The bartender’s mullet ought to have been a clue that this evening was not going to go as we had planned. When your bartender has a mullet, you are going to be chased by the cops at some point in the evening.
Part One: The Dinner
Emily and I were springing for a rare babysitter night, and combining a dinner date with a wedding reception. When we arrived at our restaurant, a fondue joint on the Peninsula, we had a short wait for a table. We sat down at the bar and The Mullet poured our drinks.
Here’s the thing about The Mullet: He was business up front; party in the back; and, what the hell? Are those steps in the side? Yes. Not only had The Mullet chosen to sport the worst hairstyle known to man, but he had accentuated it with the second worst hairstyle known to man. “I know….I’m going to get an electric razor and just carve some steps here in my sideburns. Just in case the mullet doesn’t bring the ladies calling, this extra insurance will be just the thing.” I hope he was right. I fear he was very, very wrong.
Our interaction with The Mullet was brief. We were seated soon after, and our waiter (a corn-fed Iowa-type who I will call “Iowa”) explained the nature of the meal to come. Hot things were going to be in a pot; we were to dip other things in the hot things; don’t confuse serving skewers and eating skewers or bad things will happen; don’t slam your open palm down on the burner in the center of the table as you make an emphatic point about Star Wars.
He didn’t actually say that last one. Who needs to be warned about slamming your open palm down on the burner in the center of the table as they make an emphatic point about Star Wars? This was a romantic setting (filled with boiling cheese), and although Star Wars is, of course, awesome, it isn’t something that often comes up during a romantic fondue dinner. Not usually, that is.
After each boiling pot of hot lava was finished with (cheese first, then a beef broth, then chocolate), the waiter would have to remove it using a complicated contraption that would, one presumes, prevent spillage during transport to the kitchen. After our beef course, the manager himself came over and used the contraption to cover the pot and lift the sides, moving very slowly and carefully.
“It looks like you should have some dramatic music playing while you do this,” Emily quipped.
“Yeah, really. What were you thinking of?” he asked.
I suggested, “I hear that music from ‘Inception’, when they’re at the mountain fortress and everything is oppressive and slow and bassy.”
And then we were off. The manager wanted to talk about ‘Inception’ and how awesome it was. We obliged him, because ‘Inception’ was awesome, and we could agree on a lot of things. Then the conversation slid a little bit: ‘The Dark Knight’ came up, and ‘Memento’. The manager asked our waiter if he’d seen ‘Inception’, to which Iowa said “Yeah, but I didn’t get it. I had to watch it a few times.” This seemed to disappoint our new best friend, but it did not deter him in his quest to converse with us about every other awesome movie ever of all time ever.
I don’t know how long the conversation lasted. Every time he would reach an end-point in the discussion, he would pause for a second or two and I would think “Okay, now it’s over and he’s going to excuse himself away from our very romantic boiling chocolate.” But no, he would just think of another thing to introduce to the conversation; some other detail, or a related movie. I enjoyed myself, since I am never really opposed to nerding out about movies. But after a while I was trying not to encourage him anymore. I was foiled, though, when he said something stupid about ‘Star Wars’ that literally made me forget myself, forget where I was; what I was doing.
I slapped the table, right where the burner was. I didn’t do more than graze the outer edge of the burner plate, and that only for an instant. It was so surprising that it burned itself into my memory in the spot where whatever the manager had said about ‘Star Wars’ goes, so I can’t tell you what made me react so, or what point I was trying to emphasize by doing it. And while for many people that would be the perfect opportunity to end a conversation, my new best friend continued for another few minutes.
Our chocolate course finally arrived, and my new best friend let us enjoy our strawberries and cheesecake in a more romantic silence. When we finished, we checked the time and realized we were going to be late for the wedding reception we were supposed to go to that night. We looked around for Iowa so we could pay our bill and go, but he was nowhere to be found. The Mullet was also gone for the night. We waited, and waited, losing more and more time with our friends, until Iowa finally came by with our check. We paid the bill (I’ve never paid so much for cheese before), and then Iowa thanked us for coming in, and asked us to please return and to come see him again next time. He was turning 21, you see, and was going to be allowed behind the bar.
Although this sudden age revelation made me feel very, very old, it also worried me. I hoped The Mullet would not be losing hours to Iowa. With his clean, crew cut look, he didn’t need any help being a bartender would give him. The Mullet sure did, though.
Part Two: The Reception
We were running late to the reception. Our friends, a lesbian couple who were also about to have a baby, lived somewhere on the east side of 101. The reception was in their backyard, and you can say this about back yards on the east side of 101: they are huge. HUGE. We could fit our entire house, and both our front and back yards in the space our friends’ back yard took up. They had room to build a dance floor, under a trellis, and still leave room for an open area big enough to fit a couple of pools. They had decorated it with parasols hanging upside down from the trellis, and winking lights around the fence. Banquet tables were set up with white cloth. And when we finally arrived, the karaoke dance party portion of the evening was in full swing.
