My Dinner at TGI Friday’s

A few weeks ago I went to Penn Station at 8pm to meet my mom’s midnight train from Virginia. I was excited about spending four hours under Madison Square Garden, exploring its subterranean wealth of eating and drinking options. I’ve been to some tasty restaurants in Manhattan, but you don’t truly know a city until you’ve dined in its train stations. I thought I could get some good writing done in the back of TGI Friday’s. I ordered wine and french fries. I noted in my journal that TGI Friday’s is exactly the opposite of the way it’s depicted in TV commercials. The waiter didn’t want me there. If I had ordered a $17 plate of buffalo wings, or if he’d been accustomed to Salman Rushdie drafting novels at one of his sticky tables, perhaps things would have been different. At a certain point I could no longer deny that both he and the waitress wrapping flatware in paper napkins were judging me harshly.

When I went wandering again, the Pizza Hut was closing. Only breadsticks remained under the heat lamps. The metal bars had been lowered in front of the Starbucks. The homeless people had started rearranging trash in the trash cans. I found another open restaurant near the Amtrak signage. The bartender poured liberally. A drunk man kept asking me what book I was reading and how I could concentrate with the music playing so loudly. “The Moviegoer by Walker Percy,” I said. “And I can tune out everything.” Then I proceeded to tune him out.

Even though I was waiting for my mother’s train, I began to feel less and less purposeful as the hours went by. I bought a sandwich and ate it in a quiet spot next to some garbage. I offered a fancy chocolate bar to a homeless man, but he didn’t want it. I ate a slice of pizza while standing near the egress of the escalators. A man asked me why, in my opinion, crazy people talked and sang to themselves. I said it was because they had such interesting things to say and sing. Then I implied that I was one of the crazy people and he might be well advised to leave me alone.

I found a police officer to talk to about Virginia Beach. Five minutes later the same police officer ran up the escalator with his gun drawn. Suddenly police men and police dogs were everywhere. I stood very still with my hands in my coat pockets so I wouldn’t get in anybody’s way. When things calmed down near the escalators and I hadn’t seen a gun or heard shouting in a while, I moved toward the new locus of commotion: two dozen uniformed cops standing in a circle around a pile of crumpled up dollar bills. I speculated about  the drama with a man who’d been passing through Penn Station on his way home. He asked me if I’d mind being his friend on Facebook. I said, “I guess not.” We exchanged information. One cop’s hat had fallen off during the excitement and had been claimed by a drug addict. The drug addict approached several different cops to say, “I have your brother’s hat.” He complained to me at a high pitch and frenetic pace that no one wanted the hat back.

When my mother’s train arrived an hour late, I was still talking to my new friends. Because I’ve always been the least popular of her children, I think she was impressed by my train station charisma. Before she went to bed that night, I hardly had enough time to tell her about all I’d said and done. Even now I feel like there’s more to tell.

11 Thoughts on “My Dinner at TGI Friday’s

  1. Lovin' Cuz on February 11, 2010 at 5:52 pm said:

    We eat at Ruby Friday’s all the time! The one in Barrack’s Road. We go early, like at 5:30, when the only other people there have kids or are deaf cotton-tops. Their french fries are EXCELLENT, and I have eaten there alone and had 3 glasses of wine (and french fries) (AND a salad covered with cheese) and no one looked askance. Next time you’re here you can take my kids there! They will talk to you endlessly about every subject under the sun (they have been to VA Beach!), and they might even smell better than your average homeless person, AND they don’t have FB accounts. Yet.

  2. Robin from Looziana on February 11, 2010 at 6:19 pm said:

    Love how you rolled with the flow there!

  3. haha, love it

  4. Anonymous on February 12, 2010 at 7:39 am said:

    so glad you’re back

  5. Very funny. Very accurate.
    I ate at the Houlihan’s there once, shortly after the end of The Soprano’s. They had a jukebox, and I wanted to (and did) play “Don’t Stop Believing” and the bartender said it was the 8000th time she’d heard it that week.
    “People aren’t very original,” I said, “it’s hard to get a song that bad out of the public consciousness.”

  6. Next time you have to wait four hours for your Mom in the West 30s, call me. I’ll take you to Grand Sichuan for soup dumplings. x

  7. My mother wants me to clarify that on the mother-love scale I’m not actually the least popular of her five children, but I am the least sociable. I was not the runt of the litter, nor does she wish I went down the drain with the tubwater. If my mother knew how to leave a comment on my blog, it would say “OMG I love all my children equally LOL.”

  8. I’ll meet you at the Port Authority bowling alley in half an hour yes it’s REAL and JUST like you imagine it.

    Did you notice you’re a good writer? I did. I feel like I’m there right now, wishing I was at home on my couch, which I am, actually. So that worked out.

  9. a fan from Georgia on February 14, 2010 at 2:37 pm said:

    It IS great to have you back. I’ve been missing you, and look forward to reading more. Off subject: we had 3 inches of snow on Friday, small stuff for you who have been blizzard-bound, but a big deal by our deep south standards! Sun and 50s today, but a few of the heftier snowpeople are still hanging around.

  10. shenanigans on February 17, 2010 at 1:41 pm said:

    Next time, sit at the bar. The bartender won’t care that you’re just eating fries and writing.

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