The Serengeti of Expectations
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This Thursday is Valentine's Day, but because my mate believes that romance should be spontaneous, we have made no reservations. With reservations, she says, come expectations. With expectations, comes disappointment. Love, claims the Mate of the Urban Man, requires sudden adventure and hot, sweet surprise. So again this year, we'll simply head into the glittery night, and see what turns up.
Me, I try to explain that here in L.A., spontaneity usually requires some...preparation. A few rehearsals. Working writers. Adventure most often arrives as it does on the Universal Studios Tour, when that same unexpected flood washes down the same faux Mexican street every 15 minutes. Or like on a reality show, when Paul falls for Paula, surprising everyone but the producers. Or like during a midnight set at the House of Blues, when the bass player leaps off the stage at 12:01 for the hundredth time in his hundredth wild show this year.
At a minimum, I say, it's nice to hold a table for 7:30.
But even though she's a longtime Angeleno, the Mate of the Urban Man keeps faith with spontaneity. She takes us out to hunt the unexpected the same way big cats prowl for gazelle on the African veldt. Lately, for example, we've been parking at one end of Main Street in Venice and passing from window to window, open door to open door, looking for music and unanticipated crowds. On Melrose, we press our faces against closed shops or search menus for previously unexperienced items.
Me, I'm ever open to romance...but I know we're looking in the wrong town. In New York you encounter charming trattorias. In Paris you find the unexpected bistro. In L.A., surprise is hobbled by the false freedom of the automobile. You don't accidentally "encounter" things here...you consult your Zagat. You punch your expectations into Mapquest.
Tonight, in a little pre-Valentine's warmup, I've pinned my romantic hopes on a new GPS device, which glows cheerfully on my dashboard and tracks all nearby bistros, hidden as they may be behind grim industrial façades. It's like going on a military mission. I can specify cheap or expensive, Italian or nouvelle, and voilà, previously unknown destinations appear as little numbered targets on the moving screen.
I'm not absolutely certain this approach represents romance...it's certainly not as fun as strolling Paris. Worse, I see my mate growing impatient after just 40 minutes of random driving around West Hollywood.
Then lo, peering into the little screen and narrowly avoiding a life-altering accident along Highland, I cry out:
"Oh look, Ammo is just up the block."
"That's not unexpected," says my wife. "Ammo is ancient news."
"We've never been."
"They probably peaked long ago."
"No, I'm sure Ammo is still hip."
"Maybe," she warns, "but if a place is known, you end up comparing it to its reputation, and it's bound to fall short. If we're going to a place like Ammo, we might as well have had reservations."
I feel vindicated when the joint turns out to be crowded with young creatives attempting spontaneity among lasagna with squash, radicchio, shitake and sage. With dynamic individuals striking sparks among baby artichokes with fontina, teardrop tomatoes, and mint. With actual couples ordering pan-seared black cod with herbed quinoa.
"My love," I say, "I'm sure you'll be surprised by the Reed Avocado and Market Beets with chervil, ricotta salata and Meyer lemon zest. We'll hold hands over the sautéed Cavalo Nero."
I watch her face for unanticipated joy, but in the end even I have to admit the Cavalo Nero disappoints. Maybe too much olive oil. And as we return to the glittery night, The Urban Man sighs not just for local restaurant owners, struggling to provide romance this week, but for all L.A. lovers, hungry like lions and lost in the wide Serengeti of expectations.
Copyright © 2008 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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