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Customer satisfaction

Prime rib. Baked potato. Fried calamari. Elk. Little Debbie’s swiss rolls. Biscuits and sausage gravy. My American food wish list. Short. Specific. And very much doable in San Francisco. Dinner at the House of Prime Rib knocked two of those off my list. Prime rib and baked potato. Established in the late 1940s, it’s an insitution. The waiters are happy, energetic and enthusiasic. They only serve prime rib – and getting a reservation requires some forward thinking.

Everything is done with great fanfare. Waiters wield the fixings like cocktail waiters play with bottles. Lots of waving of arms, a running commentary, and a genuine appreciation for what they are doing. It’s a joy to watch them work and a very vivid example of how you can work a table for tips. These boys make some money. I know that American customer service is the prototype that many attempt (and fail) to copy. Think Budapest. Think Dublin. I can’t think of anywhere I’ve been in Europe where customer service even comes close.

The cuts come in four sizes ranging from 6-8 oz to the King George – a hefty 15 oz. All cooked to perfection and cut to order. Served with a choice of creamed spinach or creamed corn and a house salad, tossed with great aplomb at your table. Culinary heaven.

Next on my list was the fried calamari – from Fisherman’s wharf. The place is jammed full of stalls and stands and restaurants selling fresh crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, seafood medlies – fresh and fried. I had a double dose – a crab and shrimp cup with some prawns – and then my battered, crispy, calamari. Walking down by the famous Pier 39, I was in fish heaven.

Later that night, we cooked duck and elk back at the flat. Score 3! I have my order in for my swiss rolls and am heading back shortly for some of Helen’s famous biscuits and sausage gravy. List complete. Cravings satiated. Waistband expanded. One very satisfied customer.

Noticing the unnoticed

It was shortly after midnight. I was standing on a street corner near Fisherman’s Wharf waiting for a cab. Up the road, one stood waiting outside Fiddler’s Green, its light on to show it was vacant. I assumed it was waiting for someone to finish their beer so I didn’t walk towards it. Instead I waited. Patiently. I was in no hurry back to my hotel.

It crawled towards me and stopped. I got in. The driver turned and said that he liked what I was wearing. It was very colourful, and if he might be so bold, he also liked the frame on which it was hanging. I laughed.

Robert Graham is a self-professed connoisseur – by which he means that he notices things that other people don’t see; he enjoys what he terms ‘the privilege of noticing the unnoticed’. Of German and Irish ancestry, he has racked up more then sixty years on his meter and has been driving a cab in San Fran for the last twenty-five. Before that he wrote garbage for the Associated Press – his words, not mine.

As we started to climb the hills to Fillmore and Fell, he talked. He spoke of life and how disposable it is. He spoke of how we no longer see each other; we no longer take the time to really look. He told me that he meets lots of interesting people and that his friends are always amazed because they never seem to meet anyone of note. He said it wasn’t rocket science – you just had to look, to notice.

As he’d noticed me.

He told me that the Irish were known for their introspection, and for conversing with their muses. He is writing a book that his agent reckons will make him rich in his old age. But he doesn’t need the money. He has enough. What’s more important is that he leaves a legacy; something to show what his life has stood for. He is convinced that he was put on Earth to write his books and to share with the world the things he’s noticed – the things they would never notice unless he pointed them out. He wasn’t boasting or self-aggrandising. He spoke with a quiet conviction that left no room for incredulity. I believed every word he said.

He told me that I was almost at my destination and that he regretted that the trip had been so short. He would like to talk more to me, to get to know me, to whisper in my ear. He told me he saw the beauty in me and that quiet certainty that said I knew myself.

The meter read $14.50. I gave him a $20 and told him to keep the change – it might finance a few words, perhaps even a whole sentence. He said he wanted to give me something and that all he could do was to give me a discount. He asked if I’d accept $10 change. I thought about insisting that he take it all and then realised how selfish I was being. This was his cab, his story, his show.

I said I’d keep an eye out for his book. He said that if ever I was walking down the main street in my home town and heard a fat man calling to me, it would be him.

I laughed and said goodbye, knowing he’d already left a legacy – he’d shared with me the privilege of noticing the unnoticed.