Scala, with its high ceilings, elaborate design, and richly colored floor tiles, exuded old-world charm, comfort and elegance. This was the place to be seen in San Francisco's Financial District. Charles Booker, a successful investment banker, sealed many deals over Scala's rich tobacco tones and under its dramatic lighting. The Renaissance Room was a ritual morning destination, with or without a client.
“Good morning, Mister Edwards,” Elsa said. “How are you this morning?” She paused habitually. “Your usual table?” She asked.
“That would be lovely, yes. Thank you, Elsa,” was his standard response. He had known Elsa for nearly ten years now. He knew, for example, that she had a family of her own, grandchildren even, nothing more. While so familiar, their relationship was that of patron and hostess, their conversation light and airy.
Elsa led the way through the crowded restaurant to his usual table; a small two-top in the corner. White linen and a single white orchid in a small vase stood sharply against the dark mahogany wood.
“Will you want the morning paper, sir?” she asked.
“Yes, please. Thank you, Elsa. You are too kind, as always,” he smiles.
A graceful gesture with an open palm confirmed their arrival. She pulls the chair back slightly from the table, trying not to be too formal. As he takes a seat, she delicately drapes the napkin across his lap. Charles appreciated the refinement of the restaurant, its staff and its patrons. It exuded civility and wealth. He knew he could bring any client from anywhere in the world to Scala, and they would be immediately at ease; no embarrassing ‘American' incident to lament back home. Scala‘s popularity made it almost impossible to get a table on short notice, thereby not frequented by tourists. Standing reservations were required.
Moments later, Elsa returned with the morning paper. He unfolded the paper, patted it flat and scanned the financial headlines. This year was different than the thirty-odd years he had been in commodities. 1981 was fraught with poor economic news, with the insolvency of most leading money center banks, including Citibank, leading from the front. Charles knew the problem well; the banks had lent unstintingly to foreign governments, mostly in Latin America, who now were defaulting en masse on their loans. With every word, he could feel his blood pressure rising. He feared the next headline would read: “Financial Markets Collapse.”
Lost in thought, he was interrupted.
“Good morning, Mr. Edwards. I'm Robert. I'll be your server this morning.” He hesitated as he knew Charles would likely object to the formality before he spoke. Robert was new to Scala, and Elsa had told him that Charles was a loyal customer, a regular, and a good tipper. Scala's policy was always to regard guests with the utmost respect and never to assume familiarity.
“Pardon me…did you say something?” He said apologetically. “Please, forgive me. I was just reading the newspaper,” he continued. “And you are?”
“Robert,” he repeated.
“Yes, of course…and how are you this fine morning…Robert, was it?” He asked. “Please, call me Teddy.”
“I'm fine, Mister Edwards…sorry, Teddy. How are you today, sir?”; being formal again, by force of habit.
Teddy paused and peered over his thin, wire-framed glasses, without blinking, to insist. Robert understood.
“You are new here, are you not?” Teddy asked. “At least I have not noticed you before. Relax, dear boy. I am not one of those customers.”
Robert sighed with relief as he filled the water glass. “Can I offer you coffee or tea? Perhaps something from the bar?” Robert asked.
“Tanqueray, a touch of vermouth; one olive. Kippers and eggs, dry toast, and coffee, please. Tell Aunré it is for me,” he recited without needing the menu. Aside from the martini, the other items weren't on the menu; Robert wasn't sure what a Kipper was. Scala, after all, was an Italian and French bistro, not an English country inn.
“Thank you, sir. Sorry, Teddy,” he said.
As he left, Teddy turned his attention to the headlines, “Iran Frees 52 American Hostages Held in Tehran Since 1979.” Ronald Reagan played golf on Sunday; all was well with the world.
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