Thursday, March 6, 2008

Chaos and tomfoolery at the Restaurant Rally.

John and I drink to ease the pain of living.

Midway through my first margarita, I knew that the Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce's Restaurant Rally would be trouble from the start.

The idea was crazy enough: a group of local restaurants offering free food to anyone wearing a bracelet, with chamber members slung around town in short school buses, herded like cattle into the waiting arms of Jackson entreprenuers. Pay $20, buy the ticket, take the ride, and eat 'till you puke.

Our table was casually munching on the free chips and salsa at the Crazy Cowboy when the chaos of the evening took its toll.

"We need a plan!" I said.

We were missing sombreros and donkeys with tutus.

But no one heard me. One minute we were drinking $1 margaritas and chatting about the evening's plans, and the next minute we were leaving in a huff - off to the next restaurant in line.

We stuck to the downtown restaurants at first, which seemed like a good idea at the time. since most of the spots were within a block of each other, we could maximize our Restaurant Rally experience in the shortest amount of time. Crazy Cowboy to Lenny's Sub Shop to Bella Notte to Daryl's Downtown - it all seemed so easy.

When one travels with rowdy companions, however, ease became merely a misguided state of mind. I couldn't help but feel sorry for Bill (or was it Bob?), the owner of Lenny's, who had a feeding trough set up for the chamber members who trickled in off the bus. Imagine four yellow submarines zipping around town full of hungry business owners and their dragged-along employees. I remember hoping the bus drivers were earning time and a half.

Suzanne showed up midway through our free sub sample (a simple club sandwhich, with a glass of water). She had volunteered to host one of the four buses, and we were one of her stops. We asked where she was going, and whatever she said didn't interest our party.

We called the cops soon after this.

Instead, we moved on to Bella Notte Ristorante, a preppy Italian joint that held steam trays full of pasta and sauces. Noodles, tomatoes, cheese, broccoli, chicken - again, all buffet style, and thank goodness we showed up early. Soon the line was 20-patrons deep, their eyes twitching with hunger. Some folk singer was bellowing "Hallelujah" in the corner, and Captain Jackson showed up to restore order to the madness.

"Have we lost all sense of decency?" I asked, pushing my way through the half-starved food line in order to make my escape. Our party left before the drinks even got there, and we no doubt pissed off a good many chamberettes with our cries of "excuse me" and "I have to use the restroom."

Andrea nurses her drink.

Walking into Daryl's, probably the classiest joint on the whole tour, one couldn't help imagining some secret business deal taking place while we were herded to the backroom - some waiter standing gaurd to make sure the rabble behaved themselves.

And that was hard, because when we arrived the buffet (again!) had run out of Daryl's famous dinner rolls. Instead, we made fools of ourselves devouring barbeque wings in front of William Ross, Jackson's city manager, who looked on in horror at the amount of booze placed in front of us.

I was six wings into my meal when the drinks finally arrived, and was on my way to grab a few more brownies (which they also ran out of), when we again left in a huff. Carolyn's sister, Andrea, even pushed me into the door - the restaurant turning their heads in unison at my "ouch!" - to make her getaway.

This time we loaded onto one of the buses, bravely corraled by an Ambassador Committee member who had given up on all sense of order and logic. We behaved like savages, and were told to "Quiet!" by the hapless bus driver during a railroad crossing. The destination was Ground Round, but after some lobbying a lady convinced us to stop at the Greystone. All she said was "seventy-five cent beers" and clawed my way off the bus. What else needed to be said?

Greystone's idea of a "deluxe meal."

The Greystone Tavern, made famous by its delicious hamburgers, was my kind of place: narrow, smokey, full of long faces and blue-collar sensibility. The waitress tried to place us at a long table in the back, but it was all in vain. Our group headed directly to the bar. I stumbled my way to the bathroom and found it clean.

We had nachos (they call it, oddly enough, "Beef and Greens") and peanuts at the Greystone - more like a night at a ballgame than a dine-and-dash, but whatever. Some 18 year old calmly passed out our food, and deferred to the angry looking waitress who kept having to shout her demands.

"That's fine," I answered back, "at least the bathroom's clean."

And what do you know, our circus-on-wheels exited the Greystone in a cloud of peanut shells when another bus arrived to take us to the Time Out Bar & Grill. The bus ride there was a blur, but I do remember trying to leave my Greystone nachos on the bus for the next person to board.

Found her!

We ran into Suzanne again at the Time Out, along with the dart crowd - that group of hard-core gamers who considered lawn darts a bastardization of their fine art.

"I just hope there's no crime tomorrow," Captain Jackson said, smoking a dark-brown cigarette, "because my utility belt won't fit."

Alex searches for meaning admist the madness. "Want a shot?" he asked.

We all knew how he felt. By then we had consumed so much of Jackson's finest food - and yet had only visited a few select restaurants - that the night had to come to a conclusive end before someone got sick.

Time Out offered fried cheesecake and cold pizza, all presented behind a stronly-worded sign to let the locals that this was a bourgeois affair. We weren't as spirit as we were at the Cowboy (which seemed like an eternity ago), and I think we all felt like the Restaurant Rally had run its course.

Jackson isn't known for its politeness.

"Find the fire exits, Dave," John told me. "I'll follow you."

Instead of making an exit fit for any movie, we simply loaded onto a bus bound for downtown, our origin point, and unloaded back at the Crazy Cowboy. We had come full circle, in spirit as well as in destination, and we said our goodbyes.

My companions blatantly stole this fine glass from a struggling downtown business.

It was an epic evening, for sure, and there's no better way to take in all that Jackson's fine eateries have to offer than loading drunken chamber members on cramped buses and shout orders to them in between crude jokes and pornographic picture messages (that last one involving two ladies and Subway's current slogan, which I didn't get), with no time to discover the personality of a place because you're too busy whisking away to the next stop.

Complete chaos, and I felt it first thing that night. But what could I do? I had bought the ticket. I had taken the ride, and eaten the nachos.

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