A Stellar Journey

Submitted into Contest #141 in response to: Set your story in the lowest rated restaurant in town.... view prompt

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Funny Creative Nonfiction Happy

Eddie sat with his elbow on the bar, scrolling through social media, not bothered by the sun shining into his eyes. Breakfast was going to be served for another four hours before lunch-time. Apart from the workers from the nearby construction site who were coming every morning, he did not have many customers.

"I hope you liked the eggs, gentlemen," said the waitress.

“Thanks, Pattie. They were great.” said one of them.

"And as usual, coffee, for you, is on the house," she smiled.

Pattie was a nearly forty-year-old woman, tall and thin, with blond hair kept in a ponytail, green eyes, and a tattoo on her ankle with her daughter's birthday.

"Eddie," she shouted, "please turn on the coffee machine."

But he gave no sign that he had heard her.

“Eddie!” she shouted again like a drill-sergeant.

“What? What is it? He shook his head.

Pattie pointed to the espresso machine and went into the kitchen carrying dirty dishes. He pressed a button and the machine began its grinding song.

"What's wrong with you this morning?" Pattie asked through the small kitchen window.

“Eh, nothing. Bored of life, he said, scrolling away.”

“You were bored with life yesterday as well, but at least you looked alive. Today you are like The Thinker, but with a phone.”

He turned to Pattie with a squeak of his chair.

"My brother asked me to hire his daughter for a month or two."

“And?” Patti said as she put the dishes in the washing machine.

"I don't feel like ‘babysitting’ a teenager who, I bet, won't do anything all day but stay on her phone."

"And there isn’t enough room for another one like you here, isn’t it?"

Eddie grimaced childishly, then brought the coffee to the workers. Pattie took the mop and washed the floors, then dusted the tables that were unlikely to be occupied.

Later, around four o'clock, a girl entered the restaurant wearing a pair of ripped jeans, red Converse and a t-shirt with Greta Van Fleet. She had long, dark blue hair and blue eyes. She wore Rayban sunglasses and had a pair of wireless headphones on her ears.

The teenager stopped at the door, dropped her backpack, and examined the restaurant.

"What a ghost town?" she said.

From under the bar rose the indignant face of Eddie who was arranging the bottles of whiskey up until then. 

“Uncle Eddie!” the girl shouted with enthusiasm.

“Hi, Cait!” he said, and rose with cracks coming from his knees.

"Come and hug your favourite niece," she said, holding out her hands.

With a clear lack of enthusiasm, he walked around the bar and hugged her.

"What a sweet moment," Pattie said through the kitchen window. You must be our new 

colleague and the niece of this ‘ray of sunshine’. I'm Pattie.

"Caitlin, but you can call me Cait."

The girl went to the bar and made herself a coffee, while Eddie opened a beer from the fridge.

"Aren't you too young to drink coffee?" said Eddie.

"Isn't it too early to drink beer?" she replied.

A laugh came from the kitchen. He ignored his niece's impertinence.

“So, Cait, what brings you here? Don't you have a beach to go to, or a festival, or something? Isn’t your dad giving you allowance anymore?

"He does, but not enough," she said with her mouth half full of biscuits from the bar. “In September there will be a huge festival with a lot of awesome bands. It will be crazy! We're going in a group of about ten people. We want to stay at the campsite to be close to the action.”

“What bands are coming?” he asked.

"You wouldn't know them," she said and gestured with one hand. “They're not from your time.”

Eddie spitted out his beer. He wiped his slightly greying beard with his sleeve.

"I'm forty-four, Cait. I'm not a fossil.”

Pattie finished her work and joined the two.

"You'll work with her and help serve the customers," Eddie pointed to the waitress.

Cait looked around the place.

“Is it always so ‘crowded’ here?

"Not so many people have been coming for a while. I do not know why. Prices are the same, nothing has changed,” Eddie said.

"Maybe that's the problem," Pattie intervened. Everything has been unchanged for ten years: the same brown tables and chairs, the same old-fashioned and boring decor, the same music, the same menu.”

Eddie was taken by surprise. It looked like Pattie had been holding this in her for a while.

“But what's wrong with the decor?”

"It needs a revitalization," the waitress said. “You can start by taking down these horrible pictures of celebrities.”

"You can buy some prettier lights, put an LED strip under the bar, some new flower-potted shelves," Cait said. “Look here...”

Eddie analysed with scepticism at the modern restaurant designs his niece showed him on her phone.

"I don't know what to say," he said. “Maybe some new fancy restaurants opened and are stealing our clients.”

"Look at the reviews," Cait said.

She showed him a website on the phone, and Eddie read aloud.

“Eddie’s Restaurant: 2.3 stars: ‘The food is ok, the service is good.’ ‘It's an ok restaurant. Nothing wow. It smelled like chlorine when we were there’. ‘Music is a bit meh, coffee is pathetic.’ ‘If you want to have a heart attack, this is the place. They only have fried food’. ‘Poor menu! Nothing vegetarian. 1 star ‘ “.

