Grate Expectations

Was a swanky dinner by a fireplace too much to ask?

Our 23rd wedding anniversary was just one week away, and I could hardly wait to top the excitement of last year's romantic adventure—buying a new toilet seat.

Giddy with plans of a dreamy dinner for two at the swankiest high-rise restaurant in town, my imagination savored every heart-throbbing detail. After generously tipping the handsome valet parking attendant, Gary and I would stroll into a glass elevator for a ride to the 44th floor. There we'd be greeted by several tuxedoed men tripping over themselves to take our coats. As a string quartet played softly in the corner, we'd slip into chairs at our table overlooking the twinkling lights below.

A week before the big day, I zeroed in on the perfect table-for-two venue with a jaw-dropping view of the city. I even went online ahead of time to ogle the gold-lettered menu that appeared to be roughly the size of a room divider. Glancing at the exotic names of sizzling chops and sauces, I noticed that steak prices began at 55 dollars. And that didn't even include the fork.

Still, the restaurant boasted the best view in town, a piano player, and validated parking. Who could resist?

I had just one minor problem. When I called my view-for-two sky scraper, all dinner reservations were booked. Through the next three presidents.

Pasta surprise!

Time for Plan B. If I couldn't arrange a breathtaking view, then a roaring fire would be the next best treat. I remembered a trendy new eatery that featured a spectacular fireplace, and it was located a mere 101.3 miles from our house. Fortunately for our aging minivan, I discovered they'd opened a spiffy new location only 5 miles from our home. Although the restaurant specialized in pasta instead of t-bones, I was sure it would do the trick. 

At last our big night arrived. Reaching the restaurant, we repeatedly circled the jam-packed lot, finally nabbing the last parking place. Inside was no better: We elbowed our way through the packed crowd like salmon struggling to swim upstream.

I glanced to the right and noticed a bar and lounge area with a jukebox and a variety of colorful bottles suspended in the air. To my left were rows and rows of tables in the dark. Frantically grabbing a hostess, I asked her to point out the fireplace.

"Sorry," she tossed over her shoulder. "We're the only 'Pasta Surprise' that doesn't have one. Surprise!" 

 I couldn't believe it. No view. No fire.

"We're not eating here," I yelled at my husband over the crowd.

Slowly trudging back to the car, I felt like crying. Why couldn't I ever have the magical evening I yearned for? After two decades of clogged drains and kids, kids, kids, I wanted this one thing to go my way. Was that too much to ask?

Gary started the engine and turned to me. "What now?" he asked with a calmness that was beginning to annoy me.

"How would I know?" I pouted. "And how could those dummies leave out my fireplace?"

He smiled. "Hon, you've got to roll with the punches."

"I don't feel like rolling," I whined, folding my arms like a preschooler.

"Nothing's right"

I had to think of something. By now we were both ready to eat the seat cushions. I studied Gary in his camel-colored suede jacket and neatly combed hair. He looked handsome for a guy who fixed computers all day and leaky toilets most nights. As for me, my black pantyhose had only one run near my big toe, my hair had been transformed to "golden chestnut," and I sported two earrings that matched. For us, this was magazine-cover chic. I couldn't give up.

Sucking in a deep breath, I suggested we check out the new steakhouse down the street. Gary waited in the car while I conducted a quick reconnaissance mission. Returning with crushed hopes, I slumped into the front seat with a sigh.

"Well?" he asked with inhuman patience. "Yes or no?"

"It's a stupid place." I grumped. "No fireplace, no view, no music."

"Then let's just drive the 100 miles and go to the one you want," he offered generously.

I refused to be pacified. "It's too far. We won't make our movie. Nothing's right."

He took the keys out of the ignition and looked at me. "Please don't be unhappy. I don't care where we eat. I don't care if we see a movie. I don't care if I drive 100 miles to a fireplace.

I just want to be with you."

Gulp. How could I have missed the whole point of what we were celebrating? This man I'd publicly pledged to love in good times and in bad was honoring his promise—loving me when I was at my most unlovable. He was right—having a fireplace or a good view really weren't important. Just being together was.

I vowed to be more positive.

Fifteen minutes later we were holding hands in line at Chuck's Taco-Rama. After paying the cashier, Gary playfully held up our cardboard tray, twirling our two-for-one specials like a Broadway show waiter, barely missing the four paper pineapples dangling from above. (It was Hawaiian Week at Chuck's.)

Gazing across the rickety table, I was reminded of how fortunate I am to have a man like Gary. We were happily married 23 years in an age when few people last half that long. Our six children were healthy, intelligent, and well-behaved. We'd made it through the tough times and had emerged with our vows intact.

Suddenly it no longer mattered that the atmosphere was tacky, the forks plastic, and the movie boring.

It was the perfect evening. And the view was divine.

LouAnn Edwards, a freelance writer, has been married 24 years. LaughOutLoudMom.blogspot.com


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Celebration; Expectations; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Spring, 2008
Posted September 12, 2008

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