Have you ever found yourself completely out of your element? I accidentally made a dinner reservation at a ridiculously upscale restaurant in Nashville last weekend. I swear I looked at the menu online but some inexplicable brain glitch apparently rendered me incapable of seeing the prices. When my mom and I showed up for dinner, I immediately knew I’d made a terrible mistake.
Mom and I were in Music City to see a touring production of Les Miserables, which is one of my favorite musicals. I had a French teacher in high school who was intent on indoctrinating her students not only with the basics of French grammar but with a certain degree of cultural appreciation (at least as much as is possible to infuse into angsty Midwestern teenagers). She was totally crazy in the way that all the best language teachers are – a tiny, middle-aged woman with wild hair and a penchant for eye-popping fashion decisions. She made us learn the words to several songs and then marched us up and down the hallways in wedge formation, singing at the top of our lungs. And she organized a group excursion to Chicago from our suburban hamlet to see the production in the big city. It is my first clear memory of seeing live theater and I was utterly enchanted.
Fast forward twenty years and the prospect of seeing Les Miz again was too much to resist. I bought tickets on a whim as a birthday gift to myself and embarked on a mother/daughter weekend getaway. Mom had gallantly offered to buy dinner…which is why the $100 steak on the menu was a particularly mortifying discovery for me. A hundred bucks. For a steak. Nashville, we have a problem.
Lucky for me, my mom is a tremendous good sport and the experience became a sort of bizarre game. We pretended to consider the booze list ($17 martini, anybody?) before politely informing our waiter we’d be sticking to water for the evening. This – along with the number of dinner rolls I consumed – was probably his first hint that we weren’t going to be his most lucrative table that night, poor dear.
He gamely soldiered on, hopefully rattling off the specials, each more outrageous than the last. To his credit, he was too well-trained to openly sneer when we opted instead to share an appetizer and the vegetarian pasta dish – the cheapest thing on the menu. (I noticed that he did not, however, endeavor to tempt us with dessert options.)
We giggled through dinner, peering around incredulously as the other diners nonchalantly ordered multiple drinks and lavish meals. The $100 steak came with no sides. You had to order those extra – for $8 apiece. I’m not trying to suggest that there’s anything inherently wrong with a meal that costs more than the rent on a modest apartment. It was just a completely surreal incident for me because it was so far beyond my normal life experiences.
I guess the point of this story is that life is what you make of it. Sometimes you just have to bring about a happy ending by sheer force of will and a good sense of humor. You stare down the miscalculation and the embarrassment and send it on its way. We held our heads high, enjoyed every mouthful of our (shared) sweet onion bisque, washed it down with tap water, and left a generous tip. Well, the waiter probably didn’t think it was all that generous, given that our entire bill was probably less than the alcohol portion of most other tables. But we tried.
Oh, and the show was fantastic.