It was a beautiful, gray Moscow morning with unexpected bits of blue sky peeking out behind the smoggy clouds. It was the day we had all trained for. The half-marathon awaited our first step. Sure, it was a rough start, our over-hydrated bodies needed a place to leave their waste and the public potties were locked, but we came through it. In true urban style, we squatted in the muddy corner as early metro riders walked quickly by, not batting an eye or wondering what was happening behind that tightly standing curtain of women in jogging outfits. We did what we had to do, and then we ran.
We ran for over two hours, chewed our energy gummies, and passed Christ the Savior, countless buildings of the 7 Sisters, and St. Basil’s herself. In a grand finale we stumbled over the cobblestones of Red Square to our glorious finish line: Beverly Hills Diner. A true American diner experience was ours to be had after our sweaty run. Pancakes, diner coffee, endless Christmas pop songs sung in our own native English. But, surprise, surprise, it wasn’t meant to be.
“They’re not letting us in,” my husband said. He was sitting in the 60’s style diner chair across the table from my visiting brother and sister-in-law.
There were numerous empty tables on the first and second floor. It just didn’t add up. The sweat on my dry lips tasted salty. All I wanted was clean sweats, icy water, and that endless pancake platter that was promised on that sparkly menu. We weren’t going to give up this easy.
“What’s the problem?” I asked, knowing the answer.
“There are too many of us. They say they don’t have the staff for this big of a group.” Our so called group was trickling in slowly: several other runners and their families, almost all of which had small children. They entered, tired from their metro transportation, heavy strollers, and lethargic children. The manager took a quick step forward and said something urgently. He would open the third floor for us, the kid’s floor, we had to go up there if we were going to bring children into this mess. We could only be on the third floor, he made it abundantly clear.
Children always win them over, I thought, now that we’re in, it’s only a matter of time. “They always say, ‘It’s impossible! Impossible!'” I explained to my brother, “But if you push back, they’ll let you in.”
We moved up to the third floor slowly, our sore muscles aching for a rest. The young couples carried their diaper bags and lifted their strollers and infants. We found our seats in booths next to the iron Batman and plastic ball pit–so far our only rewards for our long run.
Several more discussions were had with the manager. No, there was not anyone higher than him that we could talk to. No, even if we were willing to wait, he didn’t have the servers enough to take our orders. No, your group is too large to serve, just keep your kids on the third floor. “Wait it out,” he seemed to say. “Just wait long enough, and you’ll get your stinking pancakes!”
I walked up and down the stairs, once to change, once to greet more finishing runners, once to inspect the servers who were far too busy to take our orders. I couldn’t help but notice the slow business. There were only three other customer tables. One on the first floor and two on the second floor. They all were eating their already served food or making-out. I was getting seriously hungry now, and desperate. Where were these busy servers who could not take our orders? I climbed back up to our third floor exile.
“Okay,” started our fluent Russian speaking buddy, “I’ll take your orders and pass them onto the manager. I think he’s coming around.”
“I don’t understand why they wouldn’t want to serve us!” exclaimed my sister-in-law, “Don’t they want our money?”
The poor visitor tried to understand. Little did she know, while flipping through the menu, we had already seen it too many times before.
And then, there came the pessimist’s expected blow. “They’re out of pancakes, you guys!”
With that, we walked away from our restaurant Siberia, leaving the too-large group a bit smaller and with more hope that they might get served. We don’t exactly know what happened to our poor third-story friends. Some may have escaped to a second diner. Some say they ordered eggs that never came. All I know is, their children were left swimming in sweaty ball-pits, and no one got a pancake. Not one stinking pancake.