Our Dinner With Tia

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My Dinner With Andre arrived in movie theatres in the fall of my sophomore year of college, right at the height of my infatuation with art films. And yet somehow I never got around to watching this one, which is one of those more beloved by people who find films “significant” than people who just want to watch a movie.

So I don’t know if last night’s dinner really could compare to the one actor Wallace Shawn has with theatre director Andre Gregory, but it most certainly was a comedy of errors. Almost to the point of tragedy.

(I have debated the wisdom of naming the restaurant in this tale, but since anyone who reads this and then sees me is going to ask, I’m going to go ahead and tell you where we were. We can all just hope it was one off night.)

Yesterday was Tia’s birthday, and since Tia is here this week for work, her mother-in-law, a lovely woman named Sharon (same as our mom), wanted to gather Tia’s family from this end of the world for a celebratory dinner at a restaurant. Tia’s sister-in-law and her family were going to come from Lake City, and Lynn and I were joining as well. [I believe I have mentioned before that I consider Tia’s in-laws to be my in-laws.]

I don’t know if it was Tia or Sharon who chose Palisades as our dining venue, but that seemed like a good option to me. Until last night.

It was warm enough yesterday afternoon that I ran my shop errands (bank, office supplies, internet bill and courthouse, where I practically had to disrobe and go through a metal detector just to take a bill to the finance counter, probably 25 steps away from the door) with an open jacket, but by the time I got in my car to drive to dinner, I was really cold and hoping that we would be seated by the gas fireplace.

We were. Sharon specifically requested it. It did keep her warm and made Tia a little too hot as they sat directly in front of it, but they were the only beneficiaries. It wasn’t long before Lynn announced she was giving up and put her coat on to combat the cold.

Tia’s sister-in-law ended up not making the trip from Lake City because she had spent the day coughing, but her husband RE (“Ree”) and son Ian made the 60-mile drive to Gunnison. RE was the smart one; he never even took his coat off. Eventually Ian went to the car for his North Face puffy coat, and soon afterward I shrugged my jacket on. We were wearing fleeces underneath, too.

So here is the table as close to the fireplace as it can get, and four of the six people sitting  at it are wearing their winter coats. Don’t you think this should say something to the staff?

RE asked if they would turn the ceiling fans off, which at least quit pushing cold air directly down on us, but it was like there was no heat in the building other than the fireplace, which clearly was not up to the task. Our waitress made a comment about considering putting on her sweater, but no one on the staff bothered to explain or apologize for the temperature or attempt to remedy the situation. Did I mention that four people sitting at the table closest to the fire were wearing their coats?

Then we ordered, and not a one of us ordered anything unusual or difficult. There was the routine discussion when two people (in this case, RE and Tia) order steak done at completely opposite ends of the spectrum, but everything was ordered straight off the menu. All of it.

Then we waited. And waited. And waited. The restaurant could not, under any circumstance, be considered busy and Lynn, with a lot of years of food service in her past, is prone to noting that sometimes those are the nights when you get the worst service, because staff becomes bored and inattentive. We waited. And waited.

At the table, blame was placed on RE for wanting his steak done medium well. But the first plate out was the medium well steak, which was actually well done. Not well as in, “This is great!” but well as in “cooked past where he wanted it.” Tia’s rare was also overdone. But they were the last two steaks in the restaurant.

Ian’s hamburger arrived, and then Lynn’s chicken sandwich. When given a choice of sides, Lynn had selected coleslaw. What the waitress failed to mention, however, is that the sandwich already came with coleslaw, and I guess she and the kitchen staff, which did not win any awards last night, simply decided to assume that Lynn really loves coleslaw rather than maybe, oh I don’t know, asking, “Your sandwich already comes with coleslaw; would you like something else for your side?”

Then the kitchen was done for the moment. Sharon and I urged the others to start eating — as cold as it was in there, everything was going to be iced over in mere minutes. We waited. And waited.

Eventually my chicken fried steak arrived, along with the red chili Sharon had ordered with her hamburger. A hamburger. She ordered a regular hamburger, straight off the menu. Not unlike the one Ian was already halfway through. So her red chili came, but no utensils.

After another wait, the waitress (I didn’t realize this was the context the word comes from) brought Sharon a spoon and said, “Here, you can eat this chili while you’re waiting for your burger,” like this was some great privilege being granted to Sharon. I will allow you to consume some small portion of your meal. It is so.

I believe Sharon’s plan had been to eat the chili on the burger, but since she’d been commanded, she picked up her spoon and started eating chili. Good thing, because she waited. And waited. RE and Tia finished; Lynn took a pass on the bulk of her coleslaw and called it good; Ian got done; I polished off the chicken fried steak and started on my potato. Still no burger. Did I say this was a regular ol’ hamburger, straight off the menu?

Sharon was ready to pull the plug on her order, but the next time she caught the waitress’ eye was as she finally brought — ta da! — the burger, along with a new side of chili, “since this didn’t come out right away.”

Sharon told the waitress to just box the whole meal up, which seemed to leave the waitress nonplussed. “The rest of us have finished eating,” RE pointed out. Then the waitress started to offer Tia her choice of complimentary dessert for her birthday, and Sharon had to remind her, “I brought a cake.”

This turned out to be a cake the waitress really wanted a piece of, but she didn’t want to ask and did the next best thing: she sent out a brash young co-worker to drop broad hints and then just tell Sharon the waitress really wanted a piece. Not, “Sorry your wait was so long” or “Sorry we really blew it on the burger” or “Sorry you all are wearing your coats” or “Here’s a discount on your sorry meal,” just “That cake sure looks good.”

The company was good, which is the main point of a party (and probably the movie that will be made), but RE, who went to work at 4:30 a.m., and Ian drove 120 miles round-trip for this. The rest of us didn’t drive nearly as far, but it may be a long way to finding our way back to Palisades. Especially for a burger.

I thought dinner was excruciating, and then I found this three-minute clip that lasts one hour. Guess I won’t be watching the rest of the movie.




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