Why do we do it? Why do we venture out on a weekend to some colossal chain restaurant in the pursuit of a good meal and a good time when we know we won't have either?
I mean, really, Snellville on a weekend? Nickel beer night is less crowded.
Mall of Georgia area eatery at 7 on a Saturday night? The floor of the New York Stock Exchange is a quaint, cozy setting compared to trying to get a table in Buford after the sun goes down.
The restaurants can't be blamed for how many people live here, but they sure don't help matters any.
Witness the scene Saturday night.
The plan: Seven people from two different families meeting for a relaxed dinner.
The place: An unnamed Snellville eatery that flies a Texas flag in front of it.
The time: 6:45 p.m., the time they told us to arrive when we Called Ahead, which used to mean that's when your table will be ready.
We meet in the parking lot. People are standing outside waiting. I get a smug grin on my face - we're not waiting with the rest of the riffraff because we have Called Ahead. I will be drinking a beer and dipping fried things into various dips, sauces and cheeses within moments. I'll be eating my steak while these people grow long, gray beards. We have Called Ahead.
In reality, we have Been Deceived. More on that in a minute.
We go inside. Sardine cans have more room than the waiting area, but who cares? We have Called Ahead.
Girlfriend to Girl Behind Counter: "McCullough, party of seven. We Called Ahead."
Girl Behind Counter: "OK, the wait right now is about 45 minutes to an hour, so if you'll just ..."
Girlfriend: "But we Called Ahead. We're supposed to be here between 6:30 and 6:45."
Girl Behind Counter: "Well, the walk-ins are waiting an hour and a half right now."
Me: "And that's supposed to make me feel better?"
I've been around enough to know that no matter how much I might have explained it, Girl Behind Counter would never - never - understand that we had Called Ahead and that meant we had made a Reservation and that I didn't care how long the walk-ins were waiting. So I walk out.
On to restaurant No. 2, another unnamed Snellville eatery in the same parking lot, but this one has a green sign and an Irish ring to it.
This time the wait is "20 to 25 minutes." I'm wondering if I can talk our bunch into a burger at a fast-food joint, but I agree to wait.
Knowing my wait will be more pleasurable with an adult beverage and an NFL playoff game, I mosey over to the bar. Colts and Chiefs. Jack Daniels and Coke. I think I am ready to wait "20 to 25 minutes."
I am not.
Here we go ...
Me: "My drink tastes flat."
Girlfriend: "They don't have Coke here. They have Pepsi."
Me: "Shouldn't the bartender be required to tell me that when I order a Jack and Coke?"
Later on ...
Bartender: "You want another drink?"
Me: "Yeah, but something different. And I need to get a Pepsi for my girlfriend's daughter."
I make the mistake of taking my eyes off the bartender before ordering something different. I turn back around to another Jack and Pepsi. I don't have it in me to argue with her. I hope Jack understands.
A few minutes later ...
There are seven of us standing or sitting near the bar waiting. There are two tables with room enough for 10 about five feet from us. Can we just have those tables? Nope. Reserved for Groups of Four.
Thirty minutes later, and apparently, no Groups of Four have joined us at this fine establishment because the two tables are still empty. Two from our group get tired of standing and just sit down at them anyway.
It's now nearly 8 o'clock. "Twenty to 25 minutes" have come and gone like a thief in the night. I have switched to beer in the hope that the bartender will not put Pepsi in it. Still no Groups of Four. Girlfriend goes to find a manager. I don't know what she said, but shortly thereafter, the Only-for-Groups-of-Four tables were pushed together for a group of seven who all finally got to sit down together nearly two hours after they had Called Ahead to the first joint.
The rest of the story is just as bad. It was stifling hot, ridiculously loud, the tea was not sweet, our appetizers came after our salads, which we got to enjoy for perhaps one minute before our entrees arrived, when I asked for extra napkins the waitress turned around and - I kid you not - handed me the little napkins off the bar, and to top it all off they charged our friends for their meal and the one being eaten by the total strangers at the next table.
In the parking lot afterward, one of our friends summed it up best:
"Next time, we'll go the grocery store and cook it ourselves and have more fun."
Amen, sister. Amen.
E-mail Nate McCullough at email@example.com. His column appears on Fridays.
Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.