I was hired by a squeaky-clean, “preppy pizza” joint on the 7th Floor of Water Tower Place Mall in the mid-90’s , shortly after the closing of Dos Hermanos, its downstairs neighbor and my first place of employment in Chicago. Colorless, obligatory sneakers and comfortable, bleached jeans were justifiably the uniform there, since the service staff accomplished the equivalent of a schoolyard dash on that day in gym class when you forgot your proper attire, making it a good job in a rapid-paced environment.
I was working close to the service area the day when Gwen Stefani and No Doubt’s bandmembers were parked in a black leather booth that was under my care. I did not recognize them until someone mentioned it.
“Dan,” said my co-worker, James,” do you know that No Doubt’s sitting at Booth 80? Man, is Gwen Stefani gorgeous!”
I had listened to No Doubt on local radio many times and knew of their music, but I was still comatose from the ‘80’s and had Madonna’s “Bedtime Stories” in my CD player at home. No Doubt’s combination of reggae and nasally vocals were not interesting enough to jostle me awake from a nap longer than Darby O’Gill’s.
I approached the table to ask about beverages, although everyone was on his or her cellphone.
“I’ll take a chamomile tea,” said Ms. Stefani, cupping her right hand over the receiver.
I retreated and began expediting the beverages. It took a few minutes, as proper tea service involved a few extra touches, including climbing atop a stainless steel counter to retrieve a teapot, if I remember correctly. I re-materialized soon enough, though, and lay the potions down.
“Can I have chamomile?” asked the blonde chanteuse, cupping the phone again and revealing a teabag clearly marked “Green Tea.”
“I’m sorry. I must be high,” I joked.
She took my gaffe literally and shared the remark with her phone companion before I left.
Great, I thought. Thanks, Gwennie-Gwen-Gwen. Now your tour manager will think I’m stoned.
As proof that I was not, the different pizzas and salads comprising the order arrived on time, in front of the right person, and the check was processed quickly. I asked about their venue, which was out in the suburbs, wished them a good show before they left, then completed my closing tasks before heading home.
My thoughts turned to the lesson I learned, while I rode north along Lake Shore Drive toward Lakeview. It pertained to cellphones and Gwen Stefani, the first person to shine a light on their place at the table. They do not belong there, because tables are made for communing. And I made a personal decision that afternoon that I have held to this day, which was that I’ll always be a “Can-I-Call-Ya Back, Girl?” kinda guy. And it was all thanks to the Hollaback Girl.