Monday, December 7, 2015

Is Your Restaurant Breeding Bolsheviks?

When we visited Boston earlier this fall for a little family gathering, we stayed, for sentimental as well as practical reasons, at the classic Parker House (now, technically, Omni Parker House).

As I had my breakfast and glanced across the room at a couple of the friendly and accomplished restaurant staff, I could not help but wonder what brought them here and where they might end up in 20 or 30 years.

Home of . . .?

The Parker House, founded in 1855 and now celebrating its 160th anniversary, is famous for many things, from the foods that it introduced to the American table (Parker House rolls, Boston Creme Pie, Boston sc[h]rod) to its distinguished clientele: from the "Saturday Club" of Emerson, Longfellow, Holmes, Agassiz, Dana, et al., to occasional visitors such as Charles Dickens.

However, I could not help but think of the famous figures who worked there long before they attained world renown: namely, two of the most influential radicals of the twentieth century. Future Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh worked there as a baker from 1911 to 1913, and in the early 1940s, Roxbury resident Malcolm Little worked there as a busboy. It was only after going to prison in 1946 that he converted to Islam and became Malcolm X.

A kind of long but indeterminate period of time which will live in infamy?

Because it's December 7 today: Admittedly, the Omni Parker House website screws things up, saying, "Malcolm X was a busboy in the early 1940's during the Pearl Harbor invasion." Sorry: there was a Pearl Harbor attack on one Sunday morning, but the Japanese invasion--as I thought everyone knew--failed to materialize. There is after all a reason that we still use FDR's phrase, "a date which will live in infamy." Not a week or a couple of months or several years. A date.

"So Ho Chi Minh conceivably could've baked a Boston Cream Pie?"

Just before Thanksgiving, even CBS News alluded to the political connection:
"Malcolm X was a busboy," he said. "Ho Chi Minh worked in the bake shop."

"So Ho Chi Minh conceivably could've baked a Boston Cream Pie?"

"Yes, he could." And Malcolm X presumably could've cleaned up after somebody that had just eaten one.
Who's biding his or her time in the restaurant that you patronize, while dreaming of greater things? Treat them respectfully and tip generously. It's the right thing to do. And besides: who knows?

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