The morning and afternoon of the fourth day came and went without fanfare. We’d already settled into a routine that bordered on monotony: continental breakfast, beach, fighter jets. The A/C was back in action, whipped into shape by a chatty repairman named Donald, and I thanked him for his service by slipping an IPA into his toolbag…which was far less dirty an act than it sounds.
After showers and naps, we dressed the kids and dropped them off at the convention center, where the dance competition that precipitated our vacation was throwing a dinner dance party. Melinda and I were thankful for the two hours of solitude. What I’d learned after four days about playing the adult role on a family vacation is that your week of “relaxation” actually consists of four activities, repeated ad nauseum:
1 – Prepping children with necessary clothes/accessories/toys/food for event that is of marginal interest to you.
2 – Waiting for children to put on shoes to leave for event that is of marginal interest to you.
3 – Cleaning/putting away clothes/accessories/toys/food following event that is of marginal interest to you.
4 – Passing out at 10 p.m. watching Home Improvement on your iPad.
Excited for our window of freedom, we decided on a nice dinner at a seafood restaurant on the beach. We requested a table on the patio, and while I could see a soothing ocean breeze catching the hair of the pedestrians on the boardwalk 10 feet to my right, we felt exactly none of it. It was like sweating in a concrete bunker while watching people sunbathe out the window.
Deirdre was our waitress, a well-built specimen who was nearly impossible to hear over the noise of the surf and the top 40 pop music piped over the restaurant sound system.
What I most looked forward to was a tropical mixed drink, something boozy and sweet served in a bowl of fruit salad. But there appeared to be no drinks on the menu at all aside from the water Deidre plunked down in front of us without fanfare. “Appetizers?” she asked.
We ordered oysters and our entree, and Deidre collected our menus and hustled off.
“Perhaps I’m not as well-versed in the ways of fine dining as I thought I was,” I said to Melinda. “But doesn’t the general restaurant ordering sequence go drinks, apps, entrees, dessert?”
“Maybe we don’t look old enough to drink,” Melinda offered.
“Maybe we’ve accidentally stumbled onto the one restaurant in all of Virginia Beach that doesn’t serve alcohol,” I said.
“Maybe a party bus of college kids came in just before us and drank every drop of liquor in the place.”
“Maybe this is a restaurant owned by neo-Prohibitionists attempting to force their puritanical views on the world one sunburnt tourist at a time.”
It went on like this for a few more minutes until Deirdre returned with our oysters. I pleaded Melinda with my eyes to ask for a drink menu, not wanting to be the one to potentially offend our teetotaling waitress. Servers only have one retaliation when faced with needy customers: expectorating the contents of their sinuses into your seafood bisque.
Deirdre responded with mild surprise, as though we’d just ordered the ‘27 Bordeaux. Four oysters later, she dropped off a drink menu the size of an index card, which we discovered too late contained only a handful of domestic beers.
Again, I had many questions. Were we somehow projecting the image of a couple who only had the desire to order a Bud Light or Michelob Ultra? And furthermore, why even waste the ink on such a menu? Isn’t it kind of implied the restaurant will have a couple of light beers on tap? I’ve never seen a dude come into a bar with a hankering for a domestic draft and say to the bartender “y’know, I assume you have Miller Lite, but I really won’t be able to enjoy it unless I see it printed on a piece of paper along with several other identical beers.”
The remainder of our oysters later, Deirdre was back to take our drink orders.
“Do you have a wine list or a cocktail menu?” Melinda asked. “This is just beer.”
“So sorry to bother you,” I added with a pleading tone that I hoped implied please don’t spit in our food.
Again, Deirdre’s mouth opened and closed with astonishment. She went to fetch them, presumably to typeset and print them by hand, because by the time she came back with them, our entrees had arrived.
By this point, the window on date night shrank ever smaller, and, fearing I wouldn’t get a mixed drink before D and J graduated from medical school, I went back to the beer list, found a grapefruit IPA I was familiar with, and pulled the trigger.
Poor, poor Deirdre visited our table with our drinks just as I was mopping the last bit of sauce from my plate. In front of me, she placed a wine glass full of ice and a can of Ruby Red hard seltzer.
“I think we’ll just take the check please,” I said, watching the sweat bead on my White Claw.
“I don’t get it,” Melinda said as we left the restaurant disappointed, our dreams of vacation date night shattered by mediocre service and 12 ounces of the millennial equivalent to Zima. “Are we just snobs? Do we expect too much from a restaurant?”
“Not when we’re paying 30 bucks a plate,” I said.