The Magical Meal

When my wife and I were in San Antonio a few days ago we had dinner at Bohanan’s, an upscale steak restaurant on Houston Street, not far from the downtown river walk.  We had been planning to have dinner there for quite some time; in fact, I think the promise of dinner at Bohanan’s was my wife’s anniversary present…or was it a birthday present…several years ago.  For various reasons, we hadn’t made the trip, but a few days ago, we did.  I’ve posted, on Facebook, photos I took while we were on the river walk but I’ve not recorded for posterity and as an aid to my own flagging memory what we had during our special meal.  Here it is.  For the record:

Candied jalapeños in cream cheese on toast (complimentary appetizer)
French grilled oysters
Gaspacho blanc
Sauteed spinach
Grapefruit sorbet (a palate cleanser between courses)
12 oz. ribeye steak (for my wife)
12 oz. New York strip steak (for me)
Argentine malbec (a glass for me)

As we waited for our food to arrive in this festival of gluttony, I looked around the restaurant and took note of the ambience of the place. Stuffiness was in the blood of this place. The tablecloths were white and the place settings spoke volumes about the monied few who are able to dine in the establishment. Flowers in tall glass vases stood guard along half-walls between sections of the restaurant, giving the impression that the large room was smaller and more intimate than it really was. Dull but expensive wall sconces were so deftly placed that they almost blended into the background. Cream and beige wall coverings, with muted stripes and understated elegance washed the background in every direction. Well-worn, but meticulously polished, hardwood floors tied the walls together with a gentle strength. The waiters, dressed in black suits and fully outfitted in uncomfortable ties, were serious about the seriousness of the food. And then, there were the people.

I pulled my notepad from my jacket pocket…I was dressed in black slacks and a grey tweed sports jacket and wore black shoes, for this was an event at a restaurant where looks mattered…and jotted descriptions of some of the people I saw around us:

  • A distinguished-looking elderly gentleman with long white hair, wearing a dark blue suit, is seated at a table with a few others a few feet from ours.  A somewhat younger man in a mottled brown sports jacket and two middle-aged and two women who may be clients of the two men sit across from him.  The women, who are dressed in what appear to me to be house dresses, listen intently as the white-haired man talks; they continue looking at him while his colleague joins the conversation.
  • A man, probably in his late thirties or early forties, sporting a five-day growth of beard, is sitting across from his female companion.  He is wearing an untucked shirt, white with wide blue stripes; his “look” appears to me staged and artificial.  His female companion could have been plucked from a 1950s commercial for a kitchen cleanser; she is fresh-faced and has a “girl next door” look about her, a stark contrast to her partner.
  • Behind me and to the right is a couple engaged in animated conversations punctuated with booming laughter and cackles of delighted surprise.  He is a large man, tall with a round face and a freshly-shaved head.  The word “temptress” describes her; her smile flashes quickly and easily and her eyes dart around the room, seeming to search for someone else who might have noticed her movement, her laugh, or the way she tossed her hair.  She is dressed in layers of see-through-thin fabrics draped over her ample frame.  Her attire might be considered somewhat formal, but his is decidedly not.   They do not care that they are a bit louder than this room suggests they should be; I like them.
  • A middle-aged couple who are, judging from the rose petals strewn across their table, celebrating an anniversary chat amiably with their waiter and his assistant, asking what they would recommend.  They opt for tap water instead of the bottled stuff.
  • Just behind me and to the left is a couple I’d describe as a New Jersey gangster and his brassy housewife.  They are loud, both in voice and in attitude.  He seems to want to draw attention to himself by emphasizing that he is not “from here.”  The brassy housewife across the table from him mirrors his style, looking around the restaurant to see whose eyes are on her each time she screeches.
  • An elderly woman, probably in her late seventies or early eighties, is seated alone for awhile, but soon is joined by a younger woman I assume to be her daughter.  They are dressed in understated elegance, the older of the two women sporting a necklace of large pearls that somehow goes quite well with her ruffled blouse and dark blue jacket.

As I am observing the people around us and jotting notes, it occurs to me that I am judging people on the basis of their appearance, augmented to a limited extent on the sound of their voices and the words I overhear them say.  Once that thought occurs to me, I wonder how these people might be judging us, this slightly uncomfortable couple sitting stiffly in the middle of the room, gazing around at the people and activities surrounding them.

