A WAITRESS’S WARNING

We hadn’t planned to eat lunch so late, nearly two o’clock. Our first choice, the Coco Bay (Costa Rica) beach club, had lost the electricity in its kitchen. We found our second choice, a sandwich shop, to be closed. Looking across the street at a café in the corner of a small shopping center, I said: “Let’s try Vida Loco. At least it looks open.”

With such a minor prerequisite – merely being open – we didn’t expect much. We sat at a wooden table and noticed we were the only customers. Even given the hour, that concerned us. The menu, too, seemed blah. A ceiling fan buzzed ineffectively and a stray dog lazed under an adjoining table.

“What are you going to have?” asked my wife, Katie.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “I’d like to have something interesting but I don’t see much here.”

The server approached and told us, in a confiding tone: “The chef made lasagna today. It’s not on the menu. She had an inspiration.”

Since the temperature was 92 degrees and I usually think of lasagna as dinner, this didn’t immediately appeal. But the choices were otherwise “same-old, same-old.”   Why not try the lasagna? “Inspired” lasagna, no less.

In addition, the waitress seemed like someone whose recommendation you could trust. She wasn’t particularly young, perhaps in her mid-forties. And she wasn’t notably attractive, exactly, but she looked unusual.   She had jet-black hair, pulled back in a tight ponytail, medium brown skin and perfect white teeth. If you put a flower in her hair, she could have played Carmen. I don’t usually engage my server in idle conversation, but I thought she might shed an interesting light on Playa de Coco. Clearly, she wasn’t a local.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

I would have guessed Brazil or Argentina, but wasn’t surprised to learn, as we chatted for a moment, she was from the Canary Islands, a tiny, remote protectorate of Spain, located hundreds of miles off the North African coast. This made perfect sense, since she seemed European, but somehow exotic. She told us her name was Susanna.

“She’s unusual,” I said, after the server departed for the kitchen.

“Yes,” said Katie. “She’s not a typical local waitress, but she’s nice.”

*****

While we waited for our food, we didn’t think more of Susanna. Eventually, she emerged with massive portions of lasagna.

“Wow,” Katie and I said, together, amazed at the size.

Susanna placed them down before us, then said, in the same confiding tone in which she’d suggested the lasagna: “Beware that the world as we know it is coming to an end this fall.”

“It is?” I said, surprised, looking up from my plate.

“Yes, I read about it on the web. You should check it out,” she said.

“I should?” I said, trying to maintain a respectful tone.

“The collapse will spare no one,” she stated.

“Are we, um, talking financial or physical collapse?” I asked, widening my eyes to indicate my full attention, while actually wondering how I’d end the conversation and eat my lunch.

“Both,” Susanna said. “It’s clear.” She continued in this vein, telling us that the stars were aligned, the signs were clear, the heavens were moving, the spirits were gathering, etc. This went on for several minutes though it seemed much, much longer.

“Okay, then,” I finally interrupted. “I guess we should try to enjoy ourselves while we can.” I glanced down at my now-cooling lasagna.

I’d made a major mistake, I realized, engaging our waitress in conversation.   She’d clearly taken my interest as authorization to inform us of the coming calamity. Perhaps, having shown interest in her background placed us, in her mind, into a special, intimate circle of people who deserved a warning.

“You really must read about it,” she said with urgency. “Just type in ‘end of the world.’ Many very brilliant people have reached this conclusion. I’m certain it is going to happen.”

“I’ll check it out, really,” I said, trying to convey sincerity.

Just seconds before I would have had to say: “Um, I’d really like to eat the lasagna you recommended,” Susanna withdrew, finally.

“That was bizarre,” I whispered to Katie, once we were finally alone.

*****

To our relief, the lasagna turned out to be incredible. It tasted sublime, the cheese and pasta and beef combined in juices that melted deliciously in our mouths.

“Who would have thought great Italian food would be found in Central America?” asked Katie.

“It’s incredible,” I agreed, savoring a mouthful.

“But how do we avoid talking more with Susanna?” asked Katie.

“Good question,” I said. “I can’t take much more ‘bad news.’”

As soon as we finished, we left enough bills on the table to pay, and dodged Susanna on the way out. But for several days afterwards, we wondered how we could go back for another lasagna meal.

“We just have to take our chances,” I said. “Maybe Susanna will be off.”

“The food is worth the risk,” agreed Katie.

*****

Finally, we returned to Vida Loco for dinner with two other couples as reinforcements. We’d told them the whole story, which they’d found hilarious.

“Don’t engage the waitress in conversation,” we warned, “or you’ll be sorry.”

Sure enough, Susanna seated us. She thanked Katie and me for bringing the additional guests. We communicated to our friends with our eyes that she was “the one” and everyone waited in suspense to see if she would offer her grim predictions.

Though it was still not on the printed menu, Susanna said there was plenty of lasagna and most of us ordered it. Her serving was efficient and professional. The lasagna was excellent again. Our friends were pleased with their meals, but I felt both relief and disappointment; like I’d promised them the chance to see a train wreck and it hadn’t materialized.

After she brought out desert and coffee, and dinner appeared to be completed without anything out of the ordinary, Susanna said to Katie and me: “Wait here just a moment, please. I want to show you something.”

“Here we go,” whispered my friend, Rick.

“Oh, no,” I said.

“You’re going to get the real story,” said another friend, Greg, punching me playfully on the shoulder.

“Maybe it’s an asteroid,” suggested his wife, Kathy.

“Armageddon, for sure,” said Rick’s wife, Donna.

A moment later, Susanna emerged from the kitchen with two plastic packages.

“These are for you,” she said. “First is a CD of some wonderful local musicians. It’s music I think you will really enjoy. And this,” she said, handing me the second plastic package, “is a DVD showing the history of the National Parks in this region. The photography is stunning.”

“These are gifts?” I asked, amazed.

“Yes,” for such nice people, said Susanna. “When will you be back in town?”

“Not until December,” I said. For a moment, I wondered if she would tell me that would be too late. By then, the world would have been destroyed.

“Terrific,” said Susanna. “I hope you will visit Vida Loco at that time.”

*****

Considering our encounters with Susanna, initially I thought she was “nuts.” Then, she was so sweet with the gifts that I disliked myself for thinking she was “nuts” when she’s probably just somewhat eccentric.

A friend with insomnia informed me that 3 a.m. talk radio is full of people suggesting we are, indeed, in a seven-year cycle of calamities. For instance, September 2001, September 2008 (world financial meltdown). Now it’s 2015 and we are due! Many of these people, he laughed, have “read about it on the web.”

Of course, I think such prognostications are lunacy. But, with California burning, the stock market gyrating, Trump leading, and the Middle East what it is….

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