He frowned, muttered a swear-word, and brought his phone closer to his eyes.

‘The bartender had the face of a man who didn’t want to be there. I didn't like him at all. Instead, the waitress had a nice vibe’. Kiss my ass, Robix31!” Eddie shouted, and almost threw the phone if Cait hadn't stopped him in horror.

Pattie laughed hysterically.

"Maybe we should change some stuff around here," Eddie said.

"I'll help you, Uncle," said Cait. “I'm good at social media. As long as I'm staying here, I'll be the restaurant’s PR manager.”

"And the waitress. Don't forget about that , Eddie pointed out.

“Sure, whatever.”

“ Okay, Miss PR Manager, it’s a deal. If you manage to increase the rating of the restaurant, you will not have problems with the finances at the festival.”

“Awesome! said the teen.”

“But, pretty please, with sugar on top, whatever you want to do, talk to me first, ok?”

“All right, boss.”

Deep inside, Eddie knew he had made the right decision. What he didn't know was that the road to four stars was paved with good intentions and radical decisions.

#

The next morning, the girls got up early and they were making plans for operation ‘To four stars and beyond’. Pattie served breakfast to the workers, and Cait made them coffee.

They were sitting at the bar brainstorming, when someone burst through the door, causing the bell to ring chaotically and startling the workers.

‘ Two star restaurant? Not anymore! Say goodbye to the deep fry smell, boring decor and elevator music. Join us in our four-star journey. Soon, a new vegetarian-friendly menu.’ ” Eddie shouted while reading the post from his restaurant’s social media page.

"And that's just the beginning," Cait said, rubbing her palms. “And stop shouting! You're bothering customers.”

"You made it look like it’s a dump," he said, almost whispering. What did I tell you about consulting me before doing anything?”

"I sent you four messages." Cait defended herself. 

"Doesn’t your generation know about a thing called phone call?" And why, mind you, was it so urgent to post? Couldn't you have waited for me to wake up?” Eddie said, and poured himself some coffee.

“Everyone checks their phone in the morning either from the bed, bus or toilet. It was the perfect moment. I don't want to waste time.”

Eddie muttered something and went outside to smoke a cigarette. He watched the cars zapping by his restaurant. He enjoyed the pleasant weather of the summer morning and looked at the building where his loyal customers worked as it grew day by day.

"Eddie, come see what we planned for the decor," Pattie said and waved him.

He put out the cigarette and went in. 

"I'm already scared," he said.

“Because it would be too expensive to buy other tables and chairs, we thought of painting them and varnishing them.” the waitress said. “We’ll paint the tables green, the chairs yellow-sunflower and we can decorate them with floral motifs. I have an artist friend who would be happy to give us a discount.”

"I appreciate you thinking about the budget," he said.

"Then, the real flowers," Cait said, taking him by arm to one of the walls. “We’ll put shelves on here, here, and here and paint them just like tables and chairs.”

The young woman, full of enthusiasm, indicates the place of the future flower shelves. Eddie folded his arms and nodded.

“Maybe we'll take some pots to hang from the ceiling ...”

"Let's stick with the ones on the walls for now," he intervened.

“Okay, only on the walls.”

"Now the bar," Pattie said. “We’ll put a red LED strip under it. We'll take the bottles from under it and put them on some shelves behind it. It will be easier for customers to decide what to drink and it will look prettier.”

"And the menu," Cait continued, disorienting her uncle, "will have to be radically changed. We’ll keep the current dishes, but you will also have to get specialised in salads, lasagna, cream soups, maybe some ratatouille.

“Rata-what? Eddie frowned.

"Don’t worry, it's not that hard. I'll teach you.”

The girls stopped to let him digest the information. He put his hands on his hips and evaluated the plans. He sat down on the high chair next to the espresso machine.

After a few minutes, he leaned with his elbows on the bar and looked at one of his ‘boring’ walls.

“I have to admit that everything you said sounds good and most importantly, cheap. It would definitely give this place some life.”

The two girls were beaming.

"All right, let's do it," he said. We’ll go to the DIY store in the afternoon and buy what we need.

Cait and Pattie fist-bumped and clinked their coffee cups.

"There's something else we want to do that involves you directly," the teen said.

Eddie raised an eyebrow and turned to her. Cait formed a rectangle with her thumb and index fingers from both hands and pointed it at her uncle’s head.

“We want to film you taking a tour of the restaurant and telling the people what we want to do. Then I'll try to edit the video, put in new shelves and flowers, and so on.”

“Absolutely not! I don't want to face the internet.” 

"Come on, Eddie," Pattie said. It will be more impactful than a text post. And who better to do it up than the boss-bartender-chef?”

He sighed and rubbed his eyes with his hands.

“OK, fine! But don’t use my ‘angelic’ face anymore, okay?”

