I was used to people just pointing at their coffee cup when I asked them if they'd like coffee, so when the old man kinda waved his arm toward his side in front of him, I figured he was one of those kind that just didn't feel like answering me. Oh Christ, another weird one. The restaurant was packed - both dining rooms. It was a Sunday about 1:30; a pancake house on Colorado Boulevard, way too close to too many churches (and the lunch rush that followed services) for my sanity. I had the front station - just barely inside the door with a big round as the main table. I was working three 4-tops, two or three 3-tops and about 5 deuces along with the round where the old man was sitting with five other members of his family. I poured coffee for him, told the folks at the table I'd give them a moment to look at the menu and I'd be back to take their order. In the time it took me to turn around and get to the service entrance, the gentleman had flipped over the back of his chair and bitten off his tongue. I didn't see a thing (unless you count the arm spasm, which I found out later was actually a heart attack ... he may not have wanted coffee after all).
I was picking up an order and my manager came rushing up to me and said, "DID YOU SERVE ANY FOOD TO TABLE 20?!! DID YOU SERVE ANYTHING TO TABLE 20?!! ANYTHING?!! It kinda freaked me out that she was being so crazy but we were really slammed and it just wasn't registering with me that table 20 was my new 6 top. I went back around the corner with a ham and cheese omelet, hash browns and toast for table 3, saw the old man lying on the floor on his back with blood all over his face and someone starting to give him mouth to mouth, but there was nobody at table 3! The first thing I wondered was how that man had gotten so bloody, but almost immediately I panicked because I thought he was my customer from table 3 (hardly anyone is recognizable after they've bitten off their tongue) and I was sure the cooks were gonna kill me if I wasted that order. I went back to the kitchen with the plates, put the omelet in the window and said, This man is dead, but I think you can save the hash browns." I was right. They were pissed.
Just about that time, (maybe 30 seconds or a minute after it had happened) I just forgot everything that I was about to ring up, which orders were about to come down ... just all of it. I went back out to my station, and my customers who saw the whole bloody mess were walking out, whether they'd eaten, paid, still had to order or had already placed their orders. They were totally grossed out. I had one table that was around the corner though, table 18, that couldn't see what was going on. They screamed from across the dining room, "Where the hell is our food!" I had to step over the man's legs to get to them, but when I reached their table, I said, "I'm sorry" (in my nicest voice) but one of my customers has died and I wasn't expecting it. Let me check with the kitchen." It was so surreal. They weren't even shocked. Just hungry and mad and indignant.
I walked back through my station, stepped back over the man's legs and around the corner to check on table 18's order. I don't remember if it was ready, if I served them, or they walked. By this time - maybe 2 minutes into it - I was coming unraveled. People were moving into my station from the other tables to watch the resuscitation efforts, but since the customers that were supposed to be at those tables were gone I couldn't make hide nor hair of any of it. About this time I remember the son (or son-in-law) from the round table saying, "I can't believe this. This is just so embarrassing. I can't believe this is happening." There were three kids with them, all under the age of ten, and (I guess) his wife ... the kids' mom, anyway. I was trying to comfort her 'cos she started getting a little hysterical, and just about then the EMTs arrived. They injected the man with a huge needle - I mean HUGE - and zapped him with those paddles as they were getting him on the stretcher.
I know during some of this, people were asking for more coffee and wanting me to tell their waitress that they had changed tables. I kept stepping over the man's feet (and eventually, the man's feet and a bunch of equipment) to get through my station and my boss was still asking me if the guy had eaten anything. It was only then that I realized she was worried that those people were gonna sue the restaurant, like she thought he might have cut himself on the food. In the meantime, the man was dead and I was so wigged I couldn't have told you my name. I asked if I could have a minute to calm down and smoke a cigarette, but my boss said I needed to clean the blood off the floor because we still had people waiting to be seated. It was a spot about as big as two dinner plates. Who knows why I didn't walk. It was just a really crazy moment.
I did work through the rest of the afternoon and we found out the next day that the EMTs were able to bring the old man back to life. I never did thank my customer at table 3 (who was probably most responsible for saving him). I didn't even ask him if he'd like another omelet. It was all so sudden and, I think because it happened in the middle of such a huge rush, everything kind of exploded in my head. I guess you can tell by the choppy way I remember everything - kinda like 30 snapshots or really short pieces of film strung together with gaps in between - that I was in shock. For a while after that, I was really freaked out if anyone even coughed or moved suddenly. I wanted to take their pulse before I took their order. "How are you today?" had a ring of sincerity to it that had never before been a part of my delivery. Unfortunately, this wasn't the only one of my customers to die in my station, but I'll save the other one for another blog post. Just remember: If a customer doesn't answer you when you ask them for a beverage order, it doesn't necessarily mean they are ignoring you.