An ordinary meal

The other night on my way home from dinner, on a dark, windy, unpopulated stretch of road not too far from my house, I came around a hairpin turn and right there in front of me was a woman standing next to a motorcycle.  I was practically up to her before I could see her; she had no lights at all.  She waved me around, so I pulled in front of the bike, got out of the car, and asked her if she needed anything.

“No, I’m fine.  My boyfriend walked home to get help.  We’re out of gas.”

“Well, I’ll just keep my car here with the flashers on.  It’s really hard to see you.”

“Oh, that’s so nice!  Thank you.”  She dropped her cigarette on the road and ground it out with her boot.
I was still thinking about the dinner at a restaurant that I just had with the kids.  We had gone to a nice place on the waterfront, which we do about once a year.

“Do you know why we’re here?” I had asked.

“Um, I guess it’s what we do?”

“Yeah, see, even though the food isn’t that interesting, and it’s expensive, it’s just a thing that normal families do.  They go out to nice ordinary restaurants with predictable, costly food.  We’re doing that too.  It’s just a really nice, ordinary thing to do.”

I was a little distracted from my speech, though, by the couple at the next table, the only other party in the outdoor dining area.  They were probably 60ish, but had that early romance energy going on.  What I mean by that is that there was a lot of kissing at the table.  There was definitely something that felt date 6-ish about it, but a little bit off.  He was stroking her shoulder in the way that someone who’s never had a dog before might pet a dog.  Flat hand, repetitive motion. A little creepy, but at the same time, it was oddly compelling to watch.

I tune back in to M.’s story.  “So, there was this horse that had been struck by lightning, in the middle of the hiking trail.  The team that went in from the Forest Service to investigate said the horse had mostly been incinerated, which was good.”

“Why is that good?” asks R.

“Because otherwise, they have to use dynamite to blow it up.”


“Because.  No one wants a rotting horse next to a hiking trail; it attracts predators and smells.”

“But seriously, those are the only two choices?  Blow it up or leave it to rot?  Wouldn’t it be terrible to have horse guts dyanamited all about?”

I interrupt for a second, and whisper.  “Hey, are those two hugging, or is he giving her the Heimlich Maneuver?”
They both turn to look, and it’s definitely the Heimlich.  She’s gasping, and he’s standing behind her, his fists punching her sternum.  I’m not sure if I should respond, but pretty quickly, it seems that she’s okay.  In fact, it seems like maybe he was hasty on doing the Heimlich, but what do I know.

She excuses herself, and presumably leaves to go to the rest room.  When she gets back, she says that she just threw up.  He starts kissing her again, and she’s at the table for a few more minutes before excusing herself.  She looks unsteady on her feet, and if I were to guess, I’d think she’s leaving the room vomit again because she’s in a pretty big hurry.

“Well, a horse is too heavy to pack out, and there’s not enough soil on top of a mountain to bury it.”

The waitress comes by and asks if we’re finished.  R. decides that if he doesn’t clean his plate, we’ll need to blow it up – these are the only two choices, anymore.  Either do the right thing, or blow something up.  

The man at the next table asks the waitress for a dessert menu.  I hear him joking with her, asking if the restaurant offers cremation services.  I know.  His date has thrown up at least once, and is possibly on round two.  Dessert seems like a bad idea.

“Young people,” I whisper, “if you ever find yourself in the situation where your date is vomiting, the right thing to do is say, 'Honey, can I take you home?'  And no kissing!”

“Mom, why do you think the waitress said that thing at the beginning?”

“You mean, when you ordered fish and chips, and she said ‘I had a feeling you’d order that?’”

“Yeah.  Do you think it’s because I’m slightly dressed up for a guy like me, wearing khaki’s, so she thinks I’ve never eaten anything that’s not serious kid-food before?”


I’m thinking about this as I’m talking to the woman with the motorcycle.

“So, your bike ran out of gas?”

“Well, actually, it’s the starter.  We just got it fixed, but now it’s broken again, and here I am in the dark protecting a $50,000 bike.  We were just about to ship it to Arizona for the summer.  No, that would be winter, right?  Yeah, winter is what’s coming up, right?”

She seems pretty drunk, or maybe just like someone who’s been drunk enough in her life that she just seems that way all the time.

“You’re so nice.  Seriously, I would have been too scared to stop.  How old are you?”


“Oh, wow.  Yeah, see, I’m 43, but I was an addict until 10 years ago.  I have cellulite all over.  I’m serious.  I used to be skinny when I was using, but now, cellulite everywhere.  It’s happening.  I’m serious.  Where do you live?”

“Lake M.”

“Oh my god!  I know someone else who lives there!”  Which would be remarkable if we were in Borneo or something, but we’re only about a mile away, so it doesn’t seem so surprising to me.  She tells me that she went to a dirty dancing competition at the lake, and her boyfriend was really good at it.  “Did you go to that party?”  

We stand there for about 45 minutes, and she’s very sweet in a drunken sort of way, and acts like she’s a reporter interviewing someone who's just done an amazing feat, like crossing the ocean in a hot air balloon, but all I’ve done is stop my car so that the lights will make it a little easier to see her.

“Seriously, what made you decide to do this?  It’s just incredible.”

And so on.  Eventually, her boyfriend returns with another guy and a big truck.  She gives me a big hug, and I turn to walk back to my car.  Her boyfriend calls me back.  “Hey, get back here.”  I turn back, and he gives me a hug.

“Thanks for keeping my lady safe,” he says.

We did end up, by the way, having two pieces of chocolate lava cake; no dynamite was required.


  1. I laughed loudly. I developed a tear in my eye. Now I am shaking my head wearily and wondering how you write so wonderfully. I am paid (not very much) to write, and your stories make me feel so jealous and inadequate. I think I shall blow up my computer and go find some chocolate lava cake.

  2. I love this. Reminded me of what I remember to be the funnest 15 minutes at Bumbershoot with you: sitting outside at the bar, watching that couple make out, passing out pretzel rods, and laughing so hard I started to cry. Twelve-oh-twelve, Betsy.

  3. Great story(ies)!

  4. Oh, thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  5. You know, my friend Betsy was always as wonderful a friend as she is a writer, and this just proves is. And I have known her for 200 years...

  6. just curious ... did the meal contain any mushrooms?


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