplace and on Tuesday, my boss invited me to go to lunch with him and Tony the new guy. It’s a tradition to buy lunch for new guy when he joins our group and I was the only guy around (and the previous new guy), so I was invited along.

  I decided to join Dan for lunch, so I got in my car and drove about 10 blocks east to a section of Des Moines called the East Village, which is full of artisan shops, government buildings, and restaurants. I met up with Dan, put some coins in the parking meter, and on his recommendation, we walked 2 blocks to The Continental, a bar/jazz club/restaurant. I figured the place must be OK if Dan wanted to go there since Dan is quite the artisan himself and would probably know all about these places. In addition to his chess playing at Zanzibar’s, his Innocent Bystanders blog (rendered inactive lately due to writer’s block), and his comic book collecting, Dan is a poet who is invited to read his works at poetry readings all over Des Moines.

  We sat down at the bar and caught up on things while some 1930’s movie from Turner Classic Movies was playing on the 2 TV sets. The sound wasn’t on the TV’s, which led me to believe that normally sports are on these TV’s at the bar (You need sound for TV shows and moves, but not for sports). The bartender took our drink orders (coke for me and water for Dan) and gave us menus. Jazz music was playing in the background and while Dan and I were catching up, I showed him my 3-minute video of my wait on line at Staples on Black Friday. All I needed was a beret and I probably could have passed myself off as an independent film producer.

  When the waiter asked for our orders, I decided to have the ‘Fried Goat Cheese’. I made that choice because not only have I never had Fried Goat Cheese before, I’d never even heard of it so I thought it may be the only chance I’d ever have to eat some ‘Fried Goat Cheese’. This same logic has led me to eat the Quik Trip’s Jalapeño Bologna sandwich and coconut water (with pulp).

  I didn’t catch the bartender’s name, but he proved his worth by telling me when I ordered the Fried Goat Cheese that they were a ‘small plate’ item. I saw that on the menu, but I didn’t know that ‘Small Plate’ meant appetizer since the prices looked all the same to me. I changed my order from the Fried Goat Cheese to the ‘Italian Sandwich’, while Dan had the Blackened Chicken.

After being informed by my bartender/waiter that my preferred 'Fried Goat Cheese' was a 'small plate item', I switched to the 'Large Plate Italian Sandwich' complete with a tiny side of pasta salad.

  We spent the few minutes until our food came talking and checking out the people in the place and then our sandwiches came. The Italian sandwich was capicola and mozzarella on a toasted roll. The plate was big but aside from the sandwich there was only this little tiny bowl of pasta salad. I wondered if that would have been the size of my plate if I had ordered the Fried Goat Cheese. I didn’t really mind because the pasta salad wasn’t that good. It seemed limp and bland, but I’m spoiled because Kathy makes me the best pasta salad in the world and it is always crisp and crunchy with lots of fresh vegetables. The sandwich was first class, which more than made up for the pasta salad.

Waiters for Dummies: When the customer gives you a $20 to pay a $9.90 bill, make sure to give the change in small enough bills to get a tip. I must not look like a big tipper because he didn't give me 2 Lincolns.

  When it was time to pay the bill, I happened to owe $9.90. The bartender didn’t see me hold a five dollar bill in my hand, just the 20 that I pulled out of my wallet to pay the bill with. The bartender smoothly gave me one 5 and 5 ones and I left him the 5 and a penny as a tip. Dan thought the penny was insulting but I maintain it is a sign of good service.

  After we left the Continental, we went to the nearby ‘Plain Talk’ book store, which Dan had never been to before. I get to this store every few months. It is a used book store with coffee and sandwiches. In the store was a big guy named Joelly sitting on a chair. He said Hi, but he had a speech defect so he couldn’t talk so good. Joelly was holding an empty bottle of pills so to be friendly-like, I asked what the pills were for. Joelly told me that it was his dad’s pill bottle and he kept his change in it. Joelly then showed me 75 cents in his hand and asked me if I had a dime, because it cost 85 cents for a cup of coffee. I gave Joelly the dime and he was my new friend. Then a scraggly guy came in and asked to use the bathroom. He complained that he tried to use the bathroom at the drug store next door but they said it was for employees only. I said that if I went into that drugstore, pulled down 5 of the most expensive items off the shelves, put them on the counter, reached for my wallet, paused, and then asked to use the bathroom, they would tell me to go right ahead. The owner of Plain Talk books said it wouldn’t work but I was adamant that it would. The owner told me to go right ahead and I said I would do it if he would video it. He declined and it was only then that I realized that I hadn’t taken pictures or video at the book store.

  I was crestfallen for about 5 minutes to have missed a chance at some great video that could have come straight out of ‘American Splendor’, but it was such fun to hang out with Dan for an ‘My Dinner With Andre’-esque lunch and play hooky from work for an extra hour that I didn’t mind making up the extra time over the weekend. I spent the entire drive home Friday thinking of ways I could trick the drug store into letting me use their restroom and have it recorded without tipping them off. It will be tough since I’ve never seen more than one person at a time in the store, but I think the video could go viral and would be well worth the effort.