The girls looked at each other without saying anything and pursed their lips.

“What else did you plan?” he said in a low voice.

Pattie took the bull by the horns and said.

“We wanted to take some pictures of you, and print a cutout and put it at the entrance”.

Eddie slowly shifted his icy gaze from one to the other. Without saying a thing, he got up and went to the bathroom.

"I think we’ll stick with just the video," Cait said, and Pattie approved.

#

Over the next few days, the restaurant was closed for renovations. Only the construction workers were allowed to come as usual and they even helped to drill the walls for the shelves.

Flower by flower, table by table, the place was coming to life. Eddie bought some decorating items like a neon sign, a broken guitar to put on the wall, and a flag of the local football team.

The waitress followed the workers and placed the flower pots as they installed the shelves.

Cait painted the tables and chairs while waving her head to the music in her headphones. She was dirty with paint on her cheeks and overalls that Pattie had given her. Her hair was tied in a bun and kept safe under a DC cap. She also made sure that their social media fans knew that things were going in the right direction.

"I saw this morning that the rating went up to 2.6 stars," Eddie said with excitement. “And that's before we've finished any redecoration. How come?”

"I saw it, too," Pattie said. People probably found Cait's post from yesterday funny and wanted to help out.”

"I hope they’ll come here as well." With stars and likes I can't pay your salary.

"They'll come, don't worry," Pattie assured him.

But the weeks passed and people did not come. In addition to social media posts, the three also printed leaflets, but without results. The rating increased to 3.1 stars due to the benevolent internet users, but it was not an organic increase.

One morning, the three of them were drinking coffee in front of the restaurant and assessing the situation.

“What if we aired an ad on the local radio station?” said Cait.

Eddie sighed and nodded.

"Then they wouldn't have anything to come to. A radio ad would bankrupt me.”

“ How about a sponsored post on social media? Pattie asked, puffing on her cigarette.

"We did that, too," he said. It didn't help.”

They looked at the building under construction, which was nearing completion. They were going to lose even their most loyal customers.

Eddie finished his cigarette and tossed it angrily on the restaurant wall.

"Piece of junk!," he said, and went in. 

He narrowly avoided the workers who were just coming out, and watched him with sympathy. 

"We left the money on the table, Pattie," said one of them.

“Thanks, guys! I see you're almost done with your work.”

“Tomorrow is the last day. Then we pack up and leave.”

"We'll miss you," said the waitress, and put out her cigarette and picked up the other one.

“We’ll miss you too. Thanks for all the coffee. I hope you reach your four-star goal.”

"I hope we’ll be here next month," Pattie said to her.

The men were about to leave when one of them, looking at their crane, said:

“Maybe we can help out”

#

The next morning Eddie arrived as usual at his restaurant, but it was closed.

“What the hell? Where's Pattie?” he wondered.

He took out the bundle of keys, unlocked the door and made himself a coffee. He sent Pattie a message asking her where she was and turned on the news on TV.

"... anticipates that inflation will exceed 7% by the end of the year." said the presenter.

“Great! Why stop at 7?” Eddie replied.

“Now for local news: A huge banner was placed on a crane in a construction site near Millwater Street, encouraging people to visit a local restaurant.”

Eddie dropped the cup on the bar, splashing himself in the process. It was the crane from the neighbouring construction site. He had never seen his ‘angelic face’ of such size and at such heights. It was a banner that read, ‘Come to Eddie's: A soon-to-be 4 star restaurant.’ and his smiling face was printed on cardboard and glued to it.

He ran outside to see it with his own eyes, and there it was without mistake. Above the fifteen-story building was his head. The phone started ringing.

“W-what the hell is this? Where did the banner come from? Where did, where did the money come from? How ... who?” Eddie stammered as he screamed into the phone.

There was laughter at the other end.

"So you saw it," Cait said.

“I think the astronauts on the ISS can see it. It was on the news.”

“Seriously? Awesome! Free advertising.”

“How did you do that?”

“Your loyal customers have decided to give you a farewell gift. Tomorrow they’re leaving and they wanted to help you. They said their boss wouldn't mind.”

Eddie was speechless. He looked at his gargantuan head smiling at him and he burst into laughter.

This little stunt proved to be a success. More and more people came to Eddie’s in the following weeks. The four star rating was imminent, and he didn't have time to scroll his phone all day anymore.

"Promise me you won't get drunk or do stupid things at the festival," Eddie said to Cait and handed her an envelope with $2,000.”

“Sure. Of course. Don't worry.“she said, stuffing the envelope into her backpack.

“Thanks, Cait. Without you two, I would have gone bankrupt,” he said, and embraced her. “Call me when you get home, okay?”

“Sure, Uncle. Goodbye, Pattie! It was awesome working with you! Bye, Eddie.”

Cait went out the door and, after a few steps, turned her head and shouted:

“Get ready for next year. We will become a Michelin-starred restaurant!”

April 15, 2022 13:41

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