Pooh hadn't been expecting us so early. But there we were — three hot, hungry, tired and sun-baked black women and a 1-month-old infant — collapsed in a rear booth at the Queensgate Frisch's.
We'd just come from perusing the 12th Annual Black Family Reunion at Sawyer Point. Discouraged by the snaking food lines and sudden influx of the ultimate 80,000 total attendees, we dipped out early to find a place we could sit and get our grub on.
So here came Pooh to take our orders. Scantily occupied when we came in, the restaurant, too, began to fill up.
"They said it was gonna pick up, but not 'til after 6 o'clock," Pooh said, already dirty and exasperated only five minutes into her shift. "Yeah. They got the Reds and Bengals playin', Kidsfest and the BlackFest all downtown."
My two friends and I raised our eyebrows in a collective and simultaneous furrow.
We waited for Pooh to get herself together. We pretended we didn't hear her faux pas. But you know how that goes — whenever someone says something so blatantly incorrect, chances are they'll repeat it with certainty.
So we made some small talk. Something like, "Yeah, there's a lot going on today." And sure enough, Pooh ran down the list of events, again landing lastly on BlackFest.
Speaking for everyone, as I usually do, I said, "When you say BlackFest, do you mean the Black Family Reunion? It's Black Family Reunion."
My friends chimed in. "It's the Black Family Reunion. Where'd you get BlackFest from?" It wasn't an attack, just a correction.
Pooh threw up one chubby white hand, ordering pad in the other. "That's what they told me in the back. That's what they told me in the back. That's what they told me in the back." She ran her words together like she was declaring her innocence. It was more a declaration of her ignorance.
It was no big deal, really. Just telling. Here we'd just come from the city's largest black-centered event, second only to the Coors Light Stadium Festival, and Pooh just messed over the name.
I think it was culture shock for all of us. Unlike the stadium festival, which encourages and focuses on excess and breeds division (see my previous column, "Of Hair Weaves, Short Sets and White Flight," issue of July 27-Aug. 2), the Black Family Reunion promotes unity, prosperity and strength through family and community ties. Also unlike the stadium festival, the Black Family Reunion extends beyond corporate, social and class borders, reaching for inclusion.
White families strolled side-by-side with black families, and white businesses tended booths between African vendors and those selling fish and chicken wings. Cool.
Back at Frisch's, my friends and I poked fun at Pooh's nervousness at having morphed the name of such an important event into a glib bastardization of what she (or somebody "in the back") perhaps thought it should have been called: BlackFest.
For that, we waited until Pooh left and amongst ourselves made falsely angry demands to speak to the manager for being seated in the back near the bathrooms. Laughing, we refused to pay for our meals because we were hyped up after having just come from BlackFest.
See, that's what black folks do. When white folks demean, ignore or smear what's important to us, we deflate our potential anger by laughing at them and ourselves as seen by them. Ha, ha, ha.
The only thing in this scenario more surreal than leaving all that black beauty and unity to light upon a Naugahyde booth at Frisch's was watching Pooh change her demeanor and language as she dealt with white patrons in her section.
When she waited on us, she lazily and intrusively leaned her body on the table, spoke in some slurred, quasi-slang and was way too casual. I watched her take orders from the table of middle-aged white customers in the booth behind us and she was like a page from the training manual. Where I live they call that switching.
I know what you're thinking. Who cares about how some white girl in Queensgate takes an order? It is Frisch's, after all.
The point isn't how Pooh took our orders. It's the big picture. It's about how Pooh talked "black" to my two friends and I but was clueless — and defensive — as to where we'd been.
But, then again, I guess I should cut Pooh some slack. After all, she wasn't expecting us.