In Barbara Ehrenreich's eye-opening Nickel and Dimed, I've just read about Wal-Mart's "people greeters". This, as Ehrenreich explains, is "an elderly employee (excuse me, associate) who welcomes each customer as he or she enters the store." Apparently the idea of installing such a person in the stores originated with a Wal-Mart employee (sorry, associate), and this is held up to Ehrenreich as an example of Wal-Mart's "respect for the individual". (Because "Sam always said" that the "best ideas come from the associates.")
I read that bit in the book just before son and I set off to wander along Provincetown's now tourist-free Commercial Street, looking for dinner. And at the Post Office Cafe, we are accosted by ... yes, you guessed it, a people greeter. Woman in a thick coat against the fall chill, rubbing her hands, she sings the virtues of the place and does her best to persuade us that dinner here would be the finest dinner we could ever imagine.
The question we ask her is, would you describe this place as an Eccentric Eatery?
Call us eccentric ourselves, but there's a reason for this. Someone has gifted son a copy of 101 Places You Gotta See Before You're 12!, and we are intent on visiting only such places as might allow us to tick off one more of those 101. And since one of those 101 is an "Eccentric Eatery", we are on the prowl for one such.
The people greeter in her coat says, "Hmmmmmm", and turns to look around behind her. She points to a bank of mailboxes on a wall. "See those? Those are mailboxes, 'cause this used to be a real post office. How's that?"
It's enough for us, besides which we are also hungry, so we enter and sit at a table for two. On the wall, there are also plaques reading "Registered Letters", "Money Orders" and "Stamps", and a slot marked "Letters". Yeah, indications of a post office past all right, though then again there's this plaque above them all: "Beware of Attack Waiter".
A young woman in short hair and a pink t-shirt walks over. I cringe involuntarily -- is this the attack waiter? She has a voice so soft I can barely hear her, but when I do hear her asking what we'd like to drink, I guess her accent is South African. Her soft voice is rendered even softer by some ghastly music blasting from an Onkyo 100-watt receiver. (Note that it's the son who first observes that it's ghastly). Drinks advertised range from a Mudslide to a Peckerhead to a Hairy Navel to a Slippery Navel. Yum. We ask for water and a lemonade.
A prominent sign advises that the "Maximum Capacity of This Room is 49 People." While there aren't nearly that many in here right now, I can't resist a quick count of the tables. There are 10 4-person tables, 4 2-person (at one of which we are seated), 1 1-person -- that's 49 right there, but there's one more table, a six-seater. So if the Post Office Cafe is ever filled to capacity, this room would have 54 people and that doesn't include the greeter and the soft-voiced woman and a smiling man who takes our food order. So what's the sign for?
The soft-voiced woman walks past and I ask her, where's that accent from? She says, "Bulgarian". So much for my accent-guessing abilities.
The greeter is leaving for home. She comes over and says to us, "I think this is about as eccentric as eateries get in Provincetown."
Back in our B&B for the night, I find a copy of Provincetown Magazine's 2008 Dining Guide lying around, and open it randomly. Oddly enough, I open to the page that carries a description of the Post Office Cafe, and here are some lines from there:
"The Post Office Cafe is one of the hottest acts in Provincetown ... [It] vibrates with energy from morning until late night. [The owner] continually fine-tunes her menus to accommodate the latest gustatory trends. Rachel Ray calls this restaurant 'Yumm-O!'. As Michael, the manager, puts it, 'we have our thumb on the pulse of the culinary world'."
This breathless paragraph warms the cockles of my heart. Clearly, we ate tonight at a uniquely superb Provincetown establishment, even an eccentric one.
Then I flip the pages of the Dining Guide and idly check three or four descriptions of other Provincetown restaurants. Every single one is just as breathless in its praise.
Suddenly, the cockles don't feel quite as warm.