The Expensive Escape

You’ve probably realized by the sudden frequent absences of co-workers, but vacation season is among us. This is the time of year in Ohio when the weather is finally decent, and yet it’s also the time of year families and couples flee the state to experience summer in better places. Including me.

I was fortunate enough to travel to the west coast last week with my amazing and handsome boyfriend Bryson. Last May, I went to the west coast with my father, and ever since our plane ride home, I’ve wanted to go back out west; so, I made it happen. Not without a lot of hard work and saving, though. I get what I want because I make it happen.

Anyway, so Bryson and I flew out west and rented a car and drove along the coast and did some fun California things and had a wonderful time and I, of course, was a wonderful travel partner because I’m organized and tough and upbeat and always pleasant and never grumpy and because I never get frustrated or flustered or annoyed with driving in new cities across the country with impossibly intricate road systems or with smart phone GPS systems that are not always proficient enough to be of assistance in the aforementioned scenario and I never get cranky from being tired or hungry and I always smell lovely even when I haven’t showered for two days and always perfect in every way. Bryson was all right. (I tease.)

The second day of our trip, we checked out the city and went on a peaceful hike and hung out (literally) in Bryson’s hammock before dinner. All the wildlife started making us hungry though (the forest is literally a life-sized salad), so we decided to eat; moreover, Bryson brought up the point that since we were on the west coast near a port, we should eat somewhere that specialized in seafood, you know, to eat some good, possibly local, fish and such.

We looked up “seafood restaurants” and found a couple places, and after some strategic selections, we settled upon “Donnie’s Fish House,” a classy restaurant name indeed. I just wanted shrimp or something.

The city sucks when you have a car because you have to find somewhere to put it while you become a city-ite (or a city-zen, citizen if you will). That was exactly the situation that happened to us, so we found a parking garage to babysit our rental car while we indulged in crab and other water creatures that taste yummy.

“Is this it?” I asked as we approached a restaurant on the corner of a block. “Yup,” Bryson replied, and we approached the restaurant.

I guess the valet parking should have been an indicator, but I didn’t really think anything of it. In the city I live, a couple restaurants have valet parking but I’ve dined there before and didn’t have to take out a loan to pay the check so it wasn’t really something noteworthy for me at the time. Even when we walked up to the host stand and five hosts were standing there in all black, I didn’t think anything of it. I mean, we’ve all been to Olive Garden.

“Two?” the one older host asked. We confirmed this, and the woman studied her tablet for a moment with the menus in hand before handing them off to a younger host and saying, “Let’s do F75.” The younger host followed orders (or maybe not, because I have no idea which table is F75; she could have taken us to B15 for all I know) and escorted us to a nearby room and then a small table in the very corner. The host pulled out the chair for me and then placed the weights–I mean, the menus–on the table. “Enjoy,” she said before walking away and leaving us to the menus. For the menus being two pages (not even double-sided pages), it had a thick cover, like a hardback children’s book. We opened those menus and… Wow.

We got blown away, basically. At first, my eyes were searching for categories relevant to my loudest taste buds, which at the time were the salmon ones. I did find the shrimp, and I glanced at the price ($24) and thought, “Whoops, maybe not.” But as I scanned the rest of the menu, I discovered that the super expensive shrimp that was beyond my budget was actually one of the cheaper appetizers. In the middle was a box with the Chef’s recommendation: some dish that was a whopping $47! I don’t even remember anything on the menu, only the prices.

Then things started clicking. The valet parking. The hosts, who–now that I thought of it–were all wearing fancy black cocktail dresses. The abundance of tables and rooms. The dim lighting. All the well-dressed customers. Pulling out the chair for me. The seafood-ness of the place. Damn, we accidentally got ourselves into a super fancy restaurant. No wonder the host gave us a hesitant look, which I hadn’t noticed until now.

But then I realized why she gave us such a look… As you know, we had been hiking earlier that day, which involves a certain amount of physical exertion. Even a nice stroll involves some sort of climbing and it’s always best to wear flexible clothes when hiking.

We must have looked like such scrubs compared to everyone. Bryson was in basketball shorts, a t-shirt, and a baseball hat– incredibly casual, but not nearly as bad as me. I had on jean shorts, a t-shirt, and a flannel tied around my waist, and my hair was all frizzy and tangled because that’s unavoidable for me when hiking because nature is its own hair stylist, and my face was all greasy after the long day and no doubt I didn’t smell as fresh as I did that morning, and I wasn’t really wearing makeup and if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were twigs in my hair because that’s just how it goes when you have hair like mine.

I was wearing a flannel tied around my waist at the most expensive restaurant I had ever been at. I bet F75 is where they stick people who look like they can’t afford that place.

As I was looking over the menu, I started to panic. $35? $29? $56!!!!! I didn’t want to spend twice my electric bill on one lousy meal; no matter how excellently superb this damn fish was, it was still fish. I scanned the appetizer list because at least their prices were more in the $16 range, which was still steep for the price of a meal in my eyes, but comparatively, cheap. (What kind of fortunate soul is able to drop $16 on a mere appetizer? An appetizer!) I bet they even charged for water because their water was so fancy. (“Uhhh, this is specialty fish water. It’s more authentic than normal water so it’s $5 a glass.” “Okay I’ll have the ‘bus tub fluid’ cocktail then? Surely that must be free? Is nothing here complementary?! What rich world did I stumble into, for the LOVE of God!?!?!”)

I panicked, I did. Guess I’ll just have to have the chips for $14. Boy what a dinner.

But then Bryson said something so remarkable it changed my life. He lowered his menu and asked, “You wanna go somewhere else?”

The thought had never occurred to me! Go somewhere else? After we were formally sat? I suppose in my mind, I viewed the-telling-of-the-host-how-many as a verbal contract to order and dine at the restaurant. Like we were shackled to our menus until we ordered. Like we would have to carry this ridiculously heavy menu around on our ankles unless we told the waitress what we wanted to eat, or could moderately afford to eat. (“Really, I just want a water. You can bring the check whenever.” “No! You must order off the menu to leave! We have your soul until the end of dinner!”)

“We can do that?” I replied, and Bryson admitted he thought we were stuck there for a second until he realized we didn’t have to order, didn’t have to pay for what we didn’t order, had the free will to leave.

“What the heck,” I stated, and then told him I would very much like to go somewhere else. He concurred, and then there was an awkward moment of realizing “Now we have to actually get up and exit right after we just sat down” before we boldly stood and took our walk of shame.

Hold your head up, I commanded myself. Do not let these yuppies judge your flanneled broke ass. As we left the “F” room, or whatever room we were in, we passed a waitress holding two waters who I know was headed to our table to finally greet us. From the opening of the room, she watched us get up and walk out, and as we walked by, she gave us this look like, “You kids had no idea what you were getting yourself into, did you,” and we nodded at her like, “We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into,” and then we basically bolted beyond that.

Once we got out into the free, fresh air, I burst. “Oh my GOD what the heck! That was ridiculous!” All I could do was laugh. I couldn’t dine at that place! I have a cat to support! What would I have told Esmeralda when I came back home? “Sorry I can’t afford to buy you cat food, but I spent all my savings eating one lousy piece of fancy fish at some high falutin restaurant across the country?” That shit would not fly with Esmeralda. That cat’s favorite hobby is eating! (To be fair, who’s favorite hobby isn’t eating?) And if I told her she had to starve because I ate fish? And without her? The betrayal would be too great.

Anyway, we ended up eating somewhere much more comfortable for our wallets, and probably even better than Donnie’s. Or at least, that’s what we told ourselves. We even had money left over to get some ice cream afterwards, so that’s a win in my eyes.

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