So, when I was about 13 or 14, I visited my brother in Michigan. He's a lot older than me - 14 years or so older - and he was an urban planner working either for the city of Flint or Genesee County. At some point in my trip we took a drive down to Ann Arbor to meet up with a bunch of his grad school buddies from Michigan State University and enjoy the music of Lisa Silver and the Honky Tonk Angels at the Pretzel Bell restaurant. The Pretzel Bell had a kind of roadhouse feel, all dark and woody, and even the menus came bound between thick wood covers with leather lacing.
We were a crowd of 12 or more, as I recall, at a long table, and the waitress came staggering over with a load of these heavy menus like she was shifting a pallet of dimensional lumber. She set this stack of menus, about 2 feet high or so, on the opposite end of the table from where I was sitting. It start to shift, tilting over, as the top menus fell past the center of gravity and the whole thing began to stretch across the table like a tentacle. It disturbed very little until the very top menu slid squarely into my water glass, which was knocked totally off the table, spilling not a drop anywhere else as it dumped its contents right into my crotch. Let me tell you, being a cool thirteen-year old out with your brother's twenty-something friends is hard to pull off when you look like you have just wet your pants. It was a fairly miserable evening after that, notwithstanding my nascent crush on Lisa Silver.
Tonight's dinner experience wasn't that bad, but I think it might have been in the same area code.
A server who was over-friendly and under-professional? Ambiance that verged on too loud and too frantic? Food that was fairly corporate? Check, check, check. We are not surprised by these things at many places in Seattle.
But the dropped water glass that drenched the table and catapulted a serving dish of ketchup onto my pants? The immediate response that seemed to call for the table to make the server feel better for her embarrassment rather than attend to the diners? The manager's follow-up check-on-us that seemed to be intended to limit liability rather than make apology? The lack of an immediate offer of a comp of something or a free drink? Well, maybe we expect those, too, but we do so with a little more disgruntlement.
But let's not fret over those details. Tonight, I got to share a meal with Coco and four other people who are very dear to me: family and friends, one and all, who have participated in each other's weddings in a daisy chain of affection, who have shared good times and bad times and drinks and meals, with hopefully many more gatherings to come, and who perhaps don't get together, jointly or severally, as much as we could or should.
Michale Pollan has said that “The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture." I have found this to be true, and I am glad of it, because tonight family and community were felt deeply and genuinely.
Good thing, too, because the rest of the experience was close to a fiasco from my perspective.
Key Lime Pie or triceratops skull? You be the judge.
We couldn't tell by tasting it.