“Those are beautiful earrings.”
“Yeah? They were only eight dollars!”
“Hey Mark. Can you close out tonight?”
“No problem, man.”
“It’s open seating. Feel free to sit wherever you like.”
“Can I get the ‘Down Under ‘Rita?'”
It’s Thursday. My usual night out since I work from home on Fridays. Except I’m in Newark, CA, adjacent to Fremont, a hop and a skip away from San Jose. I’m at the Outback Steakhouse. The lighting is intentionally dim, but everything else is loud: the primary-colored neon lights (Foster’s, Budweiser, Miller, the bright green EXIT signs), the four TVs in every corner of the bar blasting the Mets game, and America’s Top 40’s of yesteryear in the background (Britney Spears, Hoobastank, Kelly Clarkson).
I’ve been working my ass off. 7:30 am conference call this morning that I took while stuck in traffic on the way to Fremont. Arrived at our Operations building at 8am in time for the bagels that had been ordered.
The Outback Steakhouse is three blocks away from my hotel. I promptly ordered the Grand ‘Rita, their catchy name for a top shelf margarita. My waiter came back with my ‘Rita and a small loaf of bread on a chopping board. I told him to take it away. “I’m not going to eat that, but you can go ahead and bring the Bloomin’ Onion.”
I thought about my eating patterns. This morning I’d helped myself to two bagels slathered in cream cheese. For lunch, I tossed the bread of my sandwich, eating the remaining lettuce, tomatoes, American cheese, and roast beef. My fingers carried the residue of mayonnaise. My co-workers think I’m on Atkins until I scarf down two dense oatmeal / chocolate chip cookies. I have a major sweet tooth; I have to make tradeoffs.
The Bloomin’ Onion (called the Awesome Blossom at Chili’s) is a flowering onion deep fried. I’m a sucker for fried unhealthy crap.
Cheesy framed panoramic photos of Australia’s Outback adorn the restaurant. Boomerangs hang from the ceiling suspended a couple feet above your head. Pictures of kangaroos and koala bears are nailed to the walls. This is not Australia. It’s the heart of middle America, although Californian in its ethnic makeup. The woman in the booth in front of me is Asian. The guy to the left is Black. Every other guy at the bar is Mexican. And the guy behind me is Indian.
It’s a Thursday night (one of my favorite days of the week) and I’m stuck in the middle of suburbia watching the Mets and drinking a ‘Rita.
There’s no trust fund money to pay the bills. The upper class don’t frequent this restaurant chain. Here is where the middle class slick back their hair and take their girlfriends out for a nice meal, where the laborers come for a drink after work, and where I’m writing a blog posting in dim lighting, trying to take every detail in. I know I’m one of them–working insane hours to pay off a dizzying amount of student loans and a mortgage, with not enough left to pay for the therapy I want, the therapy I know I need.
The Outback Steakhouse is by no mean a classy place. Nor am I a classy girl. I wake up half an hour before I have to be at work, throw on some clothes, ponytail my hair back, and dab Vaseline on my lips. I’d rather eat Jack-in-the-Box than an expensive restaurant (although I do like a good glass of wine). And I tell everyone that if I ever get married, it’ll be “catered” by an In-n-Out truck serving animal-style burgers upon exiting the Church.
I’ve been to three country clubs in my lifetime; each time I felt unwelcome. I belong at a place like the Outback where the decor is tasteless and laughable, but the people are friendly. Everyone is always welcome. I know this is going to sound odd, but it felt like I was having Thanksgiving dinner (the weather is starting to get cold) with strangers…but warm, inviting strangers. A Thanksgiving on a Thursday night in the middle of suburban America.