Monday, February 4, 2013

Love at the Rocks

Well, we're coming up on Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air! Or in the toilet, I don’t know. Frankly, I can’t keep up with your love life.

Most of my Valentine’s Day nostalgia takes place in elementary school, where we would gladly hand out Valentine’s cards to everyone in class. Boy, girl, weird smelling kid with a lip fungus – everyone was endowed with a written sentiment. On Valentine’s Day, charity abounded and we were all compassionate. Then junior high happened and we were ashamed of ourselves for ever thinking that we could all be friends, especially with anybody not wearing Guess jeans. In high school, February 14th was pretty much just February 14th, and unless you were in love, love was not discussed. However, I do have some very specific Valentine’s Day memories from my college era.

Valentine’s Day, 1994. The scene: a wintery Provo, Utah. My love interest at the time, we’ll call her Tamara (because that’s her name), had only one Valentine’s Day wish: that our special holiday dinner would take place at Olive Garden. Not a high-maintenance, gal, that Tamara; evidenced by the fact she was willing to go out with me in the first place.

I called to make reservations, but was informed by the college student de jour working the hostess desk that Olive Garden did not accept reservations. This should have alarmed me. But for some reason, the only inconvenient consequence I could fathom was that we would be sitting in the lobby of Olive Garden a smidge longer than we had originally thought; no big whoop.

There are questions of mortality that just can’t be answered until the next life. What are the details or how matter was organized to create the earth? Why do some of our personal convictions conflict with scientific evidence? Why do bad things happen to good people? And why, in the face of all practicality, did I think I could simply show up at an extremely popular eatery on the evening of a nationally celebrated romantic holiday in a town that houses a university where dating is obligatory by decree…and think that I would need to merely wait an extra five minutes for a table, and all would be well with the world?

We pulled up to Olive Garden, and it was complete anarchy. Hungry, frustrated crowds without reservations spilled out of the restaurant and into the parking lot, turning on each other. Women openly wept, men used language like “fetchin’” and “flippin’” as they paced around their cars…outrageous! It was clear we were only moments away from someone exhibiting behavior usually reserved for Church basketball games.

I popped the car in reverse, looked over my shoulder, and did my best stuntman driving as we narrowly escaped the parking lot – couples and even restaurant employees jumping on my car, yelling at us, “Are you going to eat somewhere else?! Take us with youuuu!”

I explained to Tamara that we would simply jump on the I-15 and head north until we came across the next Olive Garden, somewhere between Provo and Salt Lake. She seemed on board, but 40 minutes later – with horrible traffic, icy weather, and our starving stomachs now digesting our livers – we decided we would just settle on the next restaurant we spotted.

And that’s when it hit me.

Porter’s Place.

Porter’s Place (as described on their website) is a little, out-of-the-way restaurant located in Lehi on historic Main Street, in a 1915 brick building. And as the name suggests, it’s dedicated to honoring Mormon Pioneer Orrin Porter Rockwell. Porter served as Joseph Smith’s and Brigham Young’s bodyguard and was one of the first converts to the LDS Church. He was a close, personal friend of Joseph Smith, known for being a bit rough around the edges.

Now, if this doesn’t scream Valentine’s Day…I really don’t know what does. Really.

I can’t remember how I’d heard about the place, but I had a hunch that you did not need a reservation, and it would not be crowded. And sure enough, we sat right down. Imagine my delight to see that all the dishes were named after historical LDS people and places. I enjoyed a delectable Parley P. Pratt (French dip pastrami with Swiss cheese) and Tamara had the Orson Hyde (a BLT). I was tempted by The Destroying Angel (a one-pound burger), but decided not to go to the dark side.

Having completely impressed Tamara by taking her to a romantic dinner at what was essentially a saloon, we decided to head back to my apartment for dessert and a video. (I know. HOW did she ever let me slip through her fingers?)

We were hummin’ along the I-15 back to Provo when my car decided to no longer be a part of our plans, and…just…stopped. I pulled over and tried to start it again, but it was pouting and would not cooperate. I zipped up my jacket and jumped out of the car to wave down some help. Nuthin’. Car after car after car sped right on by, its occupants probably stuffed with Olive Garden and romantical thoughts, without a care in the world. Evidently brotherly love takes a holiday around Valentine’s Day.

I jumped back in the car to warm up.

“Here’s the thing,” I said to Tamara. “I don’t think anyone will stop for a strange man on the freeway in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter, this close to the state prison.”

“Agreed,” she smiled, not expecting my next sentence.

“And that’s why I think if you get out, somebody will pull over right away. People will be quicker to help a young lady in distress.”

She approved. At least, verbally.

Romantically, I opened her door for her and helped her out. (And they say chivalry is dead!) Then I watched her, and any chance of a good-night kiss, start walking away. Immediately, a car pulled over. My plan worked, but I still somewhat expected her to just get inside the guy’s car and ride off with him, leaving me in the rain with my decrepit vehicle and a half-eaten Parley P. Pratt. I wouldn’t have blamed her. But instead, he backed up, gave us a jump start, and away we went, before my alternator decided to go on strike again.

Back at my apartment, we dried off, warmed up, had dessert, and borrowed my roommate’s functioning car so I could take Tamara home.

And you know what? Maybe it was because earlier in the day I had filled Tamara’s room with red, pink, and white balloons. Maybe it was because she recognized it wasn’t my fault that the Olive Garden didn’t take reservations. Maybe it was because we spent the night laughing despite the escalating ridiculousness of the evening’s events. But whatever the reasons, the night was highly entertaining, even if the date did not end predictably.

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