By Ken Bradbury
Okay, I’m a cheeseburger and Motel 6 kind of guy. I don’t begrudge the gourmets and high fliers of the world and their escargot and Hiltons, but my tastes aren’t refined enough to justify paying the difference between Maldaners’s in Springfield and Norma’s just off the square in Jacksonville. I’m afraid that posh-ness and panache is wasted on this country boy. But when I watch the Food or Travel networks and see the marvelous tales spun about the life of delicious luxury I often think back to the few times when I’ve hobnobbed with the hoity-toity of the world. And I’ll add that in each case I wasn’t paying the bill.
Once upon a lucky time I won a travel-writing contest and was flown to London for a short week. I was allowed to take one guest so I invited a former student, Luke Crawford, to accompany on our expense-paid visit to the Queen’s kingdom. I knew we were in the lap of someone else’s credit card when we were picked up at Heathrow airport in our own private car. Luke asked the driver if he could ride in the front seat. This wasn’t the custom, but the driver gladly invited him to hop up behind the windshield. After a high speed, suicidal traffic ride into downtown London, Luke decided that he’d taken his last ride in the front seat with a London driver.
We saw a great many wondrous things in the course of our stay, but two of the most memorable involved food. Okay, Luke and I both have an affinity for anything that goes in our mouth, so the fact that I remember the beef more than Beefeaters at the Tower of London can be excused. One afternoon we were invited to a London Tea. That’s Tea with a Capital T. We ain’t talkin’ Lipton and Oreos here, Bubba. Cart after cart of pastry-laden trays were paraded in front of us. We were deep in Willy Wonka Land and had no desire to escape.
On the next night the tour company invited us to a cocktail party for the grand opening of the New Globe Theatre. The theatre wasn’t actually completed yet so we gathered in a huge underground room after taking a tour of the construction work above. I don’t know that I’d ever actually attended a formal cocktail party. In Arenzville we take this to be the occasion for lowering the tailgate of someone’s pickup truck and pouring a Bud Light, but we were deep in the bowels of London society. They passed the fluted champagne glasses around, then came the food and we soon found out the reason why so many kings of England suffered from gout. A tuxedoed waiter would appear at the door as another swallow-tailed fellow would “announce” each platter of food. Yes, he announced the food. And believe me, this food deserved announcing. It would be appropriate now for me to name exactly what gastronomic delights Luke and I were treated to on that heady evening but the few I could identify I couldn’t pronounce and wouldn’t attempt to spell. Announcement after announcement rang out in the champagne-scented room as country boys Ken and Luke tried our best not to act like fugitives from “Duck Dynasty” as we eagerly sampled everything that came our direction.
Another intoxicating memory of living the life of luxury was the cold January years ago when a tour company invited me to Boston. They knew I’d traveled a bit so they asked a dozen of us to be their guests for three days to pick our brains on how to beat the other companies. I eagerly took them up on their expense-paid invitation as they put us up in a boutique hotel. In the Midwest this means that the furniture doesn’t match. In Boston this means that there’ll be fresh flowers delivered to your room every morning, your morning Boston Globe newspaper will be ironed. . . yes, ironed. . .before it’s placed outside your door, your bed will be turned down for you before you enter your room at night, and they will pack your bags before you leave for home. I took advantage of everything the hotel had to offer until they told me about the bath-drawing service. With just a touch of your room phone, a tuxedoed butler would come and draw your bath water. Sorry, I was raised in Perry and live in Arenzville, and this was a notch or two over my humility limit.
I think perhaps it’s telling when I return from one of these luxury sprees that it’s my fondest desire to plop upon my antique couch, grab a Diet Pepsi, and chew on a ham sandwich from the County Market deli. You can take the boy out of the country, but . . .