I was slapped in the face with the aroma of a bread stick a few days ago and then fell into a bowl of never ending salad, for I stepped into the wonder that is The Olive Garden. I have written before about this feast for the senses and have poked fun at it many many times. So why did I allow myself to return to this place that is overflowing with tourists and people from New Jersey? I needed a gift card to give to my parents for Christmas and they freakin’ love that place. Yes, I am giving the gift of The Olive Garden to my parents. And since I know they don’t read this, I am not worried that they will find out about their majestic gift before Christmas day.
Before I walked in, I put my hood over my head and pulled my scarf high around my neck. The Olive Garden is right down the street from where I work and I certainly couldn’t take a chance that someone would see me and think that I was going in for lunch. I had never been into an Olive Garden here in New York City and I was pleasantly surprised when I was safely ensconced inside. Unlike most New York City restaurants, the place was bright and expansive with lots of room between the tables. Most of the time here, you are crammed in so close to your fellow diners that you can pretty much bump elbows with each other as you break bread. The hostess greeted me with a warm smile and a friendly hello. Suddenly, I really did feel like family. I noticed the servers were wearing crisply starched white shirts with nice ties and clean bistro aprons. The whole corporate feel was really working for them. They all seemed happy and content and I caught a couple of them laughing together. Then I saw an old waiter who looked days away from either collecting Social Security benefits or just flat out keeling over. After I pulled myself away from seeing my own harsh future, I thought, “Hmmm, I wonder if they’re hiring. If I worked with Grandpappy Pasta over there, I wouldn’t be the oldest server at my job. I’d feel like a kid again!” Would it be so bad working for a chain restaurant? It’s not like I haven’t done it before; Houlihan’s, Pizzeria Uno, The Black Eyed Pea and Bennigan’s were all heavy on the corporate. I bet Olive Gardeners get meal breaks with free pasta and salad. They can probably eat all the bread sticks they want. But then look at who they have to serve. Oh, yeah. No amount of never-ending salad would make up for serving Roy and Loretta Jerseytown who thought they would come into the city for dinner and a show. I would puke listening to them talk about how much better Phantom of the Opera was this time than the last time they saw it. And have you ever walked passed The Olive Garden on Sixth Avenue on a Friday night? Good lord, I don’t want to have to wait on that crowd. Not that it wouldn’t give me plenty to write about.
I went up to the bartender and purchased the $75 gift card for Mommsy and Poppsy. The girl behind the bar was all fresh and clean and corporate. She told me to have a nice day and I didn’t see one teeny tiny marinara stain anywhere on her uniform. Impressive for sure. I gave her three bucks for her trouble and took one last whiff of the sweet smells of pre-packaged Italian food and Sysco products before heading back into the real world. Once on the cold dirty sidewalk, the warmth of The Olive Garden seemed so much further away than the thickness of one plate glass window. Gift card safely in hand, I headed to my job where it’s crowded with tables and dimly lit with candles which perfectly conceals the fadedness of my uniform. I’m not meant to work in a fancy place like The Olive Garden. I’ll just dream about it. Visions of chicken Parmesan dance in my head.