Notes from an at-home vacation

I’m on vacation this week, and spending my time at home and around town for the duration. While it is therapeutic taking time off, there’s something not-quite-vacationly about maintaining many of my usual routines in my usual habitat. Here are some of the things I’ve experienced so far:

As long as I’ve lived, I’d never been to a Red Lobster until this week. That’s not to say I don’t respect the chains–I’m a big fan of the bottomless chips and salsa at Chilis. Ditto for the never-ending salad at Olive Garden.

I decided after seeing “Tropic Thunder” last night (big laughs) to indoctrinate myself into the world of Red Lobster. My assumption has always been that it was a cheap alternative to more desirable seafood joints. I had it in my head as analogous to McCormick and Schmick’s, as Sizzler is to Ruth’s Chris. On a related note, does Sizzler even still exist? Ponderosa? Shit. So much for analogies, but I think my point’s been made.

Red Lobster is easily one of the worst restaurants in North America. No, I’m not being dramatic. It’s hell on earth.

The atmosphere–the first thing you notice–isn’t all that dissimilar from a hospital cafeteria. The lights were up, exposing every nuance of the wood paneling and wallpaper that would look dated in the Brady Bunch house.

What’s worse, my local Red Lobster played their in-house music REALLY LOUD. Distractingly loud. And the music itself was completely awful and 100% unfamiliar. Every song. Every artist. That made me think that the house mix at Red Lobster is a custom mix of unknown schmucks who create music specifically for use by the Red Lobster chain. Chilling thought.

We had to wait 10 minutes for a table, at close to 9 p.m. on a Tuesday night. I expect that at, I dunno, Mia Francesca. But Red Lobster? Really? When we were taken to our table by our soul-enervated, doesn’t-want-the-new-school-year-to-start, host, I was shocked to see a 1/4-full dining area. I was so shocked, in fact, that I found it kind of funny. What balls! What nerve! I can’t even complain!

The biggest shock of the night came in the form of the laminated menu, which looked like it had been manhandled by the toddler room of my local daycare. Once I got past the grime and strange translucent gob in the top corner, the prices shocked me into more laughter. Fish prices consistent with market price at “real” seafood places? $30 crab legs? That gag reflex-inducing white chocolate tilapia dish from “The Next Food Network Star?” Everything else on the menu is fried?

I know that seafood is expensive; I just never imagined a place that looked like Red Lobster getting away with those kinds of prices. In reality, I could’ve taken in a totally kickass dinner elsewhere for only a few bucks more. I knew that whatever I would’ve ordered in the $20 range would’ve been regretted, so I opted for the $10 lobster pizza appetizer as my entree. It sucked, but I feel like I ducked in time to avoid a full scalping.

The other little things–not getting a napkin and silverware until long after the hideously greasy seafood/mushroom appetizer dropped, the beaten look on the staff’s faces, the sad family who spent five minutes in front of the lobster tank like it was a Saturday trip to the Shedd–added to my overall disgust.

I don’t think I’ve been to Great America since I worked for Q101 the first time around and had to broadcast live from the heart of Yukon Country (or some similar cartoon-led fiefdom). It was a beautiful day when I went on Monday, and I honestly had a great time. One thing I found fascinating was the Roaring Rapids “douchebag enabler.” After riders disembark, they can go to an observation level and douse other riders with waves of water seconds before the ride ends. I saw lots of Antioch-by-way-of-Kentucky folks in tank tops gleefully raining holy hell on strangers before they continued their park visit to the funnel cake stand.

Really, what’s not to love? See it before it disappears from theaters.

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