Friday, April 15, 2011

Back In College... Or At Least a College Town

As a prelude to my wife's all expenses paid trip to San Diego for winning her presentation contest, or her penance as she claims, she had to give her speech to another residency program across the state in a large state college town. Of course her expenses to this were paid and since it was on a weekend and much closer to me than our apartment in the urban jungle, the daughter and I met her there on a Friday evening before her speech the next morning.

We met up with another couple, the husband whom is in the same residency batch as my wife, and went out to dinner. It didn't take too long for all those old familiar feelings to come back to me. First I noticed the traffic on the main roads through town. Not only were they busy but they were aggressive with so many expensive cars with too much horsepower piloted by kids that were still young enough to believe they are immortal. I know that feeling though it left me sometime after I graduated college. Several times through town I had to hit my breaks to avoid rear ending someone who either cut me off, or pulled out in front of me. Ahead, cars swerved back and forth between the lanes trying to pick the one that was moving the fastest.

Next, every place in town was packed as college students were intent on celebrating this Friday evening, one of their last before finals began and the end of the semester ended. Every place we drove by was packed to the gills and had a waiting list. The couple we were with wanted to eat at Applebee and so we did. Fortunately for the six of us (we each had our daughters with us), we only had a fifteen minute wait to be seated. But typical of a town full of kids packing on way too much debt and thus not inclined to leave tips, the service was expectedly shitty. Our appetizers came about thirty seconds before our main course and were barely luke warm. My wife and I got the spinach/artichoke dip, something we have had in the past and enjoyed but here, the chips were so stale that it was hard to break them off in your teeth. The main dishes were also terrible and I can say that for sure since I tried both mine and my wife's entrée.

Since it was Friday and during Lent, she told me she wanted to order the Cajun shrimp and pasta. I told her that she shouldn't because it would be too spicy for her to eat. She informed me that it didn't say it was spicy on the menu but I said in America, it is understood that if it says Cajun, it will be spicy. She didn't believe me and ordered it anyway. I got the batter fried shrimp basket which was bland and if there were shrimp inside all the breading, I couldn't taste them. So when my wife tried one bite of her dish and couldn't eat it because it was too spicy, I gave her the I-told-you-so-but-won't-rub-it-in-since-we-are-eating-with-others look and traded plates. After a few bites, I had to admit that it was probably the worst spiced dish I have ever eaten. It was spiced just for the sake of making it hot and had absolutely no other flavor to it. I gave up on it about half way through and stole a few shrimp from my former plate which although tasteless, was still filling.

Later that night back in our motel room, it was a long time getting to sleep with all the noise going on outside and inside. The cajun shrimp pasta was burning a hole in my esophagus every time I lay down and finally after several hours, I decided enough was enough and willed myself to throw up the entire lot of it in the bathroom. When it was out, I felt just as good as I had up until the point I walked into that darn Applebee restaurant.

The next day while my wife was earning the paid expenses by giving her speech, my daughter and I huddled outside at a small park out of the very cold wind blowing and while she played on the equipment, I got to people watch. Again I was reminded of being in a college town as people where shorts, sandals and light cotton hoodies walked by and the scrolling sign across the street told me that it was only 21 degrees out. Worst of all, the boys and especially the girls looked way too young to be in college. When I mentally figured out that they were closer to my daughter's age than they were to mine, I suddenly felt ancient.


R. Sherman said...

I shy away from national chain restaurants for all the reasons you describe. It's not worth the money, although when I was forced to eat at an Applebee's in Dickinson, ND and my steak was overcooked, they replaced it and comped me the meal.


Ed said...

Although I don't want to lump them all because I've had some good meals at chains, I generally think along the same lines. When you are an independent restaurant with a reputation on the line and only locals as your main customer base, you have more at stake than say an Applebees.

Ron said...

I find your description of a college town to be accurate. When we go back to visit, the maniacal driving and lack of decent family-oriented venues makes it painful.

geri said...

I laugh at your description of those kids wearing light clothing at 20s weather. I've seen it at our college town - standing in the corner obviously shivering while waiting for the lights to turn green.

What I also don't understand are these kids wearing pajama bottoms under a jacket while going to the grocery - no college student in the Philippines will be seen wearing those outside the house! lol

I think 15 years old is too young to have the kids learn to drive and 16 is too young for them to drive on their own - esp in the city!

sage said...

I always feel old going to college towns--we did stop by Davidson, NC this trip to show my daughter another college. I loved your line: " and if there were shrimp inside all the breading" Been there, done that! Have a good day!

Murf said...

My sign of old age when on a campus is looking at the females in flip flops and thinking 'You need arch support, missy!'.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

I wrote a lengthy comment here and it must have proved ugly to someone, because up flashed a blogspot page saying "We are sorry, we were unable to complete your request" That is truly weird.