Tales From a Rural Route: New Years Eve

We grew up on the less than wealthy side of the tracks. No complaints, simply a statement of fact. How do I know this? Spam was a staple for dinner, along with a box of macaroni and cheese, homemade mashed potatoes, and whatever vegetables were in season. Spinach with vinegar made the cut often.

Small wonder when I started making money and had a driver’s license I began to search out the best restaurants in the Louisville area. On weekends I found the extra green in my pocket I hit the town in search of great food. The first steak dinner I ever remember having, I bought for myself. If you gave me a choice of things to do, spending the night at dinner topped anything else.

Mamma Gristanti’s was a favorite, as I found Italian to be the type of food I preferred. Kingfish on the river became another frequent visit. Yet my go to, impress the date destination turned out to be The Spire, the revolving restaurant at the top of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Louisville.

For around thirty dollars (yes, I know, times have changed) I could take a date to The Spire and live the high life and still have money left over for a movie. Often I heard the “I can’t believe you brought me here” comment. In truth, I brought both of us there.

One New Years Eve I found myself on a first date and called and made a reservation at The Spire. When we showed up the view was spectacular and I felt suitably smug. It wouldn’t last long.

We took our seats and the first sign I was in trouble was the menu. It was different. Instead of their full appetizer and entree choices, there were a limited few. While I stared at the menu in confusion, my date got to the last line before I did and she made the comment. “I  can’t believe you brought me here.”

The last line on the menu went something like this: Dinner for two including champagne $110.

I felt a panicked shiver go through my body as I tried to remember how much money hid in my wallet. I wasn’t sure. And how to look without being obvious? I got the reprieve I needed when my date excused herself to visit the little girl’s room and I surreptitiously slid my wallet out and thumbed through the bills. Six twenties. I called the waiter over and quickly explained my situation and let him know there would be no tip tonight, but I’d run one by the restaurant the next day. I could tell he didn’t believe me. Who could blame him?

My date returned to the table and we enjoyed the meal and the rest of the evening. Thankfully she wanted to go to a friend’s house to ring in the stroke of midnight and I got out of the night with a ten spot to my name. For the record, the next day I made good on my promise and dropped the proper tip off to a more than happy waiter.

I learned a valuable lesson: on special occasions ask if there is a special menu. I’d blown my entire week’s paycheck on one meal. Still better than getting up and leaving the place in embarrassment. Barely.

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