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Small-town hospitality in the big city

Updated: May 7, 2013 5:58PM

On a recent trip to Chicago, I decided to do something “local” that was not an activity normally available to me in Tulsa. I attended a play that was a two-block walk from the hotel.

There was a recommended restaurant by the hotel that was next to the theater; however, I had been warned that the establishment was normally very busy, and there may be a prolonged wait since I did not have a reservation.

Well, very busy was an understatement. It was like Grand Central Station! Everyone who was being seated had reservations. The staff was very understanding, and trying extremely hard to find me a spot; however, the patrons were not leaving because many were also attending the play, and killing time until it started.

Here is the heartwarming part. An elderly gentlemen and his wife were sitting near the hostess desk, and the husband came up and introduced himself to me. His name was Menachem. He spoke with a heavy accent, and asked me if I was receiving proper service from the staff. I assured him that I felt they were doing the best they could, considering the circumstances.

After another six to seven minutes, he again approached me and said he felt I was being slighted. I again stated to him I believed they were doing their best (at this point, the hostess and head waiter had come to me and said they were doing their best, but the guests were not leaving). After another three to four minutes, Menachem got up and approached the hostess and head waiter, literally demanding that I be seated. They assured him that they were doing their best.

After hearing this, he invited me to share his table. The table that he was seated at was very small (the type designed for only two dinners). I told him I was very touched by his offer, but would not inconvenience him and his wife. Menachem went back to his table, and he and his wife hurriedly finished their meal. He asked the head waiter if he could “donate” his table to me. The waiter agreed, and Menachem had me sit there as he and his wife got up.

Here is the topper: As he was leaving, Menachem whispered to me that he had instructed the head waiter to put my meal on his charge. I explained to Menachem that I was on business, and my company would pay for my meal; however, he was insistent that he pay for my food. He stated that he wanted my experience in Chicago to be a positive one. Seeing he was not going to take no for an answer, I thanked him, and said I hoped he and his wife enjoyed the play. I later told the head waiter to absolutely not put my meal on Menachem’s bill, and since I had not ordered, they accommodated my request.

I am extremely touched by the concern that Menachem displayed for me. His sense of fairness and willingness to personally take a stand was impressive. It also may me proud to be an American. Although I am sure we are culturally very different (African-American “Okie”/Jewish immigrant), one defended the other from what was perceived as an injustice being committed. This says a lot about the character of Menachem, but also about a country were these “worlds” can occupy the same moment in time and space, with both appreciating the expectation of fundamental fairness that is the promise of America.

Eugene Harris lives in Bartlesville, Okla.

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