OK, so I get a kick out of the Soma Restaurant & Bar because when you look in the window, everyone looks like they are on "soma" from Huxley's Brave New World. The place is dull, the patrons are dull, the corner it sits on (Fifth and Mission) is dull. The seating is dull, the lighting is dull, the staff is dull. Dull dull dull. I was, of course, drawn to it immediately.
It used to be Joe's, and had a sandwich board that said "Rain or Shine There's Always A Line." That was a lie.
So when things started to change inside, and it looked like new owners were taking over, I was excited to see what was going to happen. Anything was possible! Lots of foot traffic along that corridor would surely mean a great new restaurant or a snazzy new bar. Huzzah!
Nope. Turns out it's still the same old place attached to the Pickwick Hotel, only now it's "Mediterranean" with Middle Eastern touches on the menu.
I strolled in for happy hour, which I have yet to see be bustling. "Rain or Shine, There's Always A Seat." $3 drink specials just don't attract folks like they used to, I guess.
So, just how dull is dull? Well it's one big room with a long bar on the left. Generic "restaurant quality" tables and chairs fill up the middle, like the kind you would see at a buffet place that elderly people frequent. Zero character. But when most of your customers are conceivably out-of-towners who are staying in the hotel, who do you really need to impress?
I like these boring places though because it's easier to create a story around the people who surround me. When I wrote narrative journalism full time it was always much easier to find the interesting things in something simple than to describe fantastic things all on their own.
I had an experiment I wanted to try. I'm into the Alexander McCall Smith books about the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, and in In The Company of Cheerful Ladies, a character goes into detail about how he tracks wild animals in the bush: There were the animal prints, there was the wind, there was the sun, and "there was the bending of the grass, which could spring back, but slowly and in time that could be read as a person might read the hands of a clock."
We can train ourselves to notice things, is the short version (not that Sherlock Holmes hadn't figured that out 150 years ago).
Since I wasn't going to be able to closely examine anyone's droppings, I would have to go on other things to try and deconstruct what led them to this god-forsaken, blighted serving station for the mediocre.
Behind me was a couple. He was in an ill-fitting suit. She was in slacks, heeled boots, and a belted sweater. Neither really spoke and they looked like they were trying to squeeze in as much relaxation as they could into 15 minutes. So, yeah, I don't need a Kalahari bushman to tell me that they probably worked at the hotel in some sort of management capacity and were on break.
Moving on. OK, now, at the bar with me, way down at the other end, there was a guy who kept paying for his drinks by digging deep into his jeans pocket and pulling out wadded-up bills — money that looked like it had been balled up wet and then dried. Next to him was a seat pulled out a bit and an empty glass and some half-eaten appetizer plates. The dishes had been there the whole time, so I originally assumed whoever it was had gone to the bathroom or something, but, like African savannah grasses that wilt in the heat, the display sat there and grew sadder with each passing minute. No, someone wasn't coming back. The man's face was drawn, red, and defiantly pitiful, like a drinker. Oh dear. Oh my yes, she was gone. She left. They were on vacation, maybe, and he wanted to stay and keep drinking but she wanted them to go back up to bed. He got frustrated because she always does this, so she became sad and withdrawn and pushed out her chair and just split. If he were to allow the bartender to remove the plates then he would be admitting this. Or — and I'm open to this version — the bartender just never took away the dirty plates because the Soma Restaurant & Bar is dull and has dull service.
Just then, a guy walked in and sat in the seat, pushing the plates out of his way and shaking the empty glass to see if there was any booze left in it. He casually said something to the other guy, then raised his finger to order a drink. Ah, so, I was wrong. This was two dudes, not an unhappily married couple. I suck at tracking wild game in the bush. The couple also got up to leave, and he placed his hand on her lower back right above her butt. Wrong on both counts, I guess.
It was fun though to create entire scenarios for my fellow dullards. And tracking just takes more practice. "One [has] to get down to that level, to see the world from the point of view of the grains of sand and the blades of grass." Duly noted.