I'm a college administrator at the University of Michigan-Flint, a position I took after spending a dozen years in the classroom as a writing professor. Teaching is my first love, but taking a break from it to pursue new challenges has been a wise move. And since eating out is a part of my job, I love it even more. I especially love taking job candidates out to dinner. I almost always know by the time we're five minutes into the meal whether the person is likely to get the offer or not. Needless to say, the experience can be very engaging, or it can be extremely awkward.
I chaired a search committee in 2004 to hire a second writing specialist in the English Department, and I took the final candidate out to dinner. Stephanie was a rising start in the field, had interviewed well all day, and I already knew she was going to get the offer. I wanted her to come here in the worst way, so my task was to convince her, over dinner, that she wanted t come here. She already had offers pending from other schools, so I knew I had to put on my A game. I pulled out The Red Rooster.
Established in the 1940's this is one of the finest old school restaurants in Flint. It's the only place that still does table-side cooking, and the food is always outstanding. There are no windows in the restaurant, but it's well lit and tastefully decorated. The waitstaff is totally professional and everyone knows when to dote on you and when to leave you alone.
My friend Jan, who was also on the search committee, joined Stephanie and me, and between the two of us, we knew what we had to do. We ordered drinks. I ordered an Absolute Seabreeze and Jan ordered a glass of wine. To our delight, Stephanie followed Jan's lead and also ordered a glass of wine. By the time our appetizer and second round of drinks arrived, I was in full sales pitch mode: Our students are some of the best in the state, the university takes great care of us with yearly raises and full medical benefits, you can set your own schedule, and on and on and on. I could see Stephanie's excitement growing.
"So how about a nice bottle of Cabernet with dinner?" I asked. "To celebrate the end of a very good day." I was secretly trying to get her oiled enough to just say "I love this place! I want the job!" We polished off our entrees and the wine over stories about how Jan and I came to live in Flint and how much we loved living and working here. Stephanie was all smiles. I didn't know when we walked out to our cars and parted company, if she would actually take the job, but I was pretty sure we just showed her one hell of a good time.
Stephanie eventually took the job. Our mutual love of eating out led us to periodic lunch dates, and over time evolved into weekly dates. We've had lunch together pretty regularly for the last six years, and religiously (every Thursday) for the last three. Last year, from January to May, we decided to pick a theme to guide us through our weekly lunches, sort of kick it up a notch, make it a little more of an adventure.
We brainstormed a lot of choices but settled on restaurants that had Keno machines. That's right, we would only eat at restaurants where we could gossip about our colleagues while playing 10 games of Keno. The drawings were two and a half minutes apart, which gave us plenty of time to catch up, eat our lunch, and hopefully win a few bucks. We saved our winnings, and spent the $18 on our last lunch of the semester.
This year, at least for the next 26 weeks, we have chosen a new theme: Mexican restaurants. According to Urbanspoon.com, there are 57 Mexican restaurants in the county, but I know that not all of them are still in business. Join me as I chronicle my lunches with Stephanie and report on the state of affairs from places like Los Ponchos, El Patrero, Cooki's Taco House, El-Especial, La Familia, and a host of others. My secret desire is to find a Mexican Restaurant with a Keno machine. How do you say "Jackpot" in Spanish?