Saturday, November 28, 2009

Always Good

One of the challenges that I face in my job at the restaurant is being a good host. I try to smile and be nice at all times, but I know there are moments when I am busy or frustrated and my pleasant veneer will wear thin or crack altogether. It's pretty much the same for all of us in service. We all have our moments.

If, perhaps, you find yourself thinking that you would not have such a moment, ask yourself if you could greet and seat six hundred guests in a ten-hour period with a smile, a kind word and without cracking. Sara did just that, this past Thanksgiving Day. I, for one, am not foolish enough to claim that I could do the same.

There is just one other person that I can think of that never had one of those moments.

This was Ben Breiger, the host and long time manager of the Headliner's Club. Certainly in the ten years that I worked with him, he never lost his temper, he never made a Member feel bad or even awkward. And, while he might have had a few choice words of observation about the Members, he never complained openly about them either.

Now, my use of the term 'manager' is a little generous, since that title and responsibility at the Club actually fell to someone else, but as far as the Members were concerned, when he was on the floor, he was in charge.

And he was in charge, so to speak, of the Members. His customary seat was on a bench beside the front desk, which was situated at the entrance. When the Members got off the elevator, they would first check in with the hostess at the front desk.

As those formalities were being taken care of, Ben would rise and greet the Member with a broad and genuine smile. He would offer his hand and with the slightest bow, he would acknowledge the rest of the group. Often he would greet the Member's wife and children by name.

When asked how he was doing, he would always give the same response.

"Always good," he would say with an even intonation that made it feel true, "Always good." He always said it twice, too, as if that were part of the blessing that made it so.

When I started at the Headliner's Club back in 1983, Valery was the night hostess, so the day I met Valery was also the day I met Ben. I was working on the day shift back then. On my first night shift, I saw Valery immediately, of course, but made no note of Ben till later in the evening. About nine o'clock, when things had calmed down enough for me to go chat with that cute girl at the front desk, well you know that was the first thing I did.

That conversation sealed my fate. It was love at first sight. I am not sure if there is such a thing as 'true' love, but I do believe in love at first sight, because it's happened to me. Ben was my witness.

After talking with Valery for the first few precious moments of a lifetime, she got up to go deliver a message to someone in the kitchen. This may have been deliberate for all I know. I do know that it gave me the opportunity to change my life forever.

As Valery walked down the hall, past the elevators to the kitchen, I watched, naturally, completely smitten. Then I turned to Ben and said--most uncharacteristically for me--to a man I did not yet even know, "I'm going to marry her."

Ben laughed. This should have been expected, had I but known more about either my intended or him, but it seemed like a challenge to me. Again, uncharacteristically, I said, "I'll bet you $50.00"

To my surprise, Ben took that bet. To his surprise, he lost it.

I never did collect my $50 from Ben. It never seemed appropriate, since I was more than happy with my end of the deal anyway. Considering how much I've gained from these past twenty five years with my bride, Ben's fifty bucks was better off in his pocket than mine.

But I have gotten my money's worth, in just my recollections of Ben's demeanor. While I cannot model his personal style for many reasons--not the least of which is girth (he was a BIG man)--I can and do try to remember that when I am 'in charge', no matter how it's going, as far I am concerned, it's "Always good. Always good".


valgal said...

here's to ben - a wonderfully rich character. we were so lucky to have worked and learned from him...thanks for you nice blog, phillip

Anonymous said...

Such a nice tribute to Ben! And another sweet love story for Val. I hope this comment gets thru, because it's important that you know I not just read your words but respond to them all.