Wednesday, November 29, 2017

To Neck, To Love, To Propose

My thinking was, if it's warm enough to be on the roof, it's warm enough to be by the bay.

So when a certain pink hotel-owning woman made an executive decision and posted it online - 63 degrees in November? That's enough for us to open Q Rooftop for a drink or two and watch a spectacular fall sunset. Bring a coat and scarf and come on up! - I naturally took note and mentioned it to Mac on our sunny walk along the river this morning.

Only then did it occur to me that weather fine enough for rooftop sipping combined with neither of us having to work today was practically a blueprint pointing us in the direction of Merroir. It didn't hurt that we both love a good road trip, either.

By 2:00, we were en route with her Sirius radio set to the '70s station - because Al Wilson's "Show and Tell" guarantees a good time - and by 3:00, easing down winding Locklie's Road, where the absence of leaves on the trees meant we spotted the brilliant, blue water far sooner than a summer visit allows.

We'd missed the lunch crowd, beat the dinner crowd and had our choice of tables, asking only for one in full sunlight.

The moon was already rising in the sky as we ordered a dozen Old Saltes and settled back to watch a sailboat, masts down, glide into the marina next door. Fate was smiling on us because instead of 12, 15 briny oysters arrived on our platter and we slurped them down like we'd just walked four miles. Oh, wait...

Within minutes, we realized how impeccable our timing was as a foursome joined us outside and a busload of people arrived in the parking lot. The latter (oyster tourists, perhaps?) were apparently on some sort of guided tour where they were led to the dockside building were oyster spat are nurtured to learn about aquaculture, but not to the tables to partake of the fruits of that labor. Tragic, really.

Recognizing us for the starving women we were, our server came back to recite the specials and we gave two the immediate nod: brussels sprouts with cherries and honey, and tuna tacos.

When I mentioned that I was tempted by the fish cakes over mesclun on the menu because they hadn't been on the menu last time I was there, our server tells us that the menu had been changed only yesterday and they'd been added. When I ask what kind of fish, she says rockfish and Mac swoons. We'll take them, too.

When the food arrived, we dove right in, so when she returned not too terribly long after to check on us, asking, "You ladies need any...oh, no, you don't," she was laughing as she looked at two empty plates and two more that were down to the last few bites.

No shame in a healthy appetite.

By that point, the tour bus had pulled around and was casting an enormous shadow on the area where the foursome was sitting enjoying their Stingrays (nice, but not nearly salty enough for some of us) and don't you know that one of the women at the table (the one wearing shorts) marched right over to that bus driver and asked him to pull up enough to give us back our sunlight?

On a day as fine as today, nobody wants their mellow harshed and if buses must be moved, so be it.

It was when I was coming back from the bathroom - still located outside, which Mac and I think is one of Merroir's most honest features - that I was spotted by the long-time chef I'd first met on my initial visit back in June 2012 when I'd interviewed him. I rave about the rockfish cakes, he grins, shrugs and says, "Tis the season."

Next thing I know, he's coming out to the porch to meet me for a quick catch-up session and bear hug. Just as I'm letting go, he squeezes me again and jokes, "It's so great to see you. Wanna go neck?" and cracks me up. When I tell Mac about it, she laughs, too, wondering who says "neck" anymore."

Middle-aged chefs?

The sun is dropping below the tree line when we finally pull away from the water, but we're both happier for having spent the time with a view of the moon rising, birds soaring and boat traffic.

Once back in J-Ward, we did the only sensible thing and strolled over to Quirk Hotel to ride the elevator to the Q rooftop bar. After all, Mac had never been, it had been over a year since I had and, frankly, we had nothing better to do. Sure, we'd missed the sunset, but drinks and views awaited us.

The real pleasure was how uncrowded it was. Because I'd only been during peak season in the past, I was unprepared for how spacious it felt with less than 20 people up there. As we were ordering, a guy paying his check pointed out how he'd expected it to feel colder and it wasn't. It was lovely.

Even so, Mac couldn't resist an Irish coffee, saying yes to the bartender when she offered both Jameson's and Bailey's, while I toasted the night sky with a plastic Christmas-decorated party cup two thirds full of Prosecco. I feel certain that's not a standard pour, not that I told her how to do her job.

