Pat and I decide to try a new restaurant tonight–Thai Smile. We passed it on the way back from the market last Sunday and made a note that we wanted to try it. After all, how can anyone resist going to a restaurant called “Thai Smile”? In spite of the catchy name, it’s a miracle that we actually remembered it–we have a long history of spotting places we want to try and then forgetting all about them.
We head outside and debate whether we should take the Market St bridge or the Walnut St bridge because neither one of us can remember exactly which street it’s on. We decide to take the Market St bridge because I’m convinced it’s East of Market and Pat is convinced it’s West of Market. That way, we’ll be in the middle.
When we get across the river, Pat is sure we need to turn right and I am sure we need to turn left. Fortunately, I have my iPhone. Instead of wandering around lost, I google it. How did anyone ever get anywhere before the advent of the smart phone? As it turns out, we are both wrong. The restaurant is dead ahead of us on Market St. Go figure.
We head on down the road and find Thai Smile just one block away. I’m not exactly sure what the name is supposed to convey–does going there mean you get to see what a Thai smile looks like? Does a Thai smile look different then, say, a Chattanoogan smile? As we walk in the door for the first time, I’m hoping it means the Thai food will make the patrons smile, because there isn’t a whole lot of smiling going on amongst the staff.
But, what they lack in friendliness, they make up for in efficiency. We are seated, have received our drinks, and are placing our order so quickly that it makes me wonder if McDonald’s could learn a thing or two. Fortunately, when the food comes out, it cannot be mistaken for McDonalds. Not even McDonalds in Thailand. I’ve ordered Pineapple Curry, a dish I’ve had only once and it was at a Thai restaurant in London. I’ve ordered it with shrimp, which is always a little nerve wracking. But the curry, well, it makes me smile.
I admit that the presentation on the Thai iced tea threw me when they first brought it out. Oddly, they serve it with whipped cream on top. I’m not quite ready for iced tea, even as sweet as Thai iced tea, to come with whipped cream on it. Perhaps it’s important to come up with ways to increase the sugar content of what they serve to appeal to Southern taste buds? I don’t know what made them think it was a good idea, but I decide the best approach is to separate the whipped cream from the tea and consume each separately. This works for me and the tea is delicious.
Pat has the Shrimp Pad Thai and it makes him smile, too. So, we are up two smiles and it’s probably the cheapest dinner we’ve had in Chattanooga (all right, partly because they don’t serve alcohol). The only problem with the Pineapple Curry is that there’s so much of it, I can barely get through half the serving. I ask for a box–the flavor is just too good to waste. I carefully scrape the food into the box and spoon the curry sauce over it, trying to squeeze in every drop of goodness.
Full, warm, and not broke, we head on down the road. We decide to walk back over the Walnut St bridge just because it’s a nice night and we could use the extra walk after having a big dinner. As we enter the bridge, we see the bear man sitting off to one side. The bear man can usually be spotted on the Walnut St bridge or its vicinity. He is a large, black man who is most likely mentally ill. He lives in many layers of clothing, including a fur hat with ear flaps and a big coat, that he wears at all times. He was wearing the same stuff when it was 110 degrees out in August. If the wind is right, we usually smell him before we see him. He smells like a bear. Or at least like bear scat. His appearance is not far from a bear, either, between his size and his fur hat.
Perhaps because I have a Thai smile tonight, I feel like I should do something for this man who lives on the bridge. He is one of the few homeless people that hangs out on the riverfront who never asks for money. I turn to Pat and ask if I should give him my leftovers. Pat thinks this might be an insult, to give someone leftovers who hasn’t asked for anything and may or may not feel like leftovers are something he wants to eat. I feel uncertain, but given that the man appears quite well fed, decide it’s presumptuous to give him food and, to Pat’s point, leftovers could be insulting. As we pass him, my box of leftovers suddenly feels large and heavy in my hands.
Moments later, we pass another homeless man, this one the polar opposite of the bear man–a skinny white guy in a plaid hunting jacket. He asks Pat if he can help out with some cash for a meal. Interestingly, when Pat and I are together, homeless men frequently ask Pat for money. They never ask me. Instinctively, I know they are more successful with men than women, but I can’t explain why that would be. Pat tells him he doesn’t have any cash, but asks if the man would want my leftovers. He says, “Sure!” enthusiastically. I say, “It’s pineapple curry.” He responds with a Thai smile. I hand over my leftovers regretting only that I don’t have a fork and napkins to go with it.
The weight of both the leftovers and my guilt now lifted, the scenery suddenly looks brighter. I notice how brilliant the leaves look in the remaining light. I look up and am amazed at how many stars are already visible in the evening light. I smile at Pat and feel grateful for having such a kind man in my life. For at least a few moments, all feels right with the world. Now I know why it’s called Thai Smile.