There was a time in my life when I was relatively financially successful. I drove a nice car. My (now ex-) wife did, too. We had a lovely tract home in an upscale community which was nicely furnished and our closets were full of clothing.
And my favorite thing to do on Sundays was to take us, along with our rather precocious two-year-old, to brunch at one of the local desert hotels. These brunches ranged from really nice to extravagant.
One of my favorites was at a hotel which was established back in the heyday of Hollywood movie stars’ invasion of the Coachella Valley. It was not a high-rise, but a series of bungalows which were spaced along the desert floor and nestled in a cove against the small Santa Rosa Mountains. Over the years, they had added large banquet rooms and upgraded the property to keep up with the modern amenities required by upscale clientele, but it had that “old-timey” feel.
There were many fountains; some leading to streams which meandered throughout the property. Some streams began as waterfalls adjacent to an outdoor dining area and then trickled their way past full and fragrant citrus trees and along the row upon row of freshly planted seasonal flowers which delighted the eye with vivid explosions of color.
Winter was the season in the desert and tourists and locals alike enjoyed the clear, sunny days and cool evenings. While the rest of the country was (usually) under stormy skies and snow, we casually strolled the gently twisting, flower-lined sidewalks, protecting our eyes with sunglasses while our olfactory senses swooned with the fragrances of citrus blossoms and burgeoning petunias.
The abundant display continued inside the ballrooms. Astonishing presentations of exotic foods were spread across seemingly endless tables adorned with fresh flora and gently spraying fountains. Hidden lighting accented arrangements and decorations swept high overhead, celebrating Easter or Mother’s Day or simply another beautiful Sunday in the desert.
The food, itself, rivaled that of any cruise ship. And since, even back in those days, the most modest brunches were priced starting at $35—and went up!—I always began with the caviar and chilled seafood. Then I went to the exotic cheese platters, making sure I got my money’s worth.
And champagne! I had to have some champagne. My family and I were fairly regular attendees at these fetes and a few of the wait-staff came to recognize us. Some would even see us in the waiting area and slip me a glass of the bubbly while we waited our turn to be seated.
I always made it a point to tip them 25-, even 30-percent on the ticket. They worked hard and went out of their way to treat us like we were special. I did produce and host a TV show at the time, which aired ten times a day on channel 7, so there’s a chance that they recognized me and thought of me as a local celebrity. In addition to bringing me champagne while I was waiting, they were always at our table making sure we had more than we required. But sometimes their service to me and my family seemed a little over the top. Sure I tipped fairly well, but I used to joke that they would even give me a shiatsu while I was enjoying my meal.
Then one day I looked a bit more closely at the actual bill I was signing. I discovered that the hotel was adding a 20% gratuity to my bill. Not having previously been aware of the charge, I was then adding 30% on top of that. No wonder they liked me! I was tipping 50%!
So much for getting extra service simply because I was a swell guy.
As the years have passed and I have become little more than an aging vagrant, I sometimes recall those lavish brunches. They were truly amazing meals.
But recently I was helping a friend with formatting one of his books; getting it ready for self-publication on Amazon. His lovely wife was out for the day but she left us a pan of homemade carnitas and another with rice. When it came time for lunch, we warmed the food and then sat on his patio with a few TV trays and enjoyed the simple yet delicious meal.
My friend was expressing his (quite unnecessary) gratitude for my help, saying that one day we’d again be rolling in dough and eating at top-tier restaurants.
Within that moment I realized how rich I truly am in my life. I no longer have money; the most prominent reason for that being that I pissed it all away on trivial and/or extravagant things which actually hold no real value. My needs and desires are simple and I am rich with family and friends.
To me, our simple lunch of homemade (and lovingly made) carnitas and rice was more delicious and appreciated than all of those decadent brunches I’d consumed all those years ago.