There was a relatively brilliant moment in ABC’s last installment of “The Bachelor” when the bachelor, Andrew Firestone, and a contestant named Amber were sitting at a romantically lit dinner table searching painfully for something to talk about. It seemed like just another of the hundreds of awkward moments specific to this reality series, moments when strangers who are supposedly looking for their one true love are thrown in front of a camera and forced within the space of two minutes to look like they have anything in common with each other aside from their urge to screw. It was probably the second or third episode, and up until that point in the series Amber seemed like the girl to beat. She had that come-fuck-me quality that makes for great ratings: blonde hair, tiny tan shoulders, boobs as big as boulders, and a working vocabulary of about 12 words.
It seemed like a normal date, at least normal for reality television, and I fully expected the dinner conversation to go something along the lines of him telling her what he was looking for in a woman, and her nodding her head and confirming that she was looking for the same thing in a man, a few giggles here and there, and each of them at some point saying, “I totally know what you mean.” That’s the way all of those conversations go. They say reality television isn’t scripted, but real people are usually real boring and real predictable.
But the date couldn’t have gone more horribly and delightfully different than the usual script. Cookie-cutter Andrew and doe-eyed Amber couldn’t find one damn thing in common, and when he described what he wanted in a woman she acted like he was making noises only whales in pain could understand. The silences between bites of food and “yes” or “no” questions were awful to witness, until Amber decided to try and salvage the situation by talking about something EVERYONE could relate to: chain restaurants.
Amber: What’s your favorite restaurant chain?
(awkward silence as Andrew, whose family owns and operates a winery, tries to digest the fact that Amber has just asked him what his favorite restaurant chain is)
Amber (thinking that she’ll go first because Andrew obviously has so many favorites that he just can’t choose): I like the Olive Garden.
Andrew: I don’t like the Olive Garden.
Amber: You don’t like pasta?
Andrew: No, I like pasta.
Amber: You don’t like Italian food?!
Andrew: I LIKE Italian Food. I just don’t like the Olive Garden.
Amber (unable to comprehend how someone couldn’t love free refills on breadsticks): I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like the Olive Garden.
Amber didn’t receive a rose that episode, perhaps to the utter dismay of most of America, because America loves the Olive Garden almost as much as it loves boobs as big as boulders. And if Andrew couldn’t love a woman because she loves the Olive Garden, then people, the terrorists have already won.
I guess the reason I’m bringing this up now, months after the series has ended is because I’d forgotten how prevalent and important chain restaurants are in middle America, and whenever my middle-American family gets together for a dinner out, we always end up at some heinous, flair-ridden grease-hole like Applebee’s or Chili’s where the menus are like the Mormon Church, the same everywhere you go. And whenever I show disdain that they are unwilling to try something new, I’m usually greeted with, “I’ve never been to TGI Friday’s, how about we try that?”
There are many obvious reasons to try new restaurants, or even to support locally-owned establishments (i.e. a wider variety of better tasting food, supporting the local economy, what have you), but all those reasons are lost on my family and probably on many people who have never lived outside of their hometown. And that’s really sad to me, especially since some of the best Indian and Thai restaurants in the country call Salt Lake City their home. But my step-father has no interest in even finding out what saag paneer is when he knows what a batch of crispy chicken fingers and mustard in a tissue-lined plastic green basket taste like.
And I guess I hold a special hatred in my heart for the Olive Garden, a place I reserve for good things that have been crushed and molested and sanitized, made safe for white American consumers. Olive Garden is to Italian food what the Beastie Boys are to hip hop, a concept made palatable to a palate that can’t handle the real thing (I am going to get SO much shit for that one). What’s even more egregious is that they really work hard at trying to pass it off as the real thing, with Italian-American voice-overs in the commercials and alluding to “the family” in its tagline.
Perhaps its worst offense, however, is the fact no matter what time of day or season of the year, whenever you drive by an Olive Garden you will ALWAYS see some overweight American stumbling out onto the sidewalk, four styrofoam boxes of left-over food towering in his left arm, patting his bulging gut with his free right hand, chewing on breadstick burps as they bubble up from his fettuccini-stuffed breast, and making pained, horrified expressions as he tries to pick olive pits from the cracks in his back teeth with the tip of his tongue.
This is my Olive Garden rant, and I totally stand by it. That is, until tomorrow when I inform Jon that the only thing I can fathom eating and keeping down is all-you-can-eat salad and breadsticks. Then I was totally joking.