A rare Saturday night out for the NN.C Co-Prosperity Sphere, and it was a glorious one (if a little chilly). Off to Ann Arbor to see Andy Bey, then a little dinner. The rule in Ann Arbor is, generally, this: Students can have as much of the town as they want, but Main Street belongs to the grownups.
There are exceptions, some cheaper restaurants and clubs that draw undergrads. But what I had in mind was dinner at a place where I had lunch on a June day last summer, and recalled as a sophisticated restaurant where two adults who hadn’t had much face time lately could share expensive food on white plates with the sauce dribbled artfully around with a squeeze bottle.
And I can’t say it wasn’t that, exactly, except that it was full of students.
Dressed-up students, sure. Upperclassmen, I’m fairly certain. But unquestionably sub-B.A. students, many wearing $200 jeans and swingy tops, yakking on cell phones and drinking selections from a cocktail menu that featured Pink Ladies and Key Lime Pies. It looked like Carrie Bradshaw and about 100 of her closest friends.
To say it was culture shock would be an understatement; I recall wearing a rotating selection of pilled shetland-wool sweaters with either turtlenecks or oxford buttondowns (at least in JANUARY), Levis and hiking boots from a shoe factory down the road in Nelsonville, Ohio. They had red laces, and everyone seemed to have been issued a pair with their student IDs.
Most of all, though, I remember drinking beer. Buckets of cheap beer we bought by the pitcher, with only rare exceptions. I don’t recall eating tapas, certainly, or whatever its equivalent was in 1978. If I had the money to buy a nightcap snack from the Bagel Buggy, I was lucky. A steak sandwich at the Pub was an unimaginable luxury. Are you sensing a theme here? Yes: Poverty.
I wasn’t above selling plasma for beer money. It was always in short supply. And that was the situation with nearly everyone I knew. Many were from well-to-do homes, but no one had the sort of parental blank check that would allow for dressup Saturday nights at places where wine starts at $8 a glass. Everyone scraped by. But it was no biggie. We had it all in front of us.
Bricks-and-boards shelving, beater cars, secondhand couches and draft Stroh’s — that’s what college was. (And, for many of us, that’s what young adulthood was.)
As we were leaving, I asked the busboy — busman, that is — what the hell. He spoke with an accent. “Spoiled keeds,” he said, hoisting his tray. “They tell their parents the books cost $300, and they cost $200. And they spend the rest here.” He couldn’t talk long, though; it was a busy night. I don’t know if his kids will go to college, but I’d say the odds are good, based on their father’s willingness to spend a Saturday night bussing tables with his eyes open.
And I wonder about all these young Carrie Bradshaws, accustomed to such high living. What happens when they get jobs and start out at the entry-level salary? How will they know how to make $5 buy three days’ worth of food, until payday arrives? (My tip: Learn to love peanut-butter sandwiches.) Maybe they’ll stay on the parental dole after graduation, too. They probably feel like the world belongs to them, but it doesn’t.
The world belongs to the hungry. I’m betting on the busboy’s kids.
You wonder if, in the final moments, if this man saw Death in the eyes of a panicked Labrador: Beware of falling dogs.