We met up with some of Emily’s old co-workers, and stood around chatting with them. I went inside to leave our gift on the table and was accosted by a very drunk party-goer holding a bottle of some kind of liquor, and a cup. “Here! Here!” he shouted, “You gotta ha’ one o’ these with me! S’great.”
“No, thank you, I’m okay,” I declined. The Mullet had served me a rum and coke a couple of hours before, and that was all the drinking I was going to be doing that night. “C’mon! Have one. You gotta drink wi’ me,” he insisted. But I turned him down again and rejoined the party outside in the yard. There, I entered into a long conversation with the father of one of the brides. I learned many things from him.
- Buying an RV and driving it around until you end up in Logan, Utah and meet a nice woman who can cook does indeed sound like “living the dream”. Well, it’s not my dream. But it has a certain dreamy-ness quality. I fantasize about RV trips.
- My drunk friend was his son, and he was 32, and he was….wait, is he hitting on that woman? Good luck! Look at his dance moves!
- As he looked upon his daughter, a young white woman who had just married her pregnant, black fiancee, his eyes teared up a little and he said “This is what it’s all about. This is how it starts. Someday the world will be one.” He could not have been prouder.
We lingered a bit at the reception, wanting to make sure we congratulated the brides (and moms to be). They were both so happy and sparkling. Their families were dancing and singing together, and the pregnant bride had more energy than anyone else. We loved being able to see it all, and we didn’t want to leave.
Part Three: Police Chase
We were on a deadline, though. Our babysitter had arrived at 6:30, and it was looking like it would be at least 11:30 before we arrived home, and that meant leaving right then and not getting lost on the way out to the freeway. We had plenty of incentive to get home quickly, since our babysitter is a teacher at the kids’ daycare, and she charges $80,000 per hour. At the rate we were going, her fee was going to be more than we’d spent on dinner and drinks from The Mullett, Iowa, and The Awkwardly Extended Conversation About Movies During a Romantic Dinner Restaurant Manager. We had to hurry.
Since we were in a hurry, though, the laws of the universe dictated that we get lost. I made a wrong turn on an unfamiliar street, and ended up driving down to a ninety-degree corner that led off in an even more wrong direction. Realizing my mistake, when I turned right to go around the corner I decided to use the extra lane space, and a wide driveway, to make a U-turn and go back the way I’d come.
This was east of 101, though, and the police like to keep a close watch on people cruising in that part of town. A police car detached itself from the chain of cars parked along the curb and started to follow me. I spotted him in my rear-view mirror, recognizing the headlight silhouette of a Crown Victoria with a police cruiser grate on the front. I had no idea what he was up to. But it was late on a Saturday night, the cops were being extra vigilant, and I had just, to all appearances, seen a cop car on the street in front of me and then turned around to get away from him.
As my thoughts raced, I tried to outrun him, hoping I could lose him in the maze of streets. But the speed limit was 25/mph and I was going in a straight line, so my evasive options were limited. I made careful stops at each stop sign, hoping he was just checking me out to see if I was swerving or scoping out the neighbourhood. I was almost to the main street, with its freeway access ramp, when the red and blue lights finally came on in my rearview mirror.
I pulled over, gently, to the curb, my mind still working overtime. What did he want? Did I have a tail-light out? Thank god I didn’t accept my drunk friend’s offer to drink whatever the hell was in that cup. The Mullet did me a favour by making my drink pretty weak, five hours passed. Does he think I saw him and then turned around to get away? I was so distracted by my thoughts that Emily had to remind me to cut the engine while the officer approached, so he wouldn’t be nervous about me pulling away. Never do anything in a traffic stop that might get a gun pulled on you.
I rolled the window down, and steeled myself for the interrogation.
“Good evening, folks. May I have your license, sir?” I handed it over. “Where are you folks going tonight?”
“We were just at a friends’ wedding reception, and now we’re going home. I don’t know the area, though, so I made a wrong turn on this street on my way out to the freeway,” I answered.
“Okay. Well, the reason why I stopped you…” I cringed…” …was because that place you turned around back there, well, that was a double-yellow you crossed.”
Oy. I’m so stupid.
“I’ll be right back, I’m just going to go check your license.” Crap. Was I about to get a ticket? Were there more questions to come? I was all nerves again when he came back to the window.
“Alright, Mr. Burns. Well, I can see that you two are just on an evening out. You’re both dressed real nice. To get to the freeway, just drive up this street a little ways more, and then make a right. The on-ramp will be on the left. Have a good night.” He handed my license back to me, without a ticket, and we drove away. I had made another friend.
In the end, we were late enough getting home that we paid our sitter for another full hour. But when I apologized to her for being late, I couldn’t really explain that we were late because:
- My new friend that talkative restaurant manager and his accomplice, Iowa, had conspired to run dinner late so that we could have a long conversation about movies that would not even end when I threatened to permanently scar myself with a fondue burner.
- My other new friend, the RV-cruising father-of-the-bride was imparting wisdom to me, and letting me bask in the glow of his pride for his daughter and her wife and their baby while also introducing me to his new gal, the one who can cook, and his son, the one who can’t dance.
- My newest new friend, the police officer, had wanted to make sure that I could find my way home okay.
Who would believe it?