Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Is it Possible to Recreate an Experience?

I've had a wonderful holiday season with my husband; we've had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun, but nothing has gone the way we planned. Because I started a new job in late September and we've been kind of low on funds, we weren't able to travel. So, we decided to make our holiday season romantic, to recreate an experience we shared when we first moved to San Antonio.

Shortly after moving to here, Chris and I planned an evening on the Riverwalk that included staying at a historic hotel, which was chosen primarily because we read many positive reviews online, it was right next to the Alamo (which I had yet to see), and the hotel allows dogs, which meant we wouldn't have to find our Blue Heeler a sitter.

We went to the hotel restaurant without expectations, hadn't even planned on eating there. We sat at the bar and received two long menus with few but promising options. I ordered soup and a mixed green salad with goat cheese and sweetened pecans. Soup and salad doesn't usually excite me, but the food was amazing! I savored every bite. The server, a woman in her forties, was attentive and kind; she welcomed us to the city and gave us some good tips about where to go and not go in the city. Our energy levels were high, and we were ready to explore our new city, the promise of our new life together.

The list we compiled thanks to our waitress was invaluable; it felt as though we now had a sort of treasure map to the city that included warning signs and places to avoid at all costs. If this woman could have only foreseen our experience this year, she might have said, "Oh, and don't come here again, expecting the same." Because that is exactly what we did--we went back to the hotel this year expecting the same. And we had an entirely different experience, one that would be equally as memorable.

This year, we decided to recreate our night at the hotel. We got a room on the 14th floor. This time, we were familiar with the Riverwalk and so we had an agenda. We even planned to play tourist and so Chris bought a Riverwalk boat ride. But when we arrived, I came down with a horrible headache and had to rest awhile. Chris waited patiently as I took a short nap, trying to shake the pain before a beautiful evening. We were looking forward to unwinding, eating good food then taking a romantic boat ride.

When the sharpness in my head finally settled into a dull ache, I said I was ready. There was a holiday buffet set up, so we were excited to sample more of the restaurant's memorable cuisine. We dressed up and positioned ourselves at the hostess stand, this time wanting the entire restaurant experience, a nice table, perhaps a bottle of wine... We stood a long time. When we were finally seated, the hostess announced that she would be our waitress as well and the buffet was $$.$$ per person. We asked for menus and were told that we were not supposed to get menus. "I'm really supposed to push the buffet," the server said, "but fine." We smiled, said we'd check out the buffet. Chris ordered a bottle of wine, and the server said they were out, but they had the more expensive version, which was a little better. We declined. She returned and said she'd found the original wine we'd ordered, but it would not be chilled. Hmn.

As we went to check out the buffet, thinking our upselling-happy server wasn't going to ruin our evening, we found food that didn't look as fresh as it could. The chicken and tilapia seemed to be melting into the metal trays that were set out, and there weren't very many diners. We decided to order off the menu. My husband ordered a White Russian, and it arrived incredibly light. He took a sip and his face puckered.

We waited to tell our server, we watched the ice melt and started to talk about our evening. We still had the boat ride and a night on the Riverwalk to look forward to. We had a nice bed and easy day tomorrow. We would relax: heaven. I tried to ignore the fact that my head was screaming again.

The waitress never appeared, so I took the drink to the bar and asked the tender if he could put some Kahlua in it. "My husband says it just tastes like milk and vodka." He said he'd look for Kahlua but had used the last drop in the drink, so I returned to the table. Soon after, too soon after, my salmon arrived complete with a frozen middle and the waitress, who seemed annoyed that I didn't wait for her to return the drink, rolled her eyes and asked if something was wrong.

My husband never got his Kahlua, and the salmon was still frozen on a plate in front of me, and my husband's food wasn't good, he said, so we decided to just get out of there. What followed was an incredibly long wait for the check and an aloof goodbye. We heard the bar tender laughing with another server, as they "sampled the wine."

We went back up to the room, ready to get going, but there on the 14th floor was a roach feasting on what looked like a graham cracker. I was jealous he seemed to be enjoying his meal so much. "Let's get the hell out of here," I said, still eager to walk along the river and get out of the hotel for a while. But, when we arrived at the front desk, planning to mention the lackluster service we received at the restaurant, we were rudely told that the ticket my husband purchased for the river tour was invalid.

"We don't do that anymore," the clerk said. They must not have updated the website. "Whatever money you paid won't show up on your bill. Rest assured."

"Why was it still on your website?" my husband asked.

"I don't know." We figured now wasn't the time to discuss our restaurant experience, since this man didn't seem too helpful.

After a few conversations with other hotel guests, Chris and I realized that our service was nothing personal. Many of the people staying there seemed rather unimpressed, and one that had tried the buffet told us to be thankful we hadn't tried it. A lady on the elevator, who said she was in love with our dog, told us that the hotel was haunted, which might explain the inconsistent service. "This place used to be a hospital, so now it's just riddled with ghosts. Maybe they're messing with you." What did she mean? The workers were possessed by spirits? Another man, who I met outside the exercise room, said he was getting rather shitty service, and he figured it was just because it was a holiday.

Whatever it was, the night proceeded in much the same way. My head ached to the point that I didn't want to do anything more. My stomach growled, my husband paced the room saying he wanted his money back. I just wanted to sleep. We ended up spending the evening watching a reality television show about restaurant cleanliness as a well-fed roach rushed around somewhere outside our hotel door.

Ultimately, the night was laughable. It was the sort of night that might make a family vacation movie plot starring Chevy Chase, but it was hardly romantic. Perhaps our trouble wasn't so much bad holiday service, a headache and a haunted hotel but the fact that our expectations were so high. What we'd wanted, to recreate an experience, might have been misguided. After all, there's so much out there to see and so much to experience, so what's the point in trying to recreate the past? After laughing about our effort, the trip we'd been looking forward to for weeks, we wrote the hotel to no response and decided to merely move on.

This wasn't the first time that I've failed miserably at recreating an experience. It makes me wonder if it's possible. Perhaps the secret to a good time--a time worthy of sealing itself in the mind--is an utter lack of expectation. After all, when there's no pretense, there's only the full experience. And there's still so many treasures out there to find. In 2012, one of my resolutions is to have as many new experiences as possible. For now anyway, the memories aren't going anywhere.

I wish you all a Happy New Year. Time to add to those resolutions!


  1. Nothing wrong with trying to recreate memorable experiences. Even if they're not the same, they're usually still fun. Cool blog:)

  2. Thanks, Mark. Yeah... they never seem to work out for me.


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