“What are you looking at” he asked as he noticed my distracted gaze. “Huh?” “Nothing. This guy over here is anxiously waiting for a girl he’s in love with,” I speculated. Immediately in detective mode, I started piecing together evidence. He held a bouquet of roses in his arms, wrapped in a red-tinted plastic covered in images of the flowers that nestled inside. His grip on his iPhone was strong and he kept glancing up from it to look down the block in front of him, then behind him, until his gaze landed back on his phone to obsessively re-read, what I assumed to be, a text exchange. He was early. While all of us crowded on the sidewalk outside 900 Grayson, waiting for our names to be called, he stood out. As we were passing the time, looking through the window at other brunch goers to encourage them to eat faster, his concern lay outside the restaurant on this sunny but cool morning.
Brunch is the time of day indicating that you and your fellow group of humans willingly gather to accept whatever wait time is necessary in order to indulge in perfectly crunchy hashbrowns and impeccably soft scrambled eggs with avocado (of course). The brunch wait period is also the perfect time to people watch. Brunch spots are small, as if on purpose, to make the crowd that has to gather outside for their 30 minute wait highlight this spot as a popular one. It’s free advertisement. “Look how many people there are willing to wait. That place must be good,” you’d probably say to yourself. And, you’d probably be right because nobody waits that long for bad food. But, while the food may be the main draw, the sign of a great brunch spot are the people who go there.
This particular Saturday was abuzz with Berkeley students and professors and 30-something professionals. About fifteen of us were gathered outside on the sidewalk this morning when I notice Mr. Anxious constantly scanning the sidewalk for that special someone. He was short in stature, with an emphasized receding hairline. His iPhone case looked clunky and complicated which said to me that he must have worked in tech. He looked like the kind of late-30 something that was never able to talk to girls when he was younger, making him awkward in his exchanges with a pretty woman. “Oh! He found her,” my guy said, now as thoroughly enthralled in this saga as I was. “Oh, shit. She took the flowers, but she put them in her car. That means she’s embarrassed and doesn’t want to be seen holding them.” As they walked toward the restaurant entrance, we could see that this beautiful woman, dressed in well-altered slacks and a soft, flowing blouse was taking charge as she asserted herself through the door and up to the hostess stand to check her spot in line, all while he meekly followed directly behind her. As our wait time lagged on, we could see more people had joined this duo. They all looked like they could be related to her, so we determined that this was her family. “Ohhhhh damn, this is his first time meeting her family,” we narrated. No wonder this guy seemed so nervous! It’s terrifying meeting the family of someone you’re trying to woo. He seemed socially awkward, and pretended to check important emails while the group carried on a lively conversation. She barely engaged him at all, and the group follow suit. I felt bad for Mr. Anxious, but he wasn’t helping himself.
“Ben, party of three” shouted the hostess. I had come for food that I knew was fresh and cooked better than I could prepare myself, but now I was a little disappointed to have to leave this drama behind. It was as enthralling as a bad reality tv show and it felt like I had to stop watching before it was over. We were seated at a small table in the front, next to one of the large windows looking out at the front sidewalk where we had just been standing. As we got down on some serious grub, a tall gentleman – dressed in a nice NorthFace zip-up and slacks- walked in holding a bouquet of flowers. I leaned in to the table, in full-on gossip mode, “Look at that guy. What if he walked up to that lady and just handed her those flowers,” I half-joked. As he stood there scanning the crowd, he walked back to a large table where none other that Mr. Anxious and Pretty Lady and her family were sitting. He hands her the flowers and we hear the whole table say “Awww”. “Oh damn! They all thought that gesture was so sweet and now he’s sitting next to her!” High drama at this yummy yet unassuming brunch spot. I felt so bad for Mr. Anxious. Earlier, his same gesture was met with embarrassment and quickly hidden before her family could see what sweet thing he had done. Now, he had been one-upped and was left to sit through this now extremely awkward brunch.
We paid our bill and collected ourselves, leaving this drama behind. We came to brunch to connect with each other. We left having connected ourselves to a situation beyond which we had any real understanding. But, that’s part of why we go to brunch, isn’t it? To commune with each other over great food and to connect ourselves with our neighbors even if it’s over a shared sense of awkwardness. You never know what kind of brunch you’ll have, but at 900 Grayson anything is possible.