My embarrassment at my own shallowness caused me to close my notepad and return it to the inside jacket pocket from whence it came.  I knew nothing about these people and was allowing myself to categorize them on the basis of stereotypes of my own creation.  What a fool!

Just moments after that flush of embarrassment, though, I decided my reading of these people and the pictures of them I was painting in my head  were just pieces of the process of understanding and interpreting the world around me.  My imagination was at work.  I was engaged in the creative process.  So I reassessed and decided I would use this experience as an episode in my own creative development.  So I gave the people names and backgrounds.

Later, perhaps much later, I will write more about these people.  I will explore their lives and why they were at Bohanan’s that night.

  • I will say more about Derrick, the distinguished gentleman in the blue suit who is in the business of providing pre-planning services that enable his clients and their families to more easily face that inescapable time when death is at their door.  Derrick and his aloof associate, Hank, will be explored at the same time I share more about the two sisters they were with, Glynda and Colleen.  Glynda and Colleen have been talking about planning their own funerals for almost a year now; dinner with Derrick and Hank is the first step toward taking action to put a plan in place.
  • Tom, the bearded hipster in the untucked blue and white shirt, is celebrating with his wife, Jill.  The reason for the celebration: he just closed on the purchase of a private detective agency that specializes in loss prevention for the hospitality industry.  The celebration will last only a few days, though, because Jill’s long-standing affair with a semi-retired entrepreneur fifteen years her senior will be unexpectedly and very publicly revealed.
  • The plumb temptress, Phaedra, and her bald-headed boyfriend, Stucco, chose tonight to celebrate their new business, too.  Phaedra signed the incorporation papers earlier in the day for Primal Phantasties, a travel planning company that creates one-of-a-kind vacations for people who love to drink and have “crazy” experiences but who are averse to the risks of uncharted territories.  Stucco will handle operations and ensure that their clients enjoy high adventure and cutting-edge risk-taking, but without the risk.  Phaedra says the business “is like adventure travel for accountants.”
  • Lester and Terry, the couple celebrating their anniversary with tap water, are enjoying their last meal before their lives come apart at the seams.  When they return home from dinner, they will find a dozen police cars in the street in front of their house, their flashing lights reflecting wildly off of the Police Line tape stretched between the trees on their front lawn.
  • Joey and Susannah actually are from New Jersey.  They arrived in San Antonio only three days ago, flush with money that Joey unwisely snatched from a safe in his boss’s office.  They drove to San Antonio in a 2008 Honda Pilot they bought, with cash, from an eBay Motors dealer in West Palm Beach, Florida.  Joey though their travels, which began in  Ocean City, New Jersey, would be hard to track because of the way the traveled: a friend gave them a ride to Atlantic City, where they took Greyhound to Ames, Iowa, then rented a car and drove to Chicago, then flew to Miami.  As it happens, Susannah’s proclivity to talk made tracking them a simple matter, after all.  Their lives were about to take an unexpected turn.
  • Ellen Murphy and her daughter, Viola Scaff, were unlike most other diners at Bohanan’s that night in that they were simply there for a meal, not a celebration.  Ellen is the widow of Angus Murphy, Jr., whose father, Commander Angus Murphy, built a fortune as a shipbuilder at the Port of Brownsville, Texas.  First Ellen, and then her daughter, Viola, had become accustomed to the good life that massive wealth could buy, so much so that what you and I consider “the good life” was, to them, just another form of drudgery. Fortunately for the slightly uncomfortable couple sitting and silently observing from the center of the room, the money Ellen and Viola took for granted would soon be dwarfed by an unexpected and utterly undeserved windfall.

And there, for now, you have it.  These disparate…and desperate…lives have intersected at a completely random place and time.  Out of randomness, though, comes order.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to The Magical Meal

  1. Ha! Never even thought of “judging” you two or Tara! But maybe I’ll weave our afternoon into my stories!

  2. robin andrea says:

    And to think Roger and I were once in a restaurant with you… Aging hippie couple, wife makes nervous jokes all afternoon, husband quietly interesting. LOL!

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