Change

A cozy little restaurant changes from a warm friendly bohemian style to a cold fast food business, geared for the bus tourist…

 ***

The bar has been turned into a waiting area for the restaurant’s limited seating. Loads of tourists now swarm from the fully air-conditioned busses upon arrival. They all head for the bathrooms first.

CHANGE 

My once favorite restaurant is located between Mendocino and Malibu, it sits high on a cliff. I love its endless views out over the Pacific Ocean. They once served half heads of butter lettuce with a creamy blue-cheese dressing. When I mention creamy, I mean creamy, made with real heavy cream. The cook used to lighten it up with a handful or two of MSG per five gallon. A bucket of dressing was made every two weeks or so. The meat cuts were sixteen ounces and with it they served a #1 baker from Idaho. They had no fancy garnish, just simply great food on hot platters. The owned, they owned the place. No, their prices did not include the restaurant’s mortgage payments.

The waiters and waitresses were locals and always good for a story about the area and a joke. We, the guests, and more important the restaurant owners knew their guest and wait people by name. Then, they, the restaurant’s crew wore no name-tags. During the quiet time of the year I remember watching whales migrating and the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean from the bar. I recall the stepping out onto the terrace to have a better view. I shall not forget the anticipation of lighting a joint, followed by the ceremonial passing of the same. We used to stay there until getting the munchies, talking, trying to make sense of living, analyzing our being.
Back then, the bartender doubled as bouncer and carefully watched his guest and their money which they used to put onto the counter before ordering any drink. It was customary that the bartender took, whatever was owed to him, from the cash pile on the bar-counter in front of each guest. The barkeeper returned the change and added it to the money left in front of the bar-guest. Sometimes he poured a special customer a free drink and at other times he took an extra dollar or two from some drunk show-off. Liquor used to be a cash and carry deal, there was no credit and no plastic money. The bar was never empty. Before or after meals people had to have their libations. Located near busy highway 1 there was always somebody stopping in and always somebody leaving. The bar officially closed an hour past midnight. Yet I remember the times when I sat there drinking whisky till four in the morning.
Today the same restaurant is owned by a bank or two, some big-name-outfit’s sign is hanging over the door. The old owners retired, moved away to Florida, so I am told. The view is still the same, spectacular, awesome, but the feel of the place has certainly changed. The food nowadays is prepackaged, warmed up, precooked, portion controlled and advertised on colorful menu pages. The bar has been turned into a waiting area for the restaurant’s limited seating. Loads of tourists now swarm from the fully air-conditioned busses upon arrival. They all head for the bathrooms first. These, the toilets, occupy more space than the kitchen these days. Back then when it was my favorite restaurant they used to have one bathroom for both sexes and the employees alike. Now there are four, one for the employees, one for handicapped people, one for women and one for men. I am waiting for the day when they too put coin machines onto the bathroom doors, charging an entrance fee like it’s done in many parts of Europe.
The wait staff is overworked and the service therefor as impersonal as it can be in any fast food place. The money coming in seems to keep the company’s shareholders happy. It’s a beautiful location, understandable it is that numberless, faceless people click-click hidden behind their cameras click-click. Click-click, they try to capture some of the splendor of the setting; the ocean, the cliffs and the waves. One dimensional photographs, flat surfaces on glossy paper. Some tourists try to capture the ocean’s breeze, the waves gentle roll, the Seagull’s soaring or the Sea lions call with sophisticated recording equipment.
Inside the restaurant waiters perspire, rushing about. They don’t know what the restaurant’s owners look like, they might not even want to know. None of these new owners knows anyone of their employees by name. People are not important to them. They look only at the numbers.
The employees’ name tags serve as an identification for the company paid spotters. Visiting quality control inspectors use the names from the name tags in their reports too.
I feel with the locals who eye the change like the American Indians did. I ask myself: “What good is this invasion of tourists to me and what does it for my community? When is enough enough?” I shake my head and realize this trend is irreversible.
The restaurant perched on a cliff used to be my favorite restaurant, I used to eat there. Nowadays I only stop there if I have to and that’s very seldom.

by helmut schonwalder