Wednesday, November 4, 2009

We Just Want to Find a Place to Eat: A Short Story with Food as Its Theme

Currently teaching a screenwriting class at the local college, I keep asking the students 3 questions:

1. Who is your protagonist?
2. What does he want?
3. What is his obstacle?

Without these key ingredients, there is no story. Perhaps an anecdote. But no story.

This past Friday, Daniel and I embarked on our favorite Cleveland journey: dinner and a movie. Usually we head east to the Cedar Lee, which quenches our thirst for films not targeted at 18-year-old boys.  Prior to watching the grown up / indi / foreign films, we tend to have dinner at the local Thai place and, if the film ends early enough, we then head to the Starbuck's on Cedar / Fairmount to discuss the main characters, plots points, story, etc.  Little did we know, that on Halloween Eve, we'd end up as the characters in someone else's tale.

Because the Capitol Theater, run by the same management company as the Cedar Lee, has just been renovated and is closer to my West Side home, we decided to meet by the marquee and give the old / new film house on West 65th and Detroit a try.  Unknown to us, having a meal prior to the evening showing of "Where the Wild Things Are" was not going to be easy.  No, it was going to be ridiculous.

Some pseudo-punk kids saw us looking out of place and recommended the coffee shop across the street. With bright lights and a warm wood interior, it looked friendly enough, but Daniel and I craved dinner food, thus we walked right past the pleasant aroma corner shop. We then saw a sign for a family type restaurant and as we approached the sign, realized the location itself was a closed art gallery. We then crossed the street where we saw a pub and agreed getting a burger wasn't so bad. But as we walked near the door, and peeked in, the narrow dark interior, the several decade old absorbed stench of nicotine and the sole patron at the bar gave indication that perhaps the culinary skills were not to be trusted here.

Next, we headed in the western direction, as we spotted a Mexican dive. And for Daniel, nothing is better than Mexican food. For my educated, world-traveled and uber cultured friend, chips and salsa are the earth's most perfect food. In fact, this blog concept was named after him. As we approached the door to the Mexican restaurant, also brightly lit in contrast to the dark, mostly vacant street, we saw that the sign indicated an 8PM closing. It was 7:45. We hoped. We prayed. But when the owner walked up, unlocked the door and asked us if it's "to go" she might as well have yelled "No chips for you!"

Next, we meandered to the fast food places: a neighboring sub and pizza chain. Unfortunately for us, neither establishment had any seating room. And was filled with patrons of the most interesting appearances. Now, I lived my first three years in America in Chicago's housing projects. I also spent most of my college years riding the el, boarding and departing on stations in good neighborhoods and in shady ones. Street life does not frighten me. And if it did, I would never show it. Until this night.

With growling stomachs, frustrated by the lack of gastronomic choices in an "up-and-coming" neighborhood, on an unusually warm night - especially since, whenever Daniel and I go to the Cedar Lee, summer or winter, we always complain of how cold it is - we finally decided to bite the proverbial bullet, because, well, we needed a bite of something. And we saw the familiar arches that have, in a Pavlovian manner, given millions of us a sense of calm and exhale, especially on long cross-country road trips: McDonalds. "I guess we're having Big Macs tonight," said a happy Daniel. "I guess we are," I replied.

As we entered the standardly constructed location we could both sense that the clientele had reached its lifecycle ceiling: not in age, but in everything else; this was as good as anything would ever be for the adults and children dining in this particular fast food restaurant. It felt kind of sad, because, well, sometimes destinies are created and sometimes they are born into. This group fell into the latter. And, just as Daniel and I were going to order our Big Macs, my good friend, with his eyes wide open, signaled me to look at one of the patrons. As I turned around I saw a thug: tall, almost albino-pale, relatively young man, extremely overweight, wearing all black. But what I didn't immediately see was the large black gun in his right pocket. Ready to be used at any minute. Very quickly, Daniel and I exited the golden arches. And, again, we were back on our quest for food, with West 65th and Detoit as our obstacle.

The one restaurant that we noticed as soon as our adventure commenced was Luxe: bright signage, sophisticated glass with writing on it and packed interior. We initially wanted to avoid Luxe as a. we had no reservations b. we weren't in the mood to drop snooty restaurant money for a casual night. As we walked in, we were pleasantly surprised: a. they don't take reservations b. they could seat us within 10 or so minutes. And, about 15 minutes later, we had a wonderful table.

We ordered burgers - the cheapest item on the menu - no apps, no alcohol and two soft drinks. They must have loved us. The music was great, the food pretty good and yet, the evening's contrasting surprises continued: crystals chandeliers hung from the ceilings while, in place of tablecloths and napkins, the restaurant uses coarse, wrinkly dish towels. Given the evening's David Lynch like unveiling, I'll take dishtowels over a gun anytime.

As we exited Luxe and crossed the street we both commented on the very cool outdoor public benches: curvy and lit up from underneath, solidly situated in what are clearly new sidewalks. You can sit in this neighborhood. You just can't dine in this neighborhood.

Finally, we entered the Capitol Theater - beautifully redone, with a staff friendliness not yet eroded as it is at the Cedar Lee. We bought our popcorn and soft drinks and headed upstairs, to a beautiful 2nd floor lobby, complete with luxurious couches, a fireplace and vintage artwork. We proceeded to the small theater, what was once considered the balcony, and is now sectioned off from the main screen downstairs. Exhaling from the evening's adventures, we sat down.  And within a few seconds, didn't know if someone was playing a joke on us: the original cement, preserved, created the steps to the tiered seating and, like passengers on a regional jet, we both realized that the leg room is missing a good six inches. Not to mention no cup holders for our soft drinks.

At last, the movie started. A film about a little boy who creates a fantasy world on a desolate island, complete with war, happy music and giant monsters. Monsters who could eat that boy at any minute. How lucky for them.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like my family's curse with restaurants. It's so bad that we have to laugh to keep from screaming...which is what two hungry little boys have done the couple of times it's happened with us. Never fails...