RJ Johnson

RJ Johnson





After decades in the bar and restaurant industry I have encountered the most amazing and investing individuals. The co-workers and customers that I have met have often become part of a family of humans that I take with me wherever I go. Not always physically, but always in my heart. 

However, sometimes I encounter the other side of humanity; the one that cannot look far enough outside of themselves to realize that they aren’t the only person in the world that also has needs. In recent times, these people have been come to be labeled as ‘Karens,’ but I don’t like that term considering it is my mother’s name, and my mother is the type of person who only asks for a manager when she needs to pay someone a compliment. 

Karens are people who requires servants, not servers. In the 2005 movie ‘Waiting’ there is a scene where a customer is being terrible to a waitress and the kitchen staff does some disgusting stuff to her food as payback. After 25 years in this industry I have never seen anything as bad as what happened in that movie but there have been times where I have wanted to. 

There was a time recently when I carrying seven plates out to a table. This is one of the rare skills that a bartender and server have — to balance multiple plates that are at the approximate temperature of Hell, burning new scars into their arms, all the while smiling and being cordial. It is a delicate balance of trying to balance plates while fixing your face. 

There was a day during the EO days that I was severely short staffed and I was trying to work an extremely full restaurant with just a host, my line of cooks, and someone who was only responsible for packing up the To-Go and delivery orders. 

As I walked by a table a woman grabbed my very full arms and almost made me drop every dish that I was carrying. I am certain that anyone besides this woman would have noticed the death glare I spewed, but she decided to ask me whether the problem was me or the restaurant, because she had been waiting more than 20 minutes for her food. I politely said, “No madam, the problem is you; I am slightly outnumbered.” 

There were over 100 guests in the restaurant that day. I was bartending, training, and trying to handle a large number of guests. I was overwhelmed. If she had taken 10 seconds to look outside of her tiny little world to realize any of those things we could have had a much more pleasant interaction.

As a bartender we have love for the alcohol and beverage lifestyle. Sometimes when you work in a corporate restaurant you have people that come in that would never walk into a bar that you work at. This is unusually apparent when you walk up to a table and as you ask if they would like a beverage or something to drink beyond water they turn their head and snap, “I don’t drink alcohol; I want water!” 

Okay honey, here’s the thing — unless you are planning on washing your fucking hair at my table, water is a beverage.

There are also the amazing moments that make me realize why I have done what I do for so long. Moments like when a restaurant regular was sitting at the bar. I was serving that night so I didn’t get to be the person that actually served him, but I made damn sure that I was the person that brought his food out. The bartender was busy when it came time for him to have a second drink and I was backing her up. When I poured his beer out of the tap he told me that it was his first beer in over 12 months. I refused to hand it to him until he let me know whether he was in recovery or not. He told me wasn’t; he had simply been working on his fitness and health. 

I decided to give him the name King, because in every interaction that I have had with him, that is what he is. I gave him his beer and proceeded to flirt for the next four hours that he was there. While he had a beer every hour, he was a completely respectful and gracious human being. There were even moments in my more stressful times that he stopped and got me in check to make sure that I was being the best I could be. 

As the hours wore on the restaurant started to slow down and King asked if he could go outside to smoke a cigarette with me. Of course I allowed it and while we were standing together under a cold night sky he showed me a series of pictures that were on his phone. They were all of one woman with several different men, and in various states of undress. I looked at him in confusion and he explained that they were all his wife. She had failed to realize that when he got his new phone the iCloud would also download her pictures to his phone. The look on his face was heartbreaking. He then told me that he had checked into the hotel behind my restaurant so that he would not do something stupid, or get angry in front of his children. In that moment I knew how good of a man he was and the way his wife was treating him caused me emotional pain, so I cannot even imagine what he was going through. 

We ended up exchanging numbers before he went home, and I called him the next day to check on how he was doing. He said he was a little hungover but feeling better. We chatted for a while and he seemed like he was in good spirits. That brought me some peace.

On my next day off I called and let him know I had the day free and I was planning on going to throw some darts and have a beer. He was welcome to join or we could go have coffee or a meal if he needed to talk. He passed because he was hanging out with his kids. I asked if that meant that he had gone back to his wife. He then told me something that made my heart leap with joy.

He had gone home and packed his wife’s belongings and handed her the key card to the hotel room. Why should he be the one to stay in a hotel when she was the one that had cheated? 

I laughed hard and told him how amazing he was. I will always remember those days with a man that truly deserves to be called King. 

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