One of my first bosses in the restaurant business had a favorite phrase: there’s no such thing as a problem only opportunity. If you went to him in the middle of a shift and said “We have a problem at table 24,” he would correct you with a smug “What do we have at table 24?” repeating it until you understood that he wanted you to rephrase the situation describing it as an opportunity. While he was in fact as big of a tool as you most likely imagine him, he was correct in asserting that most problems present opportunities rather than calamities. It reinforced the veracity of my inner optimist.
When my Christmas Day Dinner client cancelled (with barely two days notice) the five course dinner* I had already started preparing, I looked for the silver lined opportunity. I found it in the form of a reasonable flight to the Florida Keys. It was a trip I needed after a year that has presented me with multiple, ahem, opportunities. Unable to cajole any friends to embrace the logic of Ferris Bueller, I went solo to the airport on Christmas Eve with a suitcase filled with linen, sandals, and the one pair of flip flops I own.
I suffered the indignity of airport security and boarded the plane with knowledge that Hemmingway’s bar stool and a cold margarita was only a couple hours away. After the first motionless hour, grumblings of discontent began to move through the cabin. After a second hour on the tarmac, passenger complaints were as thick as the stale air inside the plane. As we moved into the third hour, traveler mutiny was afoot. Finally, the powers that were confirmed what we all had suspected – there would be no tropical breezes or margaritas for any of us this night. Four and a half hours after arriving at the airport, I traveled only the distance to the gate and back to a cab.
Determined to find opportunity in this, I visited a few of my favorite bartenders who were working on this holiday eve. Slow bars on days like this can occasionally produce headache inducing generosity. Despite the low thud in my head, I awoke Christmas morning with thoughts of leaving on a jet plane, and holding court at a beachside bar. Forty five minutes on the phone with my airline produced assurances of a seat on an early afternoon flight. The ticketing agents looked at me like an alien as they apologized for the “miscommunication from the representative on the phone.” There was no room on the plane for me. Though if I wanted to fly to Newark, wait two hours, fly to Denver, wait three hours, and then fly to the Keys I could arrive sometime around 1am. I declined.
There were no waves sing softly against a beach, no sarong clad women next to me, and there were no balmy breezes, but I did have my margarita and kept a lonely bartender company or maybe she kept mine.
* For the five curious food geeks out there, the menu was:
Cauliflower and Parsnip Bisque with Duck Sausage
Carpaccio of Wagyu Beef Tenderloin with Arugula Salad
Roasted Christmas Goose with Grape and Sweetbread Stuffing, and a Wild Mushroom Terrine
Mini Flourless Chocolate Cake with a Cognac Caramel Glaze
Selection of Cheese from Cowgirl Creamery with traditional accompaniments and warm truffled honey