REMEMBERING MONTREAL AND BURT BACHARACH
by Lu Sobredo
It was a warm summer night in 1988. It was my first trip to Montreal, Canada. I did not know what to expect. I would soon discover when I picked up the hotel phone. Those were the days before cell phones. For the first time in my entire adult life, I traveled outside the U.S. by myself.
I had traveled with my family in my youth. And after college and a job that pays, I traveled with my college best friend Donna to Hawaii and all over Europe, except Spain. Spain came later as my destination of choice after I married the love of my life in the early 1990s.
But back to my first night in Montreal. I picked up the hotel phone to call home to reassure my Papa and Grandpa (I lost Mom to the big C only six years before) that I arrived safely in a luxurious Marriott Hotel in Montreal. The shocking part was discovering that the phone operator greeted you in French. I was rattled at first, found myself responding in Spanish. How ironic, I thought. I never took a Spanish Language course in school. But actually I took French in high school and college, and could even manage a simple conversation if need be. I even helped a few Americans in our tour group who didn’t read or speak French navigate our days in Paris in 1985. But the limited French skill was of no use to me in Montreal for some reason. While touring, shopping and dining, I pretty much stayed monolingual.
I chose a nice sit-down restaurant near the lobby of the hotel during my time there—white tablecloths, candlelights and flowers on the tables. The guests were dressed in business attire or dressy outfits. Wearing business casual suits was something I was used to doing for work. I took a couple of them on this summer vacation. On that first night, I asked for a table for one. I remembered the maître d’ welcoming me warmly. He seated me at a table where I had a nice view of the whole restaurant, including the view of the front where I could see him. I found out later that feeling protective for some reason, he wanted to keep an eye on me since I was eating by myself. The ponytail I wore cleverly on one side of the head must have made me look younger than I was. My waiter kept checking on me. The waiters, the bus boy, the maître d’ came by singly and at times together during the evening just to chat with me. It was an interesting experience to have all that attention. I was undaunted.
It helped that I had traveled before, but never on my own. I have been given special treatment at restaurants before while on business trips with other colleagues. But I would seem to be the only one getting a free dessert on those trips. The waiter would say, “Compliments of the chef.” I must have smiled a lot or raved about the excellent dishes more often, or more sincerely perhaps than my colleagues did. I wondered if the chefs were told each and every time.
I consumed most of my meals for three nights and three days at the same restaurant at the Marriott, except for the third morning, I treated myself to a high-end buffet breakfast on the top floor that overlooked water views. I got used to eating by myself and receiving extraordinary attention from wait staff.
Something memorable happened by my second time for dinner at the restaurant downstairs; the same staff were there—the maître d’ and wait staff addressed me with familiarity. I asked them to address me by my nickname. I was once again treated with much attention. The chef sent over a free dessert and as I was admiring it, I noticed that the maître d’ was refusing to offer a table to a gentleman who had just walked in. He was wearing jeans, a long sleeve casual top or hip length light colored rain jacket. His wavy hair appeared disheveled. Or maybe that was the look he was going for. I looked again. I could tell the customer was making his case to get a table, when I realized the man looked familiar. Since by then the maître d’ had already taken a liking to me; he was at least in his fifties or so, so he could have been my uncle’s age, I approached him and the customer.
I turned to the customer and said, “You look so much like Burt Bacharach.” His response, “That’s because I am.”
I said, “Of course you are. What a pleasure to meet you. Is there a problem?” I was now looking at both men. Mr. Bacharach said, “I can’t get a table. My plane just landed, so I am tired and hungry, and I would really like something to eat.”
I said to Robert, “Mr. Bacharach is one of our musical artists, a star in the U.S. Please show him to a table.”
“I cannot seat the gentleman without a jacket.”
I said, “Do it for me.” He regretted telling me that he couldn’t break the rule. Then, I asked, “How can you help make it happen. I’d hate to see Mr. Bacharach go hungry.”
Robert then said, “I’ll see if the jacket in the back fits him.” Robert walked away to retrieve a navy jacket from the backroom.
By now, Mr. Bacharach was impressed with what I had done. He said, “This is amazing, I thank you so much. After dinner, if there's a grand piano in the lobby, I will play for you.”
Alas, there was no piano in the lobby. Robert told me so. Now if this scenario had happened today in my more mature state, I would invite Mr. Burt Bacharach to join me at my table for dinner, while I finished that free dessert. And I would insist that he sing acapella for me. But just having received the offer, a sincere smile and a handshake made my evening.
Remembering the night I encountered and came to the aid of Burt Bacharach is something special. No one could take away the wonderful feeling of having visited Montreal.
Essay ©Lu Sobredo
Photo ©James SobredoALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2020
About the Author
Lu Sobredo is writer/publisher at Lu Travels Abroad, a blog dedicated to folks whose limitations do not hamper them from traveling. A year into early retirement her world collapsed from the diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Her total life changed, but she did not let RA define her. With love from family, friends and an awesome doctor, she regained some functionality--her new normal. She will have RA all her life. And she now writes about life and travel with RA. During the pandemic of 2020, she stays put and writes poetry and a first novel, a travel of sorts but in the heart and mind.