I first read the now-sensational Grand Forks, ND Olive Garden review by Marilyn Hagerty last night, and in response, I tweeted: “I should’ve written a review like that the day I learned Fat Tire—which I first had in May 2011—had entered Maryland last Oct.”
I really do not know what it was about the column that enamored me. Maybe it was the earnest tone with which she presented the fact that people lined up to eat at an Olive Garden in Grand Forks—GRAND FORKS!—North Dakota and it was written with so little self-consciousness about what the coastal communities from sea to shining sea would think about her and her city. Maybe it was the fact that she had given us a glimpse of communities outside our own—with our blazing fast Internet and “artisanal” dining and our hipster culture—communities that are just as American as ours, only with more heart and soul and yes, Virginia, for some communities in the Midwest, Red Lobster happens to be where you take your girlfriend to propose in front of a crowd and make her your fiancee.
Not a month ago, on Valentine’s Day, there was a tweet making the rounds about how men shouldn’t give their girlfriends mall jewelry store baubles and how you don’t take her out to Red Lobster on a date. To which I said that these people have no clue whatsoever about the backgrounds of the people who are dining there. That young twentysomething guy with his girl? You don’t know how much he worked, to save up money for a dinner for him and his girl that would cost upwards of forty dollars. You just don’t know. But sure, let’s sneer at them for their commercialized tastes and their plebian preferences? I’d rather not.
There was a lot of sneering directed at Marilyn Hagerty and the city of Grand Forks, North Dakota, whose citizens lined up outside a new Olive Garden, whose citizens used to drive an hour and a half to Fargo just to eat at one, who now have to put up with judgment from Coastal elites who exclaim in sheer horror about their lack of local and organic, farm-to-table dining options in the city of Grand Forks—GRAND FORKS!—North Dakota and why would anyone even want to live there much less eat at an Olive Garden and much less line up for one?
My vocal admiration of Mme Hagerty landed me a phone interview with Ryan Bakken in which I just poured out my thoughts. Grand Forks is Grand Forks. There was a scene in Friday Night Lights where colleges were trying to convince the individual Dillon Panthers to go to their schools and what they have to offer in terms of football and an education and one, one coach even said “we just had a new Costco open up recently.” Friends, this is America. And it’s bigger than what you’re used to, and there’s so much more out there than what you think you already know.
So why judge? Why sneer at them from your nose that sits higher than your brow? Why is this so weird for so many of you? Why is it so bizarre to you that on karaoke night in a regional chain when the DJ plays the Cupid shuffle for an intermission about three fourths of the people leave their seats and their booths and just dance?
In my phone interview I critiqued restaurant reviews for being highbrow and pretentious. I had mentioned the Internet’s addiction to irony and mean-spiritedness. That’s about as much fire and brimstone I can bring up. Tomorrow we’ll be mean to each other. But tonight, I’ll borrow a page from Mme Hagerty’s interview with the Village Voice and just tell all the haters to go get a life.