I was working with a friend on a project at the end of our driveway this weekend (Another story for another time) and we started talking about Olive Garden. His son is a restaurant manager and had worked his way up from nothing to get to where he was.
The conversation reminded me of the greatest dinner of my life. That sounds a little flippant right? Who can know such a thing? In my continuing quest to always document EVERYTHING. Here is what I remember about coming back to Illinois for what was supposed to be a little “me time”.
I don’t remember the year… It was 1992 or 93… Maybe 94? Somewhere in there. I was in a bad place. At that time I was living in Miami. My back was shredded from being a Bellman at the Intercontinental, my relationship with my girlfriend was tanking and I was never going to admit defeat and go back home to the folks in Fort Myers. The girlfriend and I thought it would be good for me to get away. (That story would be a much longer blog post!)
I loaded up the 1986 Dodge Colt with enough gear to get away from South Florida and head back north to see my High School buddy Scott. I don’t think I had much money, since I didn’t have a credit card at the time, I must have had a couple hundred bucks if I planned on being away for a week or so.
The ride was long! I tried to make it in one trip… But February in Tennessee had other ideas at 3AM in the morning. I had to stop. I was bushed! It probably didn’t help that I was listening to August and Everything After by Counting Crows over and over on the trip up. Not exactly an emotionally motivating album!
The next day, I drove into freezing weather. My little car was probably riding with a radiator full of water… As I drove up I57 to Champaign, the heat kept dropping inside. I was nearly freezing. Not helping was my Miami fashion attire. It had led me to a life with no socks! Had I not bought an expensive leather jacket at Wilson’s back in 1987, I probably would not have owned a coat either. I was freezing my ass off!
When I got to Champaign, I found a Target and called Scott’s apartment on an outside payphone. I fully remember freezing my ass off on the payphone. Somethings never change with me, I had been pretty vague on arrival time or directions on where I was going. Scott’s bother, Bob, answered and said he was at work at The Olive Garden.
I headed to Olive Garden to see what time Scott was off and make sure we were still cool with me hanging out for a week or so. Again, you think this would have been handled ahead of time!
It was dark… Cold and generally miserable like you would expect February in Illinois to be. I walked across the slushy parking lot in my sockless deck shoes. I was feeling beat down. Inside the door of Olive Garden was WARM! Something I had not felt in 12 hours at least.
The hostess got Scott. When we saw each other, it was giant smiles and a big hug. Long time no see! I asked what time he got off work, and he said it would be a while. Then he asked if I was hungry?
Was I? I was starving, cold, broke and generally depressed! Scott had me seated and the next thing I know… I am getting a big old slab of Lasagna and piles of bread sticks. I only remember that the food was warm and wonderful. It was the perfect antidote to my ills of that moment. I remember being very happy and content after that acre of pasta. I was with my best friend and he put me in a better place. I still owe him a debt for this that I am not sure I can ever repay.
That was my best meal ever. Thanks Scott! And thanks Gene for helping me remember this.
Now, I could have selected other meals with great friends, amazing food or relatives that have passed… But I can tell you, this meal was a life changing event. The rest is history!