On Saturday, at the café, I was taking an order from a guy when his cell phone rang. I had reached the pay screen by the time he excused himself, opened up the phone, and answered. I waited for a moment, during which time two other customers walked up. I decided that if he was going to be a rude asshole and answer his phone, he could wait while I canceled his order and took care of the two people behind him. But, sensing I was waiting, he walked up—still talking—and handed me $20.
I probably don’t need to tell most of you that cell phones are my absolute, number one pet-peeve, which explains why my response was to snatch the $20 from his hand and give him his change without another word. Then I heard him say,
“I recommend you go to the emergency room,” which gave me pause.
After the transaction was over and I began to ring the customers behind him, the guy finished his phone call. He lingered by the counter, so I stopped in the middle of taking the next order and directed him to the counter where he could pick up his food.
“I just wanted to let you know I took that call because I’m a doctor on call. I wouldn’t have otherwise,” he said.
I nodded, trying to keep my face neutral.
“I didn’t like the way you snatched the money from me,” he said. “What’s your name?”
I told him, and he repeated that he wouldn’t have taken the call otherwise.
I didn’t say anything because I never think of the right thing to say in these situations. I should have apologized, but I was too busy bracing myself to get yelled at. I was so preoccupied with preparing to go on the defensive. But he didn’t yell at me. He didn’t get the manager. He got his food and sat down.
After I helped the next customers and watched the guy eat his sandwich, I considered going to his table, apologizing, and offering to get him a pastry. But I was afraid he would say no, that he would tell me it was too late. I felt that I’d had an opportunity to acknowledge that I’d been wrong and missed it, so I didn’t do it.
The next time I looked toward the dining room, the doctor was gone.
Once again, a nasty glance and brusque demeanor did absolutely nothing to help a situation. Lesson learned.