by Hugh Gilmore
I had been in a good mood all day, lots of good things had happened for me and I was looking forward to dinner so I could talk about it all with my wife, Janet. In one of life’s eternal mix-ups, however, she had forgotten to tell me that she would be busy at Stagecrafters Theater that night.
Janet is a costumer there and tonight was fitting night for the next play coming along. The play is “Much Ado About Nothing,” and the director, Yaga Brady, has decided to set it in mid-19th century Mexico. Janet has been sewing ruffles onto cotton dresses for the past week.
So, come dinnertime I had to make a choice: Progresso soup, or call a friend who often goes out to dinner on weeknights and ask if I could join him and his wife. This was a Thursday night – last minute. I called but got their answering machine. I hung up when it came on.
Time to decide. Soup from a can, with frozen vegetables added to create an I’m-not-really-eating-soup-from-a can vibe, or go out by myself and eat something I really wanted. I decided to dare it and go alone to Mica. If you have not been to Mica, you’re missing a treat. The place is quiet and understated and the food is innovative and delicious. Unique, in fact. It feels like a museum where you ask to have the art taken off the walls so you can eat it.
But art doesn’t come cheap. It’s somewhat more expensive than the average place, but there’s nothing average about the food. I didn’t care. I wanted to eat something special, served to me by people who seemed to care whether I enjoyed it or not.
I stopped first at our local state store and talked to their wine expert. She recommended a bottle of Oregon pinot noir, which I bought, and then I ambled down the street. It was 5:30 p.m. when I went into Mica and asked (gulp) for a table for one, fearing I oozed desperation, (but not really caring – geek or not, I was determined to enjoy my evening out).
Sure, they said, and seated me at “Window Table One,” saying I could take all the time in the world, but they did have a 7:15 cover coming in. Being alone and not having the distraction of friends’ conversation, I said sure, that would be fine.
Time flew by. My server, Jackie, a professional and kindly person, brought fresh, chewy bread and a soft Spanish olive oil to dip it in, and then, at my request, some tuna crudo, followed by Lancaster chicken breast with whipped potatoes. It felt like karma. Everything tasted ambrosial and whenever I looked up from my food, I wondered about my good luck in being able to afford this meal. How nice it felt to sit alone at a table for four in Chestnut Hill before it began to fill. I sat admiring the soft, low-key soffited lighting playing off the ceiling, and appreciated how quiet and tasteful this place was and how it was such a pleasant timeout from the hurly-burly of the world.
While I waited for Jackie to return and tell me what tonight’s desserts might be, the soft soundtrack playing in the background suddenly became audible to to me. And I thought: Oh gosh. Oh no. But yes. The 2016 Nobel Prize winner for literature, Bob Dylan, was singing, “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man.”
Oh my goodness gracious … when I was young and easy under the apple bough, I thought a $3 bottle of wine was an extravagance. I would be staggered when my Volkswagen Beetle needed a new carburetor that would cost a week’s take-home wages. My apartment in Germantown at Wayne and Tulpehocken cost $75 a month.
Back then, I never in the world, whenever I listened to Bob Dylan sing about how hard we all had it, thought I’d be sitting on the other side of the window of a restaurant like this, ordering whatever I wanted from the menu. Including a side dish that’s much as a pair of “dungarees” used to cost. And I certainly never thought I’d be eating like this, at prices like these, while Bob Dylan, bloomin’ Bob Dylan, sang “Tambourine Man” at me. Never. What could I do but dreamily wait for my chocolate mousse as I sat smiling like a goof?
Bob wouldn’t mind. He could treat our entire town to dinner every night for the rest of our and his lives, and never miss a single one of his dollars blowin’ in the wind.
How did it happen? Are there kids listening to folk, rap or emo music tonight at an oil-cloth-covered table, lit by by a candle waxcrusted bottle, listening to some new musician howl about hard life is, how unfair the system is, how the man is screwing us all? Kids who will find themselves 20 years (or more) from now eating tuna crudo with a glass of Oregon pinot noir, only to be surprised, ironically, by hearing their own old voices slip out of a time-traveling soundtrack?
The next song up was, “Have you ever seen the rain?” Credence Clearwater Revival! Too much dust-of-time stirring for one night. I had to get out of there before I started dancing on the tables.
While settling my bill, I tried to tell Jackie-the-Server what I had just experienced. She smiled and said, “I guess it’s the American Dream, eh?”
Good enough. Thanks for the interpretation.