I should have been in a great mood, by all means, but I was not a happy camper. Not at all. Black tie affairs are not my thing, and this was the blackest of black tie affairs. The room was filled with politicians and movers and shakers, and I knew no one. Mainly because I’m not a money grubber. Sure, I was sitting in the lap of luxury, surrounded by powerful and prestigious people. I was being served imported caviar and smoked oysters wrapped in aged prosciutto, drinking a fine Riesling served in real crystal. We were between courses, waiting on the show stopper, the main course, pan seared salmon topped with sun-dried tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and some French sauce I couldn’t pronounce if you gave me a tutor, explained what the funny little accent thing over the e is supposed to actually do, if I had been born in Paris and if my life depended on it.
I was miserable.
I would have been much happier wearing jeans, eating hot wings in a sports bar somewhere with a bib on because the sauce from the wings would make you look like a grease monkey after a lube job when you finished sucking the meat from the bones. A cold beer in hand, watching the endless pre-game shows leading up to the Super Bowl.
That was what got me into this mess, the Super Bowl. It was going to be the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers and their gargantuan quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, taking on the cardiac kid Cardinals led by aging legend Kurt Warner. My old platonic friend Steve had wrangled some tickets to the game, and 5 days of Super Bowl parties and endless revelry, and as we had been friends for twenty years and he couldn’t find a real date to put on his arm, he decided to take me on the vacation of a lifetime. I agreed. Why not? I’d known Steve since grade school. We had always been close. Superbowl week in Tampa Bay. Sun and Fun and the NFL’s greatest game shared with a few million people in the Tampa- St. Pete area. Beaches, muscled men in bathing suits, sun, parties, and memories that would last a life time.
At least, that was the idea.
But instead of eating hot wings and attending loud, screaming parties, we were at a fundraising dinner for the Governor the night before the great game. As people flooded the city streets, getting wild and having fun, I was waiting on some delicate fish drowning in a French sauce I couldn’t pronounce and certainly didn’t want to eat. Instead of talking about the beefy D-Line of the Cardinals chasing Big Ben around the gridiron, I was listening to dull, mind numbing conversations about budget discrepancies and proprietary funding grants that would study the mating habits of the swamp moth. Instead of meeting a hunky Latino lover and dancing the night away, I was thinking about ending it all with a ball point pen through the eye so I could escape the tedium. There was excitement right outside the sculpted, aged double doors, just beyond the gated fences being guarded by security guards that were having more fun than me.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate culture and class in its place. The art on the walls of the grand dining room was breathtaking and likely priceless. The long table was antique and the setting was ornate. You couldn’t find better service in a 5 star resort. But this was supposed to be an adventure. A getaway. A once in a lifetime, exciting escape from the humdrum reality of 9 to 5 life. I had been divorced for almost two years, and in that time, I had done little but work and pay bills, cope with life after a failed marriage. Then Steve said, “Hey, why don’t you go down to the Super Bowl with me. It’ll be a blast. I don’t have a date, I need to meet with some high-profile clients and take care of some business, but it will be a blast. I think you need a blast!”
It sounded like a GREAT idea. I did love football, and even though my team, the Jets, were not playing, attending any Super Bowl was a once in a lifetime opportunity. The festivities surrounding the game alone were legendary. I had believed that we would be partying, having a ball, but all we had done thus far was attend stuffy diner parties like this, night after night, as Steve courted government contracts, like he was doing now. I ended up stuck, alone in rooms filled with people like this. People I didn’t know. People, frankly, I didn’t want to know. They all looked great in their tuxedos and tails and fine dresses. Frankly, I looked stunning in my evening gown, but what a waste. All these people worried about and talked about were money and power and attending more dinners like this one. Married men hit on me, the only person I even knew in this stuffy mansion was busy chatting up other people. I wished that he would give me a few minutes of his time, too, so I could chat him up. I really wanted to give him a piece of my mind.
The week was almost wasted and I was bored. The only time I enjoyed was the mornings by the pool in the hotel. I sighed and stared at the pink fish as the perfectly dressed servant with the great posture placed a dish down before me. I was too depressed to even make an attempt to eat it.
“I find salmon boring too.” The man next to me said under his breath, leaning over to me. He was very handsome,. He had curly dark hair and devilish eyes. “Almost as boring as constant talk about the under-funding of the budget by the State Congress and the problems with the Democrats in the State government.”
“Amen.” I said. I took a sip of wine, poked at the tiny, exquisite portion of fish, and sat my fork down. It always puzzled me why rich people paid so much money for food and then ate servings that wouldn’t fill up a Happy Meal carton. “I don’t think I can eat this.” I said.
“Me either.” he agreed, taking the napkin from his lap and placing it over his plate. “I think it’s the company and the ambience as much as the food.” he continued. “These people are already dead and they don’t know it, they’re simply haggling over funding so they can buy better coffins for themselves while Tampa Bay pulses with life, getting ready to watch Big Ben and Kurt the Magician go at it in the big game tomorrow. Care to get out of here and get some real food? Enjoy the city and the night? Escape this tomb?”
I looked at him and he smiled, a smile that told me he was looking to find some trouble. The thing was, trouble and fun is EXACTLY what I was looking for.
“I know this place with great burgers and chicken wings, big screen TV’s and the frostiest 16 ounce mugs you’ll find in the state of Florida!” he added. That did it.
“Absolutely.” I answered and stood. He joined me. One of the ever-present servants rushed to us.
“Is everything alright, Madame?” he asked politely.
“Fine.” I said “We just remembered that we have something exciting to do.”
With that, we walked out the massive double oak doors at the end of the chamber as two doormen opened them for us, ready to find the excitement I had been promised when I agreed to come to Florida, even if I was going to find it with a new friend instead of an old one.