We had recently received a gift certificate for one our favorite local diners, “Sharyn’s Place.” We call it Betty’s Diner because that’s what it used to be called but Sharyn owns it now and someone owned it between Betty and Sharyn but that’s not really relevant to the story. What is relevant is that “Sharyn’s Place” was closed on a Saturday night at supper time. This is slightly alarming, since I’m sure that people would like to eat out on a Saturday night. I decided to continue the trek down River Road to the next eatery, a local installment of the chain Applebee’s.

I will say that experiences at this Applebee’s has been uneven at best over the years. A few months ago we went in and they were on a new kick where the server had to shake the hand of each person seated at the table and get to the first name of each member of the party. They then used your name in ways that turned out to be uncomfortable for everyone involved for the rest of your visit. What was meant to be friendly was ultimately creepy, so I was happy to see that when we arrived they couldn’t care less about our names.

The hostess looked stoned. She acted it too. She informed us that there would be a five minute wait. She asked my name, I always give them “J.P.” instead of my last name because despite the fact that my last name has only four letters, people like to add extra vowels to it and make it sound like “Wayne”. Cute people like to see “howdy, partner” when they think my last name is “Wayne”, but the cute fades fast when I glare and/or kick them in the nuts. When I informed the waitress with the eyes narrowed down to slits that my name is “J.P.”, she asked how to spell my name. I fleetingly thought of spelling it out “Jaye P.” just to be uber gay, but I decided against it and said that it was spelled like sounded, two letters. I don’t know why she was asking because she didn’t write anything down.

Fifteen seconds later she asked, in an uncomfortably loud voice, if we were the Patterson party. I indicated that we weren’t and in fact the other five parties that were waiting five minutes or less also stated that they weren’t the Patterson party either. We don’t know who the Pattersons were, but I’m sure someone in the room thought a fond thought about them.

The hostess then decided to write down the names of everyone due to the absence of the elusive Pattersons; but she didn’t remember the order of each party’s arrival. She then just randomly bellowed out “J.P.” I made a hasty appearance at her elbow, where she was mumbling and struggling with the assembly of the menus. She then motioned towards the dining room. We followed her and sat down.

The waiter came over and offered us a Bud Light or a “tasty cocktail”. I wonder what people in recovery think of these offers. We both ordered unsweetened iced tea.

Rule of this Applebee’s: “Conserve your beverage.”

When Mr. Waiter came back, he asked if we were ready to order, where we asked for the twisty potato chip appetizer, a salad for each of us and the same exact food for both, the sizzling steak thing, medium rare and the accompanying mashed potatoes are fine.

Mr. Waiter asked in what order would we like our food brought out or did we want it all at once.

Rule of this Applebee’s: “Some assembly required.”

We asked for salad, appetizer, entree, in that order, figuring the salads would be the easiest to get together and bring to the table. As Mr. Waiter made his way around the hostess that was now flailing her arms like some sort of turkey trying to fly as she sat another party near us, we settled in with our drinks and awaited some grub. As we conversed, we overheard murmurs from parties around us. The murmurs were not indicative of a pleasant nature. Two bears and a Mom (maybe that’ll be a new show for the 2012 television season), indicated that they didn’t think the hostess could find her way out of a circle. Earl and I chatted a little bit when a woman came flying out of the kitchen with our salads and our appetizers all in one load.

She threw them down on the table and departed. The twisty potato chip things were really, really brown. Actually, they kind of had that charcoal look to them. They smelled burnt. We tasted them and confirmed that they were burnt.

Mr. Waiter made his way to the table to check on us and I spoke up, something that I usually don’t do at a restaurant, and I politely said, “I’m concerned about these potato chips as they seem to be overly done.”

“Okay”, was his only response.

“You might want to let the kitchen know that they’re burnt so that other people don’t have to eat them like that.”

“Would you like more? It’ll only take a minute.”

Rule #3 of this Applebee’s: “Time is fluid and shall not carry definition.”

Mr. Waiter made a hasty departure as we nibbled on our salads (which, to be fair, were just lovely). Two bears and a mom left. One bear gave me the “good luck” nod. Not a good sign.

Mr. Waiter then came back and asked Earl if he would like more iced tea.

Rule #4 of this Applebee’s: “Thinking you’re getting a refill on a non-alcoholic and therefore non-chargeable drink, is not only whimsy but it is also folly.”

I could see Mr. Waiter walking around from table to table and heading into the kitchen in a concerned manner once in a while but he never came back to the table. A surly woman that could only have a name like Ruth or something walked by with more burnt potato chip things, but she was a decoy that headed to another table, because two seconds later, an ornery man came with our sizzling entrees.

“Careful, these dishes are very hot.”

Rule #5 of this Applebee’s: “There is no such thing as hot.”

Sometimes Applebee’s wants you to check how well the meat was cooked, but this was not one of those cases, because the departed couldn’t careless. Had he asked, the answer would have been “well done but not as bad as the chips.” I wasn’t shocked, since we had both ordered medium rare.

Earl cut into the mashed potatoes on his very hot skillet and they made a clinking noise because the center was still frozen. Luckily, mine had a suggestion of heat to them so I could eat them.

Rule #6 of this Applebee’s: The iced tea will never arrive. Ever.

Mr. Waiter came by to check on us and said the potato chips would be right up. We told him to skip them. The original version still sat in the middle of the table. We suggested he should take them. On his way out with them, he told the skillet delivery person that we just didn’t want them.

We made our way through this entree experience that I had instantly dubbed “Fire and Ice” (I thought that was quite witty). Mr. Waiter came by and Earl brought him up to speed as to where we were with the dining experience. Earl was even nice about it.

Rule #7 of this Applebee’s: “Conversations regarding the status of your meal are meaningless.”

Mr. Waiter came by with the bill and offered to take the payment up when we were ready. The only problem was, the burnt potato chips were on the bill. When he came back to take payment, Earl told him we weren’t paying until the chips were removed from the bill. He seemed shocked that we would ask such a thing, but he went off to the kitchen where they probably then spit into some random entree and came back with a little lighter bill.

We paid, left a suggestion of a tip and made our way out. The stoned hostess waved to us as we left, but she was looking out the window when she did so, a complete 90 degree turn from where we were. There was no one by the window.

Rule of this Applebee’s: If you really want to eat in the neighborhood, drive to another neighborhood.