There is an old fashioned I-HOP on Lombard Street in San Francisco, probably one of the originals, blue roof, A-Frame, from the days when they were known as International House of Pancakes.
Driving south on a hot afternoon, fresh out of both air conditioning and Diet Coke, we decided to stop for refreshment. A pleasant young woman greeted us and escorted us to a booth, my red-headed lady and I, brought us water and menus and an assurance that a waitress would soon be with us. She may have even supplied us with a name, “Barcelona will be your waitress this afternoon,” I prefer waitresses who don’t have names, I prefer an arm clutching a pencil with a yellow pad at the end of it.
It was about 3:30 in the afternoon, Bermuda Triangle time in restaurants: the last of the lunch crowd has lurched out, belching martini fumes, time to wash the floors and scrape the food off the windows.
We decided on what we wanted, I chose a chocolate malt, my red- headed lady decided on iced tea, then we visited the washrooms one at a time so in case the waitress came one of us would be there to give her the order.
The waitress did not appear. She never appeared.
There came a point when we simultaneously realized we had been waiting an extraordinarily long time for service. We stared around. There was only one other occupied table, far away. The silence was eerie. It reminded me of the Mary Deare. Food steaming on some tables, but no one in sight, especially a waitress.
We waited a few more minutes. We finished our water.
I really wanted a chocolate malt. No one came or went.
“In another dimension, in another I-HOP, perhaps in Sacramento, or San Luis Obispo, or maybe even Honolulu, a tall, blond man and his red-headed lady have just been served a chocolate milkshake and an iced tea,” I said. “They’ve drunk them up, received their check, and are now going to try and sneak out without paying. Look furtive,” I said, standing up. “I’m going to walk sideways down the aisle. Try to look as if you have a sugar dispenser in your purse.”
We walked out, silence clinging to us like lint. No matter how suspicious we tried to look, no one paid the slightest attention.
I leafed through the San Francisco newspaper the next day to see if perhaps a waitress had been kidnapped from an I-HOP on Lombard Street. Or if maybe there was a story of the entire staff of an I-HOP being locked in a walk-in cooler at the rear of the restaurant by a drug-crazed robber. Or, if perhaps an I-HOP had been found abandoned, floating down Lombard Street like the Mary Deare, food still warm but all humanity vanished into the ether without a trace.
Several months have passed. I wonder if in some other dimension, my red-headed lady and I are still seated in that I-HOP on Lombard street in San Francisco, spectral, ghostly, playing with our ice cubes, waiting for service.