The following story is true, as told to Kevin Chesley by a sommelier who wishes to remain anonymous. All names have been changed to protect the somm, the winery, and the douchebag involved…
You can tell a lot about a man by the way he can’t park his rented Ferrari. I watched the neon green sports car – the thing looked like it had been painted with a highlighter pen – as it lurched across the lot outside in a sad ballet of skid marks. That made it obvious that the car didn’t belong to the driver, as did the endless back-and-forth shimmying that was done to park it without scratching it up against the side of the cars or either side. The funny thing was I could have told the driver that same neon nightmare had scraped its spoiler on a stone cherub fountain at the other end of the lot just a couple of weeks earlier. I know that Ferrari. The couple that rent it—let’s call them Ted and Christy—come in all the time, and I try not to rat out the more reckless renters. Mostly.
Even better than I know the car, I know exactly who is going to climb out of it every time it rolls up. A party girl (23-27) from the passenger seat first, wobbling on heels she’s wearing for the very first time. Tall ones that she can drive as poorly as he does the car. She, after all, is desperately trying to impress too. One time the driver had been jerking the stick so poorly—and his date was so full of wine already—that she clambered out full tilt, right for a trash can to throw up. She had not made it. I was not going to tell whoever this was renting it that day that I’ve seen a redhead puke all over the car’s hood. It was the most vivid way I’ve ever been shown that a woman is partial to red pourings.
The driver himself would take his time, partly because he was trying to make sure he had shut the car off properly, but also so he could climb out “cool and slow.” He was envisioning himself either in a rap video or a Bruckheimer film. Actually, he was probably dreaming of both.
A rented Ferrari driver is always—every time—wearing an Ed Hardy t-shirt. It was like it came with the car. I once asked Ted if they included it in the car’s rental package. Christy had snarked that she was so tired of them that, if Ted ever wore one even once, divorce would be instantaneous. Today’s driver didn’t disappoint. His shirt looked like a tiger and a dragon had eaten an old Trapper Keeper, then had a child on top of an album cover by Mötley Crüe.
What did surprise me about these two walking stereotypes was that they had a posse. I wouldn’t have guessed at that, but then they waved to another car as it rolled—this one was still a rental, but an SUV chosen for maximum seating. A gaggle of similarly dressed cohorts leapt out, all marveling at the Ferrari as “Ed Hardy” flexed an arm to point it out. He beamed with pride as his bros hooted and hollered. This day was going exactly as Ed had planned. He knew his boys were jealous and, I gotta admit, maybe I was a little too… except of the shirt.
Maybe Ed deserved a little adoration today, because it turned out to be his birthday. His crew sang it out discordantly as they all paraded in and totally ignored me as I gave a wave—passing me by and choosing a ring of softback chairs by the fire. The guys plopped themselves down and the ladies draped themselves on their laps and shoulders. It gave more of a feel of a gang trip to a strip club, not a winery. That was a feeling that grew stronger as I stepped up and passed out the tasting menus… only to meet the unimpressed gazes of Ed’s bros. One of them, in a shirt that looked like Salvador Dali had designed a can for energy drinks, gave me a “get over here” finger and whispered behind his palm at me, “Naw, can we get a girl over here? No offense, yeah?”
Gross, but at least we all knew where we stood, “Sorry, man. It’s just me right now.” It was a total lie, of course, but there was no way I was sending one of female coworkers over here for meat market duty. Instead, I dove right in, business as usual, “What would you all like to taste today? We have lists that are all red, white specific, or a mix that—” Even as I started into my spiel, I knew I was going to get cut off by none other than Ed himself, and I knew what the message would be:
“We want the best.”
Of course you do. I knew exactly what that meant to him, too. Not the bottle that was pouring and tasting “the best” this season. Not even the one on our list that he himself would enjoy the most. No. In front of his friends and a girl (that I could already tell he was cheating on with her brunette bestie two seats away), he simply meant the most expensive bottle on the list. Hey, I was gonna be happy to oblige. My bosses would be thrilled.
“Then you’ve come to the right place. I’ll show you what—”
Then the guys shushed me. I know. For real. He actually raised a finger to his lips and shushed. It annoyed his girlfriend too. I bet she gets the same kind of treatment. I doubt the guy realized how unmacho the move made him look. Like he was an elementary school teacher. He was considering himself the teacher, alright, “No. I’ll show you what I want. I know how to pick it.”
