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Friday, July 23, 2004


They Weren't Terrorists...They Weren't Desert Casino-Bound Musicians...They Were Girlie Men!

Note from the E-ditors: You are about to read an account of what DIDN'T happen during a NON-EXISTENT restaurant visit by one of our writers, Ontario Emperor. The Empoblog Editorial Team debated long and hard about how to handle this information and ultimately we decided it was something that should be shared. What does it have to do with synthetica or NTN trivia? Nothing, and everything. Here is Ontario's story. (P.S. Who is Annie Jacobsen?)

On July 21, 2004, at 7:37 p.m., I ate at the Denny's Restaurant in Guasti, California with my wife and our young daughter. Also in our restaurant were 14 Scandinavian men between the ages of approximately 20 and 50 years old. What I experienced during that meal has caused me to question whether the United States of America can realistically uphold the civil liberties of every individual, even non-citizens, and protect its citizens from moral threats.

On that Wednesday, our dinner began uneventfully. Starting out that evening in Ontario, California, we drove to the Denny's in Guasti. Guasti is a small enclave in Ontario, less than one-half mile from a major international airport. With no security check required at the door we waited for our table. Standing near us, also waiting to eat, was a group of six Finnish men. They were carrying passports with a lot of i's and u's. Two men wore tracksuits with the word "SUOMI" across the back. Two carried musical instrument cases - thin, flat, 18" long. One wore a yellow T-shirt and held a McDonald's bag. And the sixth man had a bad leg -- he wore an orthopedic shoe and limped.

My thirteen-year-old daughter was determined to get an adult menu, so I turned to the men behind me and said, "You go ahead, this could be awhile." "No, you go ahead," one of the men replied. He smiled pleasantly and extended his arm for me to pass. He was young, maybe late 20's and had a goatee. I thanked him and we went to our table.

Once in the restaurant, we took our seats at table 6. The man with the yellow shirt and the McDonald's bag sat across the aisle from us (at table 7). The pleasant man with the goatee sat a few tables back (in table 11). The rest of the men were seated throughout the restaurant.

As we sat waiting for the waitress to take our drink order, we noticed another large group of Finnish men entering. The first man wore a dark suit and sunglasses. He sat at table 1. The other seven men were seated at other tables. As "aware" Americans, my wife and I exchanged glances, and then continued to get comfortable. I noticed some of the other diners paying attention to the situation as well. As seating continued, we watched as, one by one, most of the Finnish men made eye contact with each other. They continued to look at each other and nod, as if they were all in agreement about something. I could tell that my wife was beginning to feel "anxious."

Once we ordered our iced teas and club sodas, the unusual activity began. I overheard someone asking for a tuna fish pizza. Meanwhile, the man in the yellow T-shirt got out of his seat and went to the lavatory -- taking his full McDonald's bag with him. When he came out of the lavatory he still had the McDonald's bag, but it was now almost empty. He walked to the back of the restaurant, still holding the bag. When he passed two of the men, he gave a thumbs-up sign. When he returned to his seat, he no longer had the McDonald's bag.

Then another man from the group stood up and took something from his duffel bag. It was about a foot long and was rolled in cloth. He headed toward the back of the restaurant with the object. Five minutes later, several more of the Finnish men began using the lavatory consecutively.

Watching all of this, my wife was now beyond "anxious." I decided to try to reassure my wife (and maybe myself) by walking to the back bathroom. I knew the goateed-man I had exchanged friendly words with as we entered the restaurant was seated nearby, so I thought I would say hello to the man to get some reassurance that everything was fine. As I stood up and turned around, I glanced in his direction and we made eye contact. I threw out my friendliest "remember-me-we-had-a-nice-exchange-just-a-short-time-ago" smile. The man did not smile back. His face did not move. In fact, the cold, defiant look he gave me sent shivers down my spine.

When I returned to my seat I was unable to assure my wife that all was well. My wife immediately walked to the front of the restaurant to talk with the hostess. "I might be overreacting, but I've been watching some really suspicious things..." Before she could complete her statement, the flight attendant pulled her outside into the parking lot. In a quiet voice she explained that they were all concerned about what was going on. The manager was aware. The waitresses were passing notes to each other. She said that there were people in the restaurant "higher up than you and me watching the men." My wife returned to her seat and relayed this information to me. He was feeling slightly better. I was feeling much worse.

Then, when the waitress was showing us the dessert menu, it hit me. In a quiet voice, I whispered to the waitress, "Please have the manager meet me in the parking lot." I then quietly got up from my seat, walked outside, and waited.

Two minutes later, the manager came out, accompanied by a second man with a military haircut, a neatly ironed dress shirt, military boots, and cut-off jeans shorts. I suspected that this person was an undercover Federal agent. As they approached me, I quietly stated what I had observed.

"They're a bunch of girlie men."

The second man looked at me quizically.

"They're girlie men! Isn't it obvious? Would any real men go to the lavatory in a group? Only women and girlie men do that!"

The manager looked at me in disgust. "I am nonplused by your comment," he said. "I don't know what the definition of 'girlie man' is. As opposed to their being he-men? I've undergone 80 hours of Denny's sensitivity training over the last two years, and quite frankly your statement offends me."

The second man walked a short distance away from us and started whispering into a cellular phone. When I saw that the man was using a Nokia phone, I knew that I was in trouble....

Through a series of events, The Los Angeles Times heard about my story. I talked briefly about my experience with a representative from the newspaper. Within a few hours I received a call from Dave Adams, the public spokesperson for San Bernardino County's restaurant inspection team. Adams told me what he knew:

There were 14 Finns in the Guasti Denny's. They were questioned at length by Ontario police, San Bernardino Sheriff's deputies, and a salesman from Mark Christopher Chevrolet upon leaving the restaurant. The 14 Finns had been hired as musicians to play at a casino in the desert. Adams said they were "scrubbed." None had arrest records (in America, I presume), none showed up on the FBI's "no eat" list or the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists List. The men checked out and they were let go.

As for me, I'm brown-bagging...but I'm a little suspicious of that checker at Stater Brothers...

Comments:
yah right..
 
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