There is no doubt that the times are changing. It is just not the same anymore. In more ways than one. This past Thursday I joined my dear friend Paul Trachtenberg for breakfast at the IHOP. I wanted to meet with IHOP manager Miguel. When I walked in, I was pleasantly surprised that there were so many people there. The IHOP was getting back to normal. Not everyone had their masks on but all the employees did.
I thought that I would ask Miguel if we could come back in an informal manner until NASPA said we could reconvene as a fully certifiable Scrabble club. But in fact Miguel told me that we would not be welcome back at all!!! I was devastated to say the least.
During the pandemic the IHOP took a long hard look at the clubs that would use that private room during the week. The higher ups to be whoever they may be decided that none of the clubs were using the IHOP adequately. And as long as social distancing was being enforced, the IHOP did not want to tie up that room. It wanted to use the room for its regular patrons. Therefore no more clubs!! There are other clubs that meet there during the week. Perhaps they sell insurance, have Bible studies and the like. But we are by far the largest club…
For those of you who do not know the history of Scrabble club 34, let me refresh your memory. Somehow Penny Baker who was the director at the time managed to negotiate herself into that playing space in the early 1990s for FREE. That’s right. We have never been charged a room rental for nearly 30 years. This is unheard of!! There are very few facilities that allow a social club to come every week and meet for NOTHING. We also came there every week and ate for NOTHING. In other words, very few of us ever ate there. We were definitely free loaders and poachers if that is the right word. We lived in an apartment but never paid rent. But we never received a “notice to evict” until now that is…
For years and years we came on Tuesday afternoon to play Scrabble but forgot a very basic thing. We chose not to eat there but would go elsewhere to eat breakfast or lunch or dinner. Finally the IHOP wised up and decided enough was enough. There are cameras throughout the restaurant and they were looked at. What they found were very few Scrabblers who ate meals there on a regular basis. In fact Miguel jokingly said that Paul and I would be seen on these videos regularly but very few other Scrabble players. We were the new rock stars of the IHOP..
As we continued our conversation with Miguel, I made my arguments. I felt like an attorney spouting my case in front of the Supreme Court. I told him how we have been at the IHOP for nearly 30 years, that we do utilize the facility and how we are the only customers there on Tuesday. There is no doubt about that. And he knew this. He isn’t stupid. I also told him many other things. Soon after I became director in 2014, I heard through the grapevine that the IHOP was unhappy with us and was going to throw us out for these very reasons.
I met with management at that time and agreed to spend at least $100 on food and drink for Tuesdays. And I made sure that all of us would write the word Scrabble on our receipts to make sure we got credit for this after we ate. However I sensed during this time that some of the servers would not put the receipts where they should be so IHOP management would not know that we were utilizing their services as much as we did.
Miguel told me that he could not even cover the costs to have a server in that room salary-wise because we were not eating or drinking that much. But as I continued to argue my case, I sensed that Miguel’s position was softening. I finally asked him what it would take to let us come back. He mentioned at least $200. I assured him that would be no problem!!!
I don’t know if the IHOP will ever let us back in. That will be up to management. Miguel will not make the final decision but will relay our position to them. But he isn’t stupid. He knows that without Club 34 on Tuesday, there will be very little business for them. ‘To cut off your nose to spite your face”.. Is that how it goes??
If we do not have the IHOP there will no longer be a Scrabble Club 34. It is that simple. I am not the kind of director who will drive all over Orange County looking for another venue. I will not do that!!! If we are allowed back in, there will be some definite changes on how Scrabble Club 34 conducts its business. Some of these changes might upset some of the members and if so, they do not have to come back!!! I have no other choice if Scrabble Club 34 is to live on.
To reach the $200 minimum, each member will have to spend at least $10 to join us. There can be no more dining outside the IHOP between sessions if we are to survive. I will no longer accept these excuses that I have heard for years–“I am on a special diet, I don’t like their food, I am on a strict budget..”” Those excuses will not fly anymore.
Once Club 34 was up and running, I would see 20-25 players for the afternoon and evening sessions. Some of us played both sessions and there would be a few new ones show up at night. So it will be quite easy for us to spend $200-300 a day at the IHOP if all of us spend at least $10 a day. If there are any members who cannot possibly eat at the IHOP, then they will have to pay me $10 to play. That money will be forwarded to IHOP management.
If we are to eat lunch while we play, then there will have to be more space in the room for the food and beverages. I will therefore have to limit the players in the afternoon to 20. When the time comes I will poll all players to find out who will commit every week to show up. You will be on the preferred list and get an automatic bye. The rest of you will have to let me know by email that you plan to attend. When we reach 20, you will then go on the waiting list.
After you eat your meal, you will write the word Scrabble on your receipt, turn it into the server as you have been doing. But now you will write the word Scrabble and your last name on the copy and give it to me. I will turn in all receipts to Miguel at the end of each month. This will assure us that we get credit for everything we do… This will be alot more work for me but I am willing to do it if it means Club 34 survives.
It will be a dark day in Southern California is there are no more Scrabble clubs. Yuki Loritz has already closed her club for personal reasons. I know that the LA clubs might lose their venues when they want to return. That is a definite possibility. So I hope we will be able to stay at the IHOP. Miguel and I agreed to revisit this in 2-3 months after we see how the pandemic winds are blowing. So that is all for now. If you have any suggestions or recommendations, email or call me. I will be glad to listen……
David Poder, Director Club 34