Good service and how to love the flag

One of the things I love most about America is eating out – nothing fancy, just a nice roadhouse or grill and bar where you can get a good steak, salad and fries or even the famous meatloaf and mashed potatoes and beer ! Of course, you need to exercise self-discipline as I discovered the other night. But one of the best things about all of these places, more or less without exception is the service.

In the UK the practice of service in eating establishments comes in two variations. This actually applies to just about every other situation you can think of, from hotels to massage parlours, but let’s keep things simple. The first variation, based I think on a time when everyone dressed up to eat out as if this was something that only the upper classes did, is where the waiter or waitress behaves in such an obviously ironically obsequious fashion – all  ‘sirs’ and ‘madams’ and bowing and scraping – whilst all the while looking down their noses as if you were the lowest dung-beetle to crawl out of the slums of, well….wherever you came from. The second variation is what I call the Boom & Bust model of service. This involves a protracted period of gratuitous glad-handing and welcome when you arrive in the restaurant, which continues just about up to the point where you have started to eat. Then….nothing. Any further attempts to order dessert, more drinks, the bill, or having got the bill to actually pay it, are completely ignored. At best, you can be kept waiting for anything up to half an hour, all the time watching the glad-handing treatment being transferred  to each new arrival. This is especially noticeable, I regret to say, in Indian restaurants.

Of course, there is a final variation, but that is simply the “I don’t have to work here and don’t give a shit” one. Caricatures for sure, but I have experienced them all.

In contrast, I’ve found the US version friendly, open and natural – they want you to have a good time and enjoy your meal (and leave them a large tip of course, but where is the problem with that) and they are there to do what they can to make that happen. That doesn’t imply they are lower than you in the social scale, and there is none of the ritualised superiority / inferiority undertone that permeates the UK idea of service (“Upstairs, Downstairs” has much to answer for). So, yes – we’ve eaten out three times this trip (Logan’s once, Applebees twice), enjoyed our meals and the banter / interaction with the staff, and left large tips in all three cases. Natural democracy anyone ? And just to illustrate the point, here are some pix of us enjoying that roadhouse ambience.

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I’ve written before (ranted is probably the better word) about the differing attitudes to flag and national anthems in UK and USA. I won’t repeat that diatribe – just look back a couple of blogs to the one about believing in magic and you’ll get the whole thing. I was reminded once again as we stood outside Busch Gardens this morning listening to the ‘Stars and Stripes’ and watching various Americans and park employees stand with hands on hearts quite unselfconsciously while we Brits smugly (and silently) congratulated ourselves on not being so simple. Hmmm. It seems to me that it is good to love your country without a) feeling the need to do other peoples and cultures down at the same time (nationalism) and b) buy into an outdated system of hereditary ‘rule’  (royalism) as part of that. And so, whilst being entirely cognisant of America’s very one-eyed view of world politics, I can’t help but applaud the honest pride which many of them seem to have in their country and its values, pure and simple. This has nothing to do with the President – whether they like or agree with him – but genuinely seems to be an allegiance to the perceived values on which the country and constitution were founded. We have nothing like that in the UK. If we aren’t beating the French or the Germans at war or football, or we haven’t got the Royal Family to obsess about, their lives, loves, offspring and general doings, we really struggle to identify any set of coherent constitutional or societal values which underpin and give us our national identity. And that is a pity.

Discuss.

Busch Gardens today. Before we go any further, I have been instructed to inform you that I wimped out of a ride which my ten year old grandson James did 3 times today. Instructed by him, of course. And he’s right. I described Sheikra the other day as a cross between Julie T. Wallace and, well something very scary. It is that and more. But, well………

The day started badly and well. Badly in the sense that we rocked up in the Busch Gardens car park to be met by the sight of Montu. This is a huge inverted coaster – ‘inverted’ meaning that, instead of sitting in a little car which runs along a track, you sit in a seat suspended below the track. This is actually a pretty good idea because it reduces the amount of bumping and rattling which the roller-coaster track imparts to the ride, and also because unless you are the very front of the ride the main view you have is of your fellow riders’ backs as the sway around in front of you. When the alternative view is either the ground or the sky or the park buildings rushing towards you, then this can be a reassuring thing, if ignorance is reassuring. Anyway, none of this registered with me as I looked out of the car window – all I had eyes for was the HEIGHT of the initial climb on the ride and the STEEPNESS of the first drop.

Well, we started with Gwazi –  billed as the fastest and steepest wooden roller-coaster in the States. WOODEN ? The last time I saw a wooden coaster was in the final reels of the classic Beast from 20,000 Fathoms where the Redosaurus is cornered in Coney Island amusement park, only to be shot with some radioactive isotope fired from the top of the coaster. The beast dies. The coaster ends in flames. Which is frankly the best place for Gwazi (or Khasi as I named it after the first ride). The only good thing about it is the seats are very comfortable. As indeed they need to be. At one point on the ride I thought me teeth were literally being vibrated out of their sockets, whilst my neck….. The ride was both very loud and very rattly and over none too soon. Avoid if you pass this way.

Cheetah Hunt however, is another matter. The newest ride on the park, it is fast and lively and, like its namesake, runs over quite a wide area of the park so lots of variety. Not particularly extreme, it nonetheless features 3 launches during its 3.5 minutes where the car gets an extra burst of speed (up to 4 Gs it claims) to chuck it up various slopes, twists, turns and one inversion. Great fun where Gwazi  was a trial and smooooooooooth where Gwazi was a bone-shaker. I did it 3 times during the day and enjoyed every one.

Montu was actually great fun – really enjoyable, lengthy and very smooth too considering its many inversions, corkscrews, drops and climbs – all of them dangling from the coaster track, which didn’t actually feel any less secure than the more conventional set-up. Kumba also was great fun –  a very extreme but conventional roller-coaster, rather similar to the Incredible Hulk of Universal but without the powered launch. I’ve done the Hulk a couple of times this trip and both times came away with a distinct headache and a sense that my brain had been rattled, which may  be a sign that either I or the ride is getting on. None of that with Kumba. Nearly blacked out, but no brain rattling. Just lots of speed and many, many inversions some of them very tight.

So….. Sheikra. I’d been looking forward to this with genuine trepidation. An initial climb up to 200 ft then a 180 degree drop are the main features of the ride, and to be frank it looked terrifying from across the park. Close up, even worse. I am not good with heights at best of times, and this ride actually suspends you for 3 seconds at the top before the first and biggest drop. So I felt I had to work myself up for this. The problem with working yourself up is that you can end up dwelling on and magnifying in your mind the wrong details (200ft 180 degree drop is the main wrong detail here) until the prospect becomes completely overwhelming.  As the day panned out, I didn’t get chance to consider doing the ride until around 2.00 pm, by which time….well, the fire had gone out as they say. I’d also done a good number of other rides and was getting to the ‘had enough’  stage. So I ended by deciding that this was one step too far, and that I would give it a miss! Daft, I know. Chance of a lifetime? I know that also. Wish I could go back and do it? Of course. But there we go. A lovely day, genuinely and one that shouldn’t be spoiled by might have beens. Great rides and a nice park too, with lots of well thought out animal and wildlife areas and knowledgeable staff too. Here are two of the wildlife exhibits.

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It’s possible we may go back again this trip, as we have a few days spare towards the end. If so, well. No thought. JFDI !!

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