Sorry, readers, the Delicious Orchards post is going to have to wait till tomorrow. Tonight, I witnessed such a touching Pay It Forward human moment that preempts an (anticipated) post about apple cider yeast donuts and the East Coast’s most amazing pumpkin pie. Clap your hands if you believe in fairies, kids.
(LONG POST, BTW)
Every year, my best friend, Heather, celebrates her birthday with her mom, a couple close friends and me. It’s a tradition that’s over 20 years strong. The cast of characters changes each year…a crazy grandmother, crazy grandmother’s drunk boyfriend , crazy aunt…you get the idea. But one thing has always remained constant. We celebrate at a hibachi restaurant.
Tonight, we celebrated at Ichiban, a sushi/hibachi restaurant that now occupies a former McDonald’s restaurant on Highway 35 South in Oakhurst, NJ. They kept the Mickey D’s sloped roof, and you can tell that the parking lot was designed for drive-thru runs. But I have to say, the owners have done a very impressive transformation. Very chic interior, sexy lighting, great bar…Ichiban strives to serve its patrons a different kind of Happy Meal. And their Happy Ending usually involves a tempura ice cream sundae.
The four of us (Heather, her mom, Jeanine and me) were seated at the standard U-shaped hibachi table. A shy, young gentleman (probably about 30-ish with a very sweet face) sat down at the other end of the table and put in an order for hibachi. When we realized that he was by himself, Jeanine struck up a conversation with him and found out:
- The restaurant was highly recommended, so he drove 20 minutes from where he was staying.
- He had never been to the Jersey Shore before and was here on a business trip.
- He was from Wisconsin.
The poor guy. We were going to eat him ALIVE.
Snippets of some of our conversation:
HEATHER: What did you order?
ME: Umm…I think it’s called a Spicy Santa maki roll.
HEATHER: What the (bleep) is that?
ME: Umm…I’m really not sure. I like spicy, and I like Santa, so how can it be bad? Maybe it’s like Christmas in your mouth!
HEATHER: EWWW…DO YOU REALLY HAVE TO GO THERE??? MY MOM IS HERE.
ME: You’re the one that’s making it sound wrong.
JEANINE: Did I miss something? Christmas in your mouth?
HEATHER: You wouldn’t know. You’re Jewish.
JEANINE: So are all of you.
ME: Well…it’s definitely not kosher. I think there’s shrimp tempura involved.
JEANINE: Ewww…well, enjoy your Spicy Santa.
The amazing thing is, Wisconsin Guy, was enthralled. I can’t say whether it was because of our
obnoxious engaging conversation (anything goes with four women having a night out) or because of the fantastic show the hibachi chef gave us. I’m so spoiled. Hibachi restaurants are quite commonplace in NJ, but I think it was Wisconsin Guy’s first time. He was absolutely transfixed by the chef’s expert handling of the cooking tools, the juggling of eggs, the volcano made of sliced onion rings/lighter fluid and showmanship.
We tried to engage Wisconsin Guy. What’s Wisconsin like?… Are you a Cheesehead?…Are you going to be there for the holidays?… Really, you actually do the whole traditional turkey-fest for Thanksgiving??? That’s so cool! I’m just doing Thanksgiving lasagna…We’re NOTHING like the MTV show you’re talking about.
I think we were a little
too much for him.
Heather’s mom brought a cake; the serving staff brought it out with a lit candle while banging on a gong and singing “Happy Birthday…cha cha cha”. (This is what I FREAKIN’ LOVE about birthdays at a hibachi restaurant.)
I signaled the waitress to bring an extra plate, so that Wisconsin Guy could partake in some b-day cake, as well. He ate his cake, took a long time to sign his check, got up from his seat and said, “Happy Birthday, Heather”. Then he made a mad dash for the door and was gone.
I figured we had scared him off, and said to myself, “Boy, won’t he have some stories to share back home!”
Then our waitress came by with our check and informed us that Heather’s dinner tab was picked up by Wisconsin Guy, and that he didn’t want us to know about it until he had left. Just like Santa Claus…in and out. And we didn’t even give him milk to go with his birthday cake.
JEANINE: Maybe he needed to put it on his expense account.
ME: Maybe tonight we were his entertainment instead of hotel pay-per-view.
HEATHER: EWWW…there you go again.
HEATHER’S MOM: Maybe he was just being nice.
We were dumb-struck. The simple act of random kindness from a stranger can really elicit warm and fuzzy feelings (besides the warm and fuzzy feeling I was feeling from champagne sangria.) It took a guy from Wisconsin to make us stop for a moment and realize that we don’t always have to be so defensive.
Savor those little moments of sheer kindness. It’s what makes the holidays so freakin’ special.
-p.s. Happy Birthday, Heather! I look forward to topping tonight’s hibachi celebration next year! xoxo