Oh, this was going to be delicious. The student was really going to become the master. I just shrugged. As much as I hated getting the shush finger, it was better than how he treats his friends. He reached out and brutally slapped his friend on the shoulder. The guy winced and rubbed his arm. He might have punched back if it wasn’t Ed’s birthday. Instead, he just listened to him bark, “Hey! What word did that guy say at the last place? It means the best.” This caught my interest. I genuinely wanted to know what kernel of “bestness” these blokes had absorbed “at the last place.” His buddy squinted hard, trying to remember, and tossed up a try:
“Yeah, we want whatever says ‘respect’ on the bottle. It means the best.”
Honestly. Right there? I didn’t know what the hell to say to them, except the confused truth, “I’m sorry, I don’t think any of our bottles seem to just happen to have the word ‘respect’ on it…”
I scanned the tasting list, getting a little desperate. He tugged the list to his face, and his huge and gaudy watch dragged down the page until he got to the bottom. This guy only wanted to show off, finding the highest price and then shouting out, “Not ‘respect,’ you douche! Reserve! That means ‘best.’ Get us bottle service of that.”
Okay, so there was a lot to unpack there. First of all, I didn’t know douchebags like them called each other douchebag. It seemed too self-aware. Second of all… “Bottle service?” Player thought he was at a pool party in Ibiza. Still, we had solved “the Respect mystery” and they meant “Reserve.” That was actually higher wine vocab than I was expecting so points for effort. He had chosen our Reserve Single Vineyard Cabernet. Like I said, my bosses were going to be thrilled (our untold secret was that it had been overpriced that year). I flashed a smile, “How many would you like?”
About an hour later, they were already a few bottles and a thousand dollars in without even enjoying their free tastings that would have come with just the purchase of that first bottle alone. I gotta say, they were growing on me a bit, even though I had a feeling that they weren’t going to tip (I know, but trust me). Even in circumstances like this, the wine lover in me is always trying to help people – even Ed – on his journey to what they actually liked, price tag aside.
So, I took a risky move. I poured them all just one of the free tastings they had skipped, a 2017 Russian River Pinot I actually thought was more up their alley. Ed liked the move, because it made me look like some kind of subservient butler. He took a sip and, I’m telling ya’, I could tell he loved it. He looked at the wine list, however, and saw it was half the price. That was a dealbreaker.
PFFT! This dude spit it right back into the glass like it was a mouthful of spiders, “Bro, are you kidding?” He punched his friend again, “Taste like the Coors Light of wine.” This won a chorus of laughter, even as I watched three of the others in his party finish the tasting with a look in their eyes that let me know I had scored a direct hit. I took the note, however, and kept my mouth shut for the rest of their visit.
When that came, it became even more clear that all Ed wanted was to spend money in front of his friends. As I brought him (what I thought was) the final bill and mentioned the wine club, he slapped down his metal American Express card like it was the Holy Grail. Waving an arm, he announced he was enrolling them all in the wine club—on him—and ordered a massive shipment for us to send him that totaled what, for many, was the cost of an entire trip to Napa for a week.
It was the kind of purchase I make sure to run by my boss, who has seen it all, “He didn’t tip either, did he?” I shook my head no (see, I told ya’) and ran the card. As they headed off on their next adventure, I smiled was I watch Ed scrape the spoiler of the Ferrari on the stone cherub fountain and skid off into the horizon. That wasn’t the last time I heard from him, however…
… three days later. I had forgotten about Ed. My boss had slid me a bonus for the massive sale so it was all good. He even let me keep it after coming to me with the only news about the whole thing that really shocked me:
“Your buddy ‘Ed Hardy’ just called. He wanted to return the whole thing.”
The whole staff’s jaws dropped. Ed and his massive order had become the thing of legend, “You’re telling me that guy put almost a five-digit number on his American Express… and he’s returning it like a shirt at The Gap?” Everybody around me laughed and clapped my back. My boss smirked, “Or a shirt to Ed Hardy.” I shook my head, “Nope. He’d never return that. It’s his uniform.”
I couldn’t believe it. I serve a ton of rich people, including many that overspend just to show off. It’s not common, however, to see those rich types calling back for a refund.
So, here’s my final confession.
I’m really hoping Ed Hardy never reads this. Cuz, Ed? It was me. I’m the guy who—childishly and vindictively, I admit—called Ted and Christy and told them you scratched the Ferrari on the baby angel fountain.
I’m not sorry… even though it was a bit of a douche move of my own.