Growing up, my dad created a lot of awkward and embarrassing moments for our entire immediate family. At home, on the road, in the car, in private, in public, on the sidelines of some obscure Midwestern soccer field. Didn't matter. It was bound to happen anywhere, anytime, usually without any given notice - just a really drawn-out exhale and a slow shaking of his head before things got pretty bad.
One of his favorite places to eat used to be (used to be) Red Hot & Blue. For those of you not familiar with the chain, it's a safe bet for grabbing some barbecue. A conservative estimate would be that 98 percent of Red Hot & Blue's patrons come to taste their "award-winning" St. Louis style ribs.
Such was the case during our second, and final, visit to Red Hot & Blue.
When dad wanted something, he would go to great lengths to make sure he got it. Time, money, weather, physical distance, laws - things of that nature that might deter any normal, rational person from wanting something - were of no object to him. He was going to get it. End of story.
On this particular day, that item just so happened to be Red Hot & Blue's St. Louis style ribs.
I couldn't have been older than 10 or 11, but I can still recall this entire dining experience from start to finish. Dad was actually in a pretty good mood entering the restaurant, probably because he had already downed a couple of Coors Lights at home.
We were seated at a table and you could just tell right away that his expectations were pretty high - even impracticably, unattainably high - for this one specific meal. He had been clamoring about the damn ribs for two days and we were finally there, about to order.
First our drinks. You knew dad meant business when he ordered two Coors Lights right off the bat, "in frosted mugs, please." This was really going to be a dining experience for the books. Halfway into his second beer, our waitress was ready to take our order.
Dad didn't even open the menu. He knew. He had lived out this very moment five times over in the past 48 hours, and he surely didn't need to consider what else he might dine on that night.
"I will have the house special," he said. "Actually, make it two orders of the sweet St. Louis style ribs for me. I'd also like some extra Sufferin' Sweet BBQ sauce on them, too. I love that stuff. How do you guys do it?! And another Coors Light, please."
We all could sense something was off because the waitress was writing none of this down. But dad didn't seem to notice yet. She was just standing there, holding her pen and paper, looking mighty nervous. She was probably 18.
(With a trepid, flinching face) "Um, wow, I hate to tell you this, sir... But we're actually all out of ribs. I'm sorry."
Oh good lord the disappointment. You could feel it instantly. I felt extremely uncomfortable and felt so very bad for this unfortunate waitress. She had no idea what she had just said.
There was only silence for what felt like an eternity. It just hung there. My dad was absolutely raging inside, and he was doing his best to contain it within himself. But he just couldn't. This was too much of a disappointment for him to stay quiet. By this point his jaw was clenched tight and he was shaking his head slowly, staring down into his lap. Then the long exhale. We braced ourselves.
"What. Do. You. Mean. You're. (fingers for quote marks) 'Out.' 'Of.' 'Ribs.'? Huh?!"
She didn't have an answer for him. That's all there was to say. Somehow Red Hot & Blue had run out of what they do best. Blame it on a mishap in inventory or awful managerial skills, but this young waitress was just the messenger. You could tell she was hating her very existence at that moment, hating the restaurant's lack of ribs, wishing and willing to give her own ribs to dad with a side of Sufferin' Sweet BBQ sauce just to calm him down.
"You have got to be KIDDING me! You are OUT of RIBS?! RIBS are what you DO! No, it's ALL you DO!"
Now we were making a scene. We tried our best to act like we didn't know the man. Dad was getting loud and riled up, his face beet red and he was scooting out of the booth to present his argument standing up, complete with hand gestures.
"No! Nononono! This is like going to a football game and having them say, 'We're sorry! We're out of football players at the moment, so we're gonna play BASEBALL for you instead!' Yeah! THAT'S what THIS is like!"
The manager had by now been alerted to the situation and approached our table, apologizing to dad and encouraging him to order something else.
"No! I am not ORDERING anything ELSE! Honey, grab the kids. We're leaving!"
And just like that we left and have not been back to Red Hot & Blue since. Dad still holds a noticeable grudge against the place, often giving the building itself the middle finger while driving by.