I have a lot to tell you: Visitors. Surprises. A lot more visitors. A wedding. And recipes – recipes up on recipes, stacking up in my little book. But honestly? None of it has seemed very important this week.
I have a new least favorite course, dining out. It’s called gunpoint. It comes after appetizers, but before the entrée, when you’ve appreciated a few sips of your pink cocktail, but haven’t had enough to stay calm when, say, a big bear of a man stands up with a gun at other end of the restaurant, and starts booming something scary about killing the person at the other end of the weapon as they both head for the door, passing not two feet from you.
I know, I know, this is all sounding really crazy. But believe me, people, it happened. Last week. At the Pacific Grill, in Tacoma. It’s taken me a full week to stop shaking when I think about it. (It pisses me off that the chef blogged about shortcake this week, but I guess that’s the beauty of a blog.)
Rewind: It all started with the tater tots—homemade Oregon bleu cheese tater tots, to be exact. I knew they were too good to be true. I was sitting at the bar with my friend Beth, mopping a crunchy specimen through its creamy bleu cheese béchamel, when her eyes got really wide. She stopped chewing, actually.
I swiveled around in time to see a man pointing a revolver at another man’s back. Only the gunman was about three feet from what at that point appeared to be the victim, and from my perspective, it felt an awful lot like it was pointed at me. It was the first time I’d seen the kind of gun that looks designed to kill people. It was also the first time I’d looked down the business end.
“Turn around one more time, and I’ll shoot you,” said the gunman, quite clearly. He took a path uncomfortably close to my stool, escorting the other man out at point-blank range. I turned to Beth, willing her eyes to tell me—for fifteen long seconds—when we’d need to melt down between the bar and our barstools. She was frozen, except her big blue eyes, which softened as the two left the restaurant, then widened again as the gunman returned, relaxed, and sat down to eat his dinner.
I didn’t grow up in a dangerous place. These days, I don’t think of downtown Tacoma as a particularly dangerous place, either – probably a direct result of being a recent transplant. Judging by the staff’s reaction, though, neither do folks down there. We watched a server quake as she attempted to bring the restaurant back to life, zesting jagged, bumpy-edged strips out of a lemon that seemed to be doubling as an anti-stress ball.
It’s hard to say which scared me more: The idea of leaving the restaurant, and risking running into someone who was apparently no longer about to die but maybe should have, or sitting at the bar, in plain view of a man who’d just threatened death. Beth and I just sat, in shock, willing ourselves to breathe. In and out. In and out.
The police arrived. There was much scuffling outside, and a story unfolded: A man had walked into the Pacific Grill, seating himself like a regular customer. He’d asked the hostess for money (which sent her flying into the kitchen for help), then approached a group of doctors gathered for dinner toward the back of the restaurant. He tried to mug someone, and when the kitchen staff failed to convince him it was time to leave, he tried again. A doctor – who had apparently come to dinner packing heat, like you do, on his way back from target practice – thought his own method might be more convincing.
In the end, it was. The robber left the restaurant. The police came quickly, and took him away. No one was hurt.
But oh, friends, I got issues. There is so much wrong with this picture.
According to Washington state gun laws, it is illegal to carry a concealed weapon in a bar, but as far as I can tell, restaurant revolvers are a-okay. I personally can’t imagine having much of an appetite with cold steel in my purse. But wait – do I get a say? Guess not. Thank you, dear doctor. I’ll have another helping of Second Amendment, please. A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Yeah. I feel secure.
Suppose the mugger had turned around. Suppose the gunman had fired. Suppose he’d missed, and hit me, a presumably innocent bystander sitting, incidentally, at the bar, where the same concealment would have been totally illegal. (Note to lawmakers: Bullets travel.) Or suppose the mugger had also had a gun, or a knife, or what have you, and things had gotten really nasty.
The news coverage paints the gunman as the savior. (This story, too.) I can’t stomach the politics, but that part bothers me. Might as well have run a television ad, BUY A GUN AND POINT IT AT SOMEONE TODAY.
Suppose, now, that the kitchen staff had gotten a little more aggressive, or that the standoff had lasted a few more minutes, gunless, until the police walked in. (They never actually had to enter the restaurant, at least not when I was there.) I, for one, don’t believe the gun was the only answer. I’m grateful I didn’t die, sure, but I’ve spent the week being embarrassed, almost, that I live in a place where crime is so quickly answered with more violence, realized or just potential.
For the record, we stayed for the rest of dinner. (The barkeeper was wonderful, filling us in when he could, keeping us calm.)
We shared a tuna tartare, moist and fresh on a bed of mashed avocado, with a caper vinaigrette that sunk into the crisp toasts and softened them just enough to chew peacefully. Midway through my halibut, a Thai-inspired affair swimming with mussels in a pool of kaffir lime-scented coconut curry, it occurred to me that I probably shouldn’t be hungry. But the chef had stayed in the kitchen throughout the whole ordeal, and when my fish appeared without pause, perfectly cooked, not eating didn’t seem like a valid option.
Sure, I’ll go back. Next time, though, I might sit in a corner.
What about you? Are guns legal in restaurants in your state? (How naive of me to assume they weren’t here.)