Small Town, Big Eats

This is really going to be lost on my friends who live in big cities. But I feel I have to share it. (As a paranthetical here…I am always wary of people who tell me they want to “share” something with me, but if you can look past it, I can too. Mental note…is it redundant to describe something as paranthetical if it is already in parantheses?)

I live in a mid-size town. The nearest city of any size is 120 miles away. I don’t think that makes me a yokel, but I’m surely not as cosmopolitan as a lot of folks out there. And, in my defense, I’m a worldly guy. I’ve spent enough time in big cities, hot deserts, resort communties, and foreign nations to qualify for anti-yokel status. And in my defense (again) I’ve eaten in some of the country’s finest eateries (food is a bit of a passion for me, but that’s a story for another day). All that said…I felt like a yokel over the weekend.

It was time to spend some quality time with my girl. I’d been neglecting her a bit and she deserved a nice dinner. Rather than pop into one of our favorite joints, we chose a place we hadn’t visited yet, Rene’s Fish Market. It is really an unassuming place. I mean, for the love of Pete, it sits in the corner of a strip mall. Nevertheless, we noticed immediately it was, as they say, a place to be.

We recognized a few people as we walked through the door for our 8pm reservation. One, a surly pock-faced man named Oby Lyles who works for the school district pretended not to know me and I pretended to care who he was. The maitre d’ isn’t from around here. He sounded East Coast and acted well the part. The president of the new basketball franchise was entertaining his lady and speaking well of our former mayor Max Heller. He’s the guy who once said, “Women will go anywhere to shop. We all know that. Women rule the world.” (It sounds a lot better with his thick accent). The current mayor’s wife was hiding in a corner somewhere.

Everybody kept talking about Rene. “Rene thanks you for being here.” “Clemson is losing. Rene is losing money.” “I’ll tell Rene you said hello.” I started toying with the idea that Rene doesn’t actually exist. It was making me laugh. Rene never appeared and everytime someone mentioned his name I giggled…and it is really silly for a guy to giggle.

We sat down. The menu was a nice. A nice assortment of good meats and fish. “Please call 72 hours ahead for lobsters larger than two pounds.” Our waiter Juan kept using phrases like “a menu for you, if I may” and “shall I proceed with your order.”

So…all in all, the evening was going nicely. My girl ordered swordfish stuffed with crabmeat. We both had some clam chowder. And I did something I have never done before.

See, I’m a low-level newsie. My gal is a low-level newsie. We don’t make any money. We get to play TV five days a week and they give us enough dough to pay our mortgage.

I was feeling like a little surf and turf. The only surf and turf on the menu fell under a dangerous heading for me. MARKET PRICE.

But I ordered anyway. And it was some great food. The filet didn’t literally melt in my mouth, but it was afraid of my teeth enough to aquiesce as I let my jaw close. The lobster was tasty. I commented on the meal and wanted to thank Rene for it.

It came time for Juan to ask, “Shall I proceed with the check?” I said sure and he brought it out.

I scanned the ticket. The swordfish came out at $18. I was pleased with that. The soup was cheap. I looked down at the bottom. $44. Not bad at all for a great meal like that. I looked again.

Wait. There’s no listing for MARKET PRICE here. Ah…ohhhhhhh.

Now, hear me here. I’ve paid much more for meals in the past. I’ve paid more for meals in the last few months. But it has been a long time since I paid $44 for one plate of food. Mental note: MARKET PRICE=$44.

There’s no need to go into the full check price. Like I said, it wasn’t the biggest ever (not even close). The point is…in the past, I always knew what the tab was going to be.

So, my girl laughed at me. My friends laughed at me. They told the story and I accidentally fell in a creek and they laughed at me again.

I know this will be lost on my big-city, high-mortage, big-job, market-price-is-the-only-price friends.

I’m not so embarrassed as I feel…un-cultured. It’s like in one moment Rene (a man who decided to set up shop in a small town and govern his eateries from the shadows) turned me into a yokel. It’s like being told it’s part of the culture to urinate in the streets, doing so, and having a bunch of drunk Germans laugh at you (another story for another day).

I don’t have a clever tag-line to this story. I wish I did. It’s just something I needed to get off my chest.

I’m off to see if I can find some Pabst and some Ramen noodles.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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