Approximately 9 years ago, Ryan and I (adorable newlyweds) were ready to fly home from a trip to Disneyland with his entire family, when we were asked if we’d mind having our flight bumped in exchange for roundtrip tickets anywhere in the continental United States. Of course we agreed, because we were both born and raised in Utah where getting something for nothing is celebrated as a true religious experience.
Our free ticket vouchers were probably the most expensive thing we owned at that point, and the dreams and discussions of where to use them was one of the highlights of our entire year. We finally decided that we should exchange them for the most expensive tickets we could, because that seemed like the right thing to do. So, we called Delta and two tickets to New York City were put in our names. Our friends, Rhonda and Jim, decided to join us, and we were thrilled because a) they are fun people, and b) they had been there before and convinced us that we wouldn’t be murdered during our stay.
Then, a few days before departure, our other friend, Tauna, decided to come too. New York City, party of five coming your way! Well, that was the plan until Rhonda fell on the ice and shattered her ankle the morning before we were supposed to leave. She and Jim wouldn’t be able to go. We were devastated at the news and nearly cancelled. We finally decided to go anyway with much fear and trepidation.
The trip was amazing and fabulous. To this day, if I close my eyes and really focus, I can still feel the pulse and thrill that amazing city brought to my small town heart so long ago. We had the best time, even though I was six months pregnant hiking around the city; even though we were poorer than poor; even though we had no idea what we were doing. Tauna shared our hotel room (saving us both a lot of money) and our teeny tiny room only had two twin beds. With my swelling belly, Ryan was forced to be chivalrous and sleep on the floor. We ate cheesecake at the Tic Toc Cafe every day, because it tasted like heaven on a graham cracker crust. We visited the World Trade Center, but didn’t have enough money to go up to the observation deck. We just took pictures outside where the tops of the buildings were so high, they were out of view from the ground. We saw a show on Broadway. We browsed through Saks Fifth Avenue and Tauna and I had our makeup done at the Chanel counter by the nicest, coolest lady with the kind of throaty New York accent I’d only heard on TV. We went to a live taping of The Conan O’Brien show.
Sunday morning before we flew home, we had a reservation at the only New York restaurant I’d heard of before our trip—Tavern on the Green. I’d called ahead and Sunday brunch was reasonable enough for a taste of fancy New York chops, so I made a reservation. By this point in the trip, we were close to exhausting our limited resources. One thing we hadn’t realized before the trip was the amount of tipping we’d be doing. Everywhere we turned, there was someone else expecting a buck or two for any and all services. When we walked in Tavern on the Green, we learned that we would have to check in our coats, which only cost a mere $5. (This was shocking since I was barely making more than that an hour at the bookstore, and now I was paying someone to babysit my coat for the same price.) We reluctantly checked in our coats, and were seated in the crowded frilly dining room. It was truly lovely.
Our crew of waiters (one to pull out your chair, one to take your order, one to place the napkin in your lap, and one to filter the air around your head) were probably worried by the looks of us. We were young and clearly from out of town, and it may have been better for them to simply state the obvious: “You should go now. You are WAY out of your league.” But, they didn’t. They smiled at us, and took our orders and asked us what we’d like to drink and eat. And then they went in the back room and laughed until creme brulee squirted from their nostrils.
One thing we learned early on in our trip was that getting a Coke was something we simply couldn’t afford to do. We had come from The Land of Free Refills and found ourselves in The Land of Black-Strawed Four-Dollar One-Time Sodas. After one painful learning experience, we’d made a “Water Only Policy”. So, when the waiter asked Ryan what he’d like to drink and he said, “Milk, please” my first instinct was to kick his shin under the lovely tablecloth. The waiter asked me what I’d like and I said, “Water,” but not before glaring at Ryan out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t prepared for the next question from the waiter: “Sparkling or mineral?” To be honest, I had no idea he was still referring my drink order. Where I came from, there was only one kind of water—tap. Tauna and I put on our ritziest faces and decided that we’d have mineral water that morning.
Our glasses were soon filled with cool clear water from a glass Evian water bottle. At this point in American History, bottled water was something that regular people did not purchase. In fact, they didn’t even know for sure if it existed. It was something that was sometimes used as a way to describe the excessive waste of the rich. They pay for water? people would snicker, What next, air?
It never occurred to me, to Ryan, or to Tauna that each and every new bottle of Evian brought out to our table was being added to our check. Right before we finished our meal, Ryan went to the bathroom and came back in an angry huff.
“We’ve got to get out of here. After I went to the bathroom,” he whispered, “there was this man standing next to the sink. He handed me a bar of soap and a dry towel, then held out his hand for a tip! I can’t believe I’m supposed to pay someone to help me take a pee!”
This was only moments before our waiters came and delivered our bill, which included thirty dollars worth of Evian mineral water. Thirty. Dollars. For. Water. The four dollar glass of milk was an absolute bargain. At this point, steam literally started pouring out of Ryan’s ears. We placed our shabby little debit card on the bill, feeling violated in the most intimate financial way.
I’m not sure if it makes the story funnier or sadder when I mention that the waitier came back shortly after this to inform us that our card would not go through. I think he may have called us podunk hillbillies at that point, I’m not really sure. I was too busy praying with all my heart, might, mind, and strength that the only other card we posessed would somehow have enough room for this debacle.
By way of Divine Intervention, the card went through. We paid for our coats, and stumbled out of the restaurant with our tails between our legs.
“This is going to be funny someday,” I told Ryan. “I promise.”