It's weird for me to admit this, but I kind of miss serving celebrities.
("Weird for me" -- I am one of those obnoxious people who take pride in watching little television, and I revel at times in my pop culture ignorance. Instead of debating the merits of Project Runway or America's Next Top Model, I'd like to discuss the differences between the updated Joy of Cooking and the original. [I prefer, with all respect to Ethan Becker, the latter. Mom, when I get back to New Jersey, I am going to steal your stained and splattered copy from the kitchen -- consider this fair warning.])
Famous people do, though, make for interesting stories. Working at the restaurant in DC, I served my fair share of well-known politicians, actors, and musicians. I'd like to say I was too cool to care at all, cool as an English cucumber, but that would not be wholly truthful. It was neat to serve Bono, and Bruce Springsteen, and Giada Di Laurentis, and Faith Hill. It was neat to see how different people would react to my recommendations and descriptions, how those who are so often worshipped as deities, from near and afar, respond to everyday human interaction. It was also neat to hear a fart joke from Tom Hanks.
My first celebrity served was Robert Downey Jr., not long after the restaurant opened. He was, I think, the first big name to sit at one of our tables. I was chosen to be his server, not because of my overwhelming competence (I worked with much better professionals than myself), but because my manager at the time assumed he would like a pretty young woman flitting about while he ate. (This was vaguely insulting, to both him and me.)
As it turned out, Robert Downey Jr. could have cared less about his server's gender or age. I was, I think, like the food, simply functional -- something I would find to be common with many celebrities in restaurants. He was there with his kids and a few friends. I remember two things from that dinner: his teenage daughter (at least, I think it was his daughter) frequently getting up from the table, to talk on her cell phone, conversations from which she would come back in tears. It made me very grateful to be very far from thirteen. Also, one of his friends ordered a bottle of wine, and as I started down a glass next to Robert Downey Jr. (always the "Jr."), he quickly waved my hand away and said, "Just a Pepsi, please." Pop culture ignorance is less cute when it involves serving alcohol to those with a history of intense substance abuse.
So, then, the meal was uneventful -- some of the food untouched, some of the wine undrank. The shift ended, and we servers started to settle into the sidework routine: polishing, folding napkins, and so on. At the restaurant, there is a beautiful, long wooden table just behind the wine cellar, almost invisible to the rest of the place. That is where we would sit, and fold, and talk, and eat. I had taken my suit jacket off, let down my hair, and was in the middle of a big bite of a hefty turkey sandwich, when I felt a hand grasp my right shoulder.
I looked up. It was Robert Downey Jr.
"You were great tonight," he said, and gently slammed his left hand on the table, next to my turkey sandwich plate. "Thank you."
With that, he walked away. Left at the table was a hundred dollar bill, speechless co-workers, and a mouthful of turkey, bacon, and mayonnaise. I never even got to say thanks.