Monday, May 21, 2007

The never ending dinner

Oldest Son graduated Sunday from the University of Our Lady of the Lake in South Bend, Indiana. It was a grand occasion and there might be any number of stories to tell -- but let's just focus on dinner Saturday night.

Just as generals are always preparing for the last war, parents are always preparing for the last event: We'd had such difficulties getting Oldest Son to tell us what he wanted to do for Junior Parents Weekend last year that we missed out on the class dinner and all the other formally scheduled events.

So when the school sent us a list of (and an invitation to buy tickets for) each of the Graduation Weekend festivities, I did not wait for Oldest Son to tell us what he wanted to do: I told Long Suffering Spouse to book everything. Especially the dinner. We weren't going to watch our kid mope again while all his friends were together at the class dinner.

And, of course, we suffered the fate of all generals who prepare for the last war: After we had bought all the tickets, Oldest Son advised us that he and a group of friends had decided to bypass the class dinner and have dinner together as a group. They had scouted restaurants and booked one, where we would be given our own private tent for the occasion.

(Oldest Son turned in the school dinner tickets; we'll get a partial refund on that. Eventually. We hope.)

So we arrived in South Bend for the famous dinner. The restaurant and adjacent tent were in Mishawaka. I will call the place Luigi's because that is not the actual name of the establishment. If there is a Luigi's in Mishawaka -- and I sincerely don't know -- I am not talking about it.

(I trust that clears up any potential libel issues. And I must stress, in telling this tale, that I appreciate that Oldest Son and his friends had a truly nice thought in trying to set this up. They meant well. It's just... well, let me explain....)

Luigi's was situated in a converted house right off one of the main roads in town.

And the joint was packed. They had other graduation parties from Oldest Son's college at the restaurant that night -- and a prom. But they did have a rather well-used tent set up in their parking lot, out behind the place. And there were two men in the alley pointing people to places where they might possibly find a place to park.

We got a space in an abandoned gas station, right outside an open door leading to what had been the gas station's bathroom at one time. This particular setting has undoubtedly used in any number of horror movies over the years; I had no idea that Northern Indiana had such an active film industry.

We did however manage to get back to Luigi's without being accosted by any mutants.

There were roughly 50 people in the party that Oldest Son and his friends had put together. And when we got there, there was a nice young man in a goatee, wearing a black shirt and black pants, tending bar. When I placed an order for Long Suffering Spouse and myself, I noticed the bartender just marking a couple hash marks on a notepad. "We're running a tab?" I asked. We were, he said. "We're running one tab?" We were, he said.

I reported this to Oldest Son... who was confused. "Each family is supposed to have its own tab," he said. I told him to work it out with his friends and the bartender. Eventually they decided that everything would be done by table... and ordered from each table... which was fine except the bartender was the only server. For 50 people. And Luigi's didn't plan on having anyone else take meal orders either.

And have I mentioned that this was the bartender's first day working at the place?

Older Daughter planned to drive up from Indianapolis Saturday evening and catch up with us wherever we might be. We'd been at Luigi's for over an hour when she called to tell us that she was 80 miles out of South Bend. Fine, I told her. When you get into town, call again and we'll let you know where we are.

And she did.

And can you guess where we were when she called?

Yes, we were still at Luigi's. We had yet to order dinner.

Older Daughter got lost trying to find the restaurant. Oldest Son had to take the phone and provide turn by turn directions. Younger Daughter met Older Daughter in the alley and guided her to our haunted parking space.

And Older Daughter was in time to order dinner with the rest of us.

We couldn't get a basket of bread. Or a pitcher of water. And no round of drinks ever came in the same sized (or shaped) glass... because they were running out inside.

It is just possible our bartender was the dishwasher, too.

I do not think this was a ploy to build up the bar tab: First of all, we might all have been passed out if we continued to drink while waiting... and waiting... and waiting for dinner. That is, we might have, if the young bartender could have provided drinks more than once every 90 minutes.

I was ready to eat the tablecloth by the time my dinner was served. I got what I ordered; about half our party did not. Some tried sending theirs back. Some ate anything that was provided. Some private trades took place. And we ate at least an hour earlier at our table than some of the unfortunates at adjacent tables.

But then... finally... when everyone had gotten something, all the graduates got together for pictures and one spoke on behalf of his fellows to the assembled group.

He thanked us all for coming, of course, and recited all of the typical sorts of pleasantries that are customary on occasions of this sort. But he concluded by saying, "Some of us have jobs already and some of us don't and none of us have gotten a paycheck yet. So while we love you from the bottom of our hearts, we're all at the bottom of our wallets."

We parents were expected to pay for this evening... and night... and early morning (or so it seemed to me by this time) at Luigi's. (I really wasn't surprised by this; I rather expected it -- and I thought the kid who broke the news to us did so memorably.)

But we did not order dessert.

And the bill? We had two families at our table; we split the amount between us. My share was only a little more than what I had already spent on the dinner that the college had provided that evening. A dinner which had ended hours and hours before. It did not come close to describing what was consumed at our table -- the entrees were mixed up entirely and the drink orders were worse. But our will to quibble had long since evaporated. We paid. And fled.


Middle Son was not with us at dinner. He had stayed behind in Chicago with Youngest Son. Youngest Son had a baseball game that started at 5:00 pm Chicago time. The game went into extra innings -- 11 instead of the usual seven that are supposed to be played at that level. There was some question whether the game would end before it became too dark to play.

But it finally did end, somewhere around 8:00 pm Chicago time. That's 9:00 pm in South Bend. Middle Son and his brother left from the park... and were in South Bend before we left Luigi's....


may said...

thank good ness there was a tablecloth. it is good you had options:)

kidding aside, congratulations! a graduation is not just the graduate's accomplishment. you parents deserve half of the credits!

sari said...

I spit apple pie on my tablecloth reading this I was laughing so hard, You've got a way with words.

At least you finally ate, right?

Linda said...

Oh. my.

emmapeelDallas said...

Ah, yes...I can relate. We're doing a Wedding in the Backyard this weekend, and we may be longing for Luigi's by the time Sunday night rolls 'round...

landgirl said...

Congratulations to your son and to you and your spouse for your patience. Sometimes we don't realize how much we know until we see how much young people don't know--I'm not picking on your son just noting that experience in the world does (sometimes) make a difference. I hope the bartender's second day is a bit easier.

Where fibers meet mud said...

Congratulations on the graduation! As I read it I thought you had reused a post. Did you not have a similar experience last year at this time? Maybe you should offer to pick the next party center! or pack a PBJ!

Landgirl said it perfectly - your son and his friends need a little more experience - - but to kids of that genre' a bag of chips and a bottle of wine/beer is a party!

Endurance is our game as parents!

Now the saga of what to do after the party is over! good luck!

Patti said...

Give yourself credit for surviving that meal!
landgirl is right - we as adults don't realize how much we have picked up along the way until we see how young kids handle things...

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

well curmy did you at least take your vitamin?? ha ha ha...

smiles, bee

Lawfrog said...

Congrats to your son on his graduation. I can totally relate to your experience at Luigi's. That same exact horrible thing happened to me when I planned Dear Husband's birthday party at a popular restaurant. Except that we only had 7 people in our party.

I complained vehemently (might as well put those lawyer skills to use) and received 1/3rd of the actual bill in gift certificates to the place. Like I'd ever want to go back there. But DH likes it so I gave the GCs to him and he was happy.