Stylized line drawing of mark playing the flute

The loneliest guy at Chilis

The loneliest guy at Chili’s

Jane and I used to eat at Chili’s all the time when we lived in Boston.

It was 1998/99 and it was impossible to eat out anywhere in the greater Boston area. Every semi-decent place had a minimum 1-hour wait except for, somehow, the Chili’s across the street from the Burlington Mall.

We always started with chicken nachos and I loved the BBQ Buffalo Sandwich.

That sandwich was outstanding. Shoe-string onions, bbq sauce, and shredded bison meat. When I’d order it, the servers would ask β€œNow, you realize that this is real buffalo meat, right?” I guess some people thought it was buffalo chicken and would get all bent out of shape.

I worked just up the road so Jane would come have lunch with me. Some days, she’d bring the littlest boy she nannied. The three of us would sit in a booth together. Jane and I would chat while Willie played with whatever car or spaceship he was carrying around that day.

It’s a little scary to think about how much money that Chili’s got from us. We even stopped there during a blizzard on the way up to Maine.

Jane and I were back in Boston for a visit a few years back and we decided to pay the old joint a visit. The experience was somewhat less than I remembered.

It was packed so we sat at the bar. The nachos were soggy, the drinks had no booze in them, and they didn’t have the bison sandwich anymore.

Even the bar was crowded and the bartenders were running frantically around trying to manage the drinks for the bar and the restaurant. There was a guy sitting next to us who kept trying to strike up a conversation with these poor harried women working the bar.

It was obvious that he came there a lot and that all he wanted was β€œregular” status. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone so lonely, someone so desperate for human interaction. He’d float a weak joke or some other attempt to get the bartender’s attention and they’d respond with just enough to ensure a tip at the end.

It was painful to watch. The loneliest guy at Chili’s.