It was Friday night. We headed west to a city outside of Chicago, called Skokie. The restaurant we were going to was on Dempster Street.
We arrived at a good hour. There were many empty tables. After 15 minutes, it seemed odd we were still waiting to be seated. Henry asked a waiter what was taking so long.
The waiter told him the tables were reserved.
That didn’t sit well with Henry. He knew reservations were not required there, and it wasn’t a peak hour for dining.
It was clear what was going on. They weren’t seating us because we were black. They were hoping we would leave because of the delay.
I was in favor of leaving. I remember stories about waiters spitting on the food of patrons they didn’t like.
Henry had other thoughts. He had a low tolerance for this sort of thing.
He grabbed four menus and we walked towards a table. We seated ourselves near the middle of the room.
After a few minutes, a young waiter awkwardly stepped up to the table. He left silverware in a pile at the end. He said he would be back in a few minutes.
Fearing further delay, we announced we were ready to order. He took our order without meeting an eye.
It seemed to me the noise level in the entire room dropped. We lowered our speech to a whisper.
Henry encouraged us not to rush through our meals.
Service was slow to no one’s surprise. As far as was possible, I checked my food for spit. I had an uneasy feeling the entire time.
I wanted to leave. Three of us were in agreement with that. It was Henry who kept us there.
Our appetites suffered. We hardly touched our plates. Mercifully, Henry asked for the check. It was his treat. I asked if I could leave the tip. Henry waived me off with a smile.
We gathered our coats.
Henry paid the check. For a tip, I watched him lay a quarter, a dime, a nickel and a penny in a row on the table.
We exited quickly. I didn’t know what to expect.
We were all seated in the car when the restaurant’s door swung open wide. The waiter ran cursing and screaming at us.
He threw the coins up against the car.
I guess Henry made his point. He seemed satisfied. No one was more relieved than me when he drove off.
That was it. That was the evening.
We never went back to Dempster Street.