Taking our libations in hand, we walked the perimeter of the rooftop so Mac could admire the views east, west and south, from whence the breeze was coming.

As it turned out, it was a new experience for me, too, since I'd never been up there in the dark before. The red and green traffic lights of Broad Street looked particularly seasonal and festive, but the most striking vista was the twin up-lit spires of the Mosque against a fading red horizon.

Once we'd finished sipping our drinks on a bench facing south and toward the river, we meandered back to my house and Mac's car, because of course the night wasn't over with Secretly Y'All starting in less than an hour.

Now I'm going to sound like the old-timer talking about how I've been going to Secretly Y'all for storytelling for years except that now it's so crowded that Mac and I couldn't even find seats despite arriving 35 minutes before it began. Insert shaking fist. As my theater critic friend and I discussed, Secretly Y'All has completely outgrown the space at Flora, unless the goal is to worry the fire marshal and make people shed clothing because it's so warm with body heat.

We plastered ourselves against the back wall with one stool between us for stories around tonight's theme, "This Doesn't End Well." As it turned out, that applied to more than the stories.

There was one about an 18-year old and his friends involving their shared love of trespassing and climbing on top of buildings that ended with a drunk girl duct-taped to a table and a friend in intense groin pain from a fall, but, as Mac pointed out, who doesn't have one of those stories?

Another involved a woman who was trying to say yes to life and wound up encouraging a sociopath (yes, I'll go to the park with you, yes, I'll give you my phone number, yes, I'll answer the door at all hours) who lived in the apartment beneath hers and kept a lizard farm in his old TV. So many red flags.

Then there was the guy who retired two weeks ago and couldn't stop talking. There are only three rules at Secretly Y'All: the story must be true, no notes are allowed and you must keep your story to 7 minutes. A bell rings at 6 minutes to give you a heads up and you wind things up quickly when you hear it. This guy showed up with notes (not used, thank heavens) and then proceeded to tell us about what the social climate was like in 1969, what the effects of Hurricane Camille were on Nelson County and a thousand other rambling details while ignoring the bell ringing every minute for about 12 or 13 minutes. Ouch.

We heard from a woman with a drinking problem assuming you think 12 glasses of wine and 9 gin and tonics in one night is problematic. No? How about after imbibing all that, she's outside a bar trying to make herself barf so she can go back in and drink some more? That one ended with, "Hi, I'm Sarah and I'm an alcoholic." Who knew we were going to an AA meeting?

One story involved a guy in traffic with no A/C flipping off another car and the guy following him and putting a pistol to his head. He got out of it by telling the guy that the finger wasn't for him, it was for the world and then spinning a tale about his wife and best friend's infidelity that had the pistol guy feeling sorry for him. If this sounds like it didn't end badly, please know that he still had no A/C after the guy left.

Finally, there was a guy who told a story of trying to avoid a crashed car on Powhite Parkway and then skidding on ice right into it. When another car skidded and headed for them both, he was hit, run over and his head pinned under the car's axle, getting third degree burns on his shoulders. Miraculously, once at the hospital, he was fine except for the burns. The worst part, he said, was seeing his mother's reactions to his situation.

With a theme like tonight's we were bound to hear some awful stories, but that one ended with the storyteller seriously choked up and trying to convey what he'd learned. "Fall in love with your existence," he directed the overflow crowd in a voice thick with emotion.

He even thanked his girlfriend for sticking by him during his difficult recovery, calling her up on stage to show his appreciation. And wouldn't you just know, after hearing an array of stories - awful, overly revealing, trite, uninteresting - he dropped to one knee and proposed to her right in front of all of us.

The question took longer to sink in for her than it did for the crowd who began cheering and applauding for what we'd just witnessed. Organizer Kathleen took control back by going to the mic and saying, "I don't know if that fits tonight's theme, but congratulations!"

Proof positive that sometimes you've got to ignore the theme and show and tell with your heart.

Meanwhile, I love my existence, but I'd heard all the bad endings I needed for one night. And on that note, Mac and I called it a day.  A very fine day.

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