Olive Garden, The Place Beyond The Pines, And…Hunting For Alcohol

Well Vanna and I had a very interesting (but good) Friday night. After spending most of the afternoon lazing around the house, we decided that it was about time that we should officially celebrate my arrival in the U.S, and go out for a meal in Brainerd. And, because I’ve never been before (typically the Brainerd branch opened up just after I left Minnesota last year), Vanna took me to the Italian style chain restaurant, Olive Garden.

Now, I’d heard of Olive Garden, but I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. You see, in England we don’t have that many restaurant chains. And the ones that we do have are mostly of the fast food variety: we have McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, Wetherspoons…none of them are particularly upmarket. So, when I hear of an American chain restaurant, I just assume it is fast food too. In some cases I’m right. I don’t think White Castle, or Taco Bell, for example, can really argue against my judgment, while places like Red Lobster, Applebees or indeed Olive Garden, most certainly can.

I don’t know why I run off this logic. Maybe because I’ve been privileged to visit some high-class restaurants in my time, and not a single one of them were part of a chain. Or maybe because the most popular chain restaurant in the world is McDonalds and I’ve just tarred everyone with the same brush by default. I don’t know. Either way, it took a while for Vanna to convince me that Olive Garden wasn’t an Italian McDonalds, and was in fact, a very pleasant restaurant. I’m glad she did though, because we had a lovely time.

I won’t go through everything we ate (I think that’s more for Vanna to do; her passion for food goes beyond mine) but it was delicious. I was a little thrown because our table ended up being covered in plates (we got our main course very shortly after our starter, and in addition to that we also had the free garlic bread and salad bowl taking up space), but I really did enjoy my meal. Of course I finished all my food, but because Vanna had eyes bigger than her stomach (she didn’t order loads, she’s just a baby eater), she ended up bringing the majority of her stuff back home to eat later (ie, today). Once our leftovers were boxed up, and we’d negotiated the tip (Vanna was insistent on 30% of the bill while I was more inclined to go with 10%…sorry waiting staff of America, but us Brits are very against this compulsive nature to tip, as we much prefer to add in a little extra only when it feels right to us), Vanna and I left Olive Garden both full, and happy (but not bloated, which is always a good thing).

Highlight for me: the strawberry mango frozen margarita. The smoothie that Vanna ended up getting for free was delicious, but this completely blew it out the water. It was expensive, but totally worth it. Especially because Vanna couldn’t have any of it as she’s under 21. Hahaha.

Highlight for Vanna: Probably the lady serving us. They, uh, bonded over their love of cats. Yeah…try the margarita!

As the night was still young, we then went to Lakes 12, the Brainerd cinema, to watch The Place Beyond The Pines. I’ve wanted to watch it for a while now, and I knew it wouldn’t take Vanna much convincing to see it with me as two of her favourites (Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling) were in it. You see, I know what makes her tick.

Anyway, the film. I, uh, really don’t know what to make of it. It was…strange. I’m glad that I went to see it, and I thought it was good but, yeah, I don’t know what else I can say about it. It is one of those films that I think you have to watch to really appreciate, or understand.

What can I say?

Well, there were three or four different stories all tied together by one underlying theme in TPBTP, and though it didn’t play, or end, in the way I’d want it to (there wasn’t really a Hollywood ending: guy gets girl, guy saves world etc), it was ultimately satisfying because it was realistic, and sort of fair. It made sense, and the slow narrative worked to enhance the main characters as they went along their different paths. My only real criticism would be that the film never quite made it happen, because of this meandering style. Like it was on the verges of being something truly amazing, but just fell short at the final hurdle. It never got that OOMPH, that moment which really hits you, and amazes you.

Or something. I don’t know.  The Place Beyond The Pines was…interesting. Maybe I’ll be able to talk about it more later, once it’s sunk in a little. Vanna feels the same way…we just don’t quite know what to make of it yet. We did enjoy it though.

At this point it was nearly 10pm, but we weren’t done yet. Because, you know, we’re party people. And uh, we never go to bed early because we’re…cool (we nearly made it to 11pm on Thursday!)? Yeah!

So, on our way home from the cinema, we decided to go to the liquor store to buy some alcohol (only for me of course; Vanna was just there to choose something good for me to drink…at home she’d just be having water). We wandered around the store and picked out some vodka and wine (under $20 because I’m cheap like that). I took them to the counter, got out my ID…only to be told that the woman couldn’t serve me because Vanna was with me, and she was underage. Even if Vanna left and went back to the car, she still couldn’t (or wouldn’t?) sell the alcohol to me.

Really? As far as I’m concerned, it is my money and my ID, so I should be allowed to do whatever I want. Urgh. Whatever.

We weren’t going to give up that easily, however, and  we went to the next store. This time I went in alone…only to be turned down again because the store was closing up. It wasn’t 10 just yet (there was still two minutes) and I knew exactly what I was getting, but fine. Whatever. Goddamn. It’s Friday night and everywhere is closing at 10? Shocking. It’s almost as if these stores don’t want people to be drunk…

We kept going though, and stopped by several other towns on our way home. Eventually we found a place that was open, and we ventured in, full of hope that we would be able to buy some alcohol. Nothing was going to stop us this time!

Yeah…we got a coffee, a fountain soda and two DVDs for $5.

…that’s still a success, right?




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