Where I write

Where I write

March 14, 2012

The Finest Baked Potato in all the Land

I spent last weekend at the Tucson Book Festival where I attended writing seminars and listened to famous and not so famous authors talk about a lot of topics involving their books and writing and other random stuff. I also browsed through the many books sold at the festival and even bought a few used ones. It was interesting and fun and I learned and met new people. I did most everything I set out to do except one thing. I was too cheap to order the $7.95 baked potato.

There was a fancy steak house adjacent to the hotel where I stayed in Tucson to attend the book festival. It was one of those ritzy steak houses, you know the kind you need a credit check before they will seat you.  I won't mention the name of this this steak house, but let's just say there was a menu posted beside the front door to keep out any losers who might be the type to exclaim, "You mean one baked potato costs more than an entire pound of potatoes. You have got to be kidding!"

Nope. They weren't kidding. I went inside and sat in the bar which looked sorta like photo above. Classy and dark with a lot of young attractive servers dressed in black (of course black) running around and managers in suits and ties. In the restaurant business, managers who get to wear suits and ties, and not a shirt with a name tag, tell you right away that this ain't no cheap dive, just in case you missed the prices on the menu. I don't even want to tell you what a steak cost. Let's just say I could buy a purse, pair of shoes and maybe even a new dress for what the entrees on this particular menu cost. I'm surprised they don't have to call ambulances on a regular basis to pick up people who faint right there at the door while reading the menu.

I wouldn't have even gone in this swanky over-priced steak house, if I hadn't already had a glass of wine at the free happy hour at the hotel where I was staying (and where I had a free breakfast and discounted room rate. I'm cheap and I'm proud of it.) So on my first night in town, I walked across the parking lot and took the plunge and went inside, curious what an expensive potato might look like. It had to be the size of a small planet, or at least something that would satisfy Paul Bunyan.

So I sat there in the dark restaurant at the bar. The skinny and young hostess dressed in black (of course black) asked to see my credit card first...just kidding but it felt that way. I felt lucky, when they said I could sit in the bar, as if I somehow tricked them into thinking I was rich. I was amazed at how busy the restaurant was especially when there is so much talk about a bad economy. I guess it hasn't touched Tucson steak houses.
I had a glass of wine and told myself I could do it. I could order a $7.95 baked potato.  But then, I just couldn't. You know why? Because I've worked in restaurants for too long, and I know that every kitchen, whether I worked in Chicago, Denver or now Phoenix, looks and operates the same. It's stainless steel appliances, hot and greasy, men, and occasionally a woman, dressed in white cooking at a furious pace.
It happens to all of us involved in service occupations. If you've been a nurse, your less impressed with doctors, a mechanic, not that impressed if someone can fix your transmission. And so on.... I know that the back of the house (the kitchen) will have, with slight variation, a dishwasher who is overworked, cooks who are impatient with servers, and the main chef, the one who went to some big shot culinary school, will dislike everyone, including the managers in suits. The chef wishes he had his own restaurant so he didn't even have to serve baked potatoes. Most chefs think its pedestrian to serve baked potates because, hey, even Wendy's serves them.

So I'll have to use my writer's imagination to wonder what the heck that potato looked like for $7.95.  The sky is the limit, at least with our imaginations.

In between being inspired by the author's I heard speak, I thought about that potato and how maybe we all need to have a potato in our life. It might be the guy you always wished you could have dated cause he was so cute and you knew he must be such a great guy. Or the job that looked so wonderful that you just couldn't land. Then later you realized it was too great of a cost, that it would have taken something from you. It's almost better to have the fantasy than the reality. I'm sure any potato that cost that much would have disappointed me, no matter how dark the restaurant.
Finally, it's just plain silly to spend that much money.  I know there are special occasions and such, weddings, anniversaries, but in general its crazy when restaurants have menus that should be written in gold. It's like stealing from us, with our permission.

Call me tacky and simple, but I'd be just as happy to eat a baked potato at a place with red vinyl chairs and Formica tables. I bet at a place like this  the waitress will even call me sweetie and when I get the check I won't have to take out a loan.


Rita A. said...

Great examples. Do you remember those places that used to be in the food courts where you could get a baked potato with all kinds of toppings. My favorite had a beefy mushroom gravy. It makes my mouth water to remember.
Think I'll go have a potato for dinner.

Anonymous said...

I so wanted to go to that book fair - maybe next year! I'm glad you had a good time! :-)

I'm pretty cheap, too. I don't think I could bring myself to pay almost $8 for a potato. I can buy a book for that or go to a movie!

Stella said...

We could have split it ;)

SunsetCindi said...

So what did you end up eating in there? I couldn't have spent that either, I'd rather have a bag of pretzels and cheeses and a bottle of wine and sit near the pool watching the goings on, all for under $8! (cheap wine). Guess people in that income bracket don't think twice about those things, I'm glad I'm not in that company.

Anonymous said...

I was just catching up on your blog and read about the $7.95 potato. I just got 15 pounds of seed potatoes for my garden -- Irish Cobblers, Kennebecks, Russets. These spuds'll be worth the price, even without the junk they put on 'em.