Friday, February 03, 2023

The Speakeasy

"You may remove your blindfolds now," said the man in a calm, gentle voice.  "Once again, my apologies for the drama, but I think you'll understand their necessity as the evening progresses."  We removed our blindfolds and found ourselves standing together in a group before a maitre d' impeccably dressed in a black tuxedo with a red rose bud tacked neatly to his lapel. "Please," he smiled as he gathered up our blindfolds, "follow me to your table.  I think you'll find we have a lovely spot for you, right in front of the picture window."

The first thing I noticed was how amazingly tranquil the place was. Not completely silent, but other than the low murmur of distant conversations at the other tables and the occasional clinking of glasses, the place was remarkably quiet.  Very relaxing. Even the lighting was soft and warm. We followed the maitre d' as he glided across the lush carpeting to our table, which was exactly as he promised: Six upholstered dinner chairs surrounding a linen cloth covered table, at the center of which was a small crystal bowl arranged with a small bouquet of freshly cut flowers.

"Your host will be here directly," he intoned as we took our seats. "In the meantime, may I offer you a drink?" We were halfway through our order when our host greeted us with a smile. "Well," he grinned as he took his seat, "what do you think?"

I have to admit, we were impressed. The view out the picture window overlooked a vast, green valley that swept down to the bay. On the horizon, miles away, city lights twinkled through the twilight as the sun set behind them.  In just a few moments, the entire sky was a gradation of blues.  We could feel how special this was going to be."Romantic, isn't it?" asked our host. "You know, there was a time when all the good places were like this. Super classy. Not so much anymore, am I right? Just a wonderful place to be...and wait until you taste the food. Incredible." 

We tried to remain polite, but it didn't take long until one of us had to inquire: "What's this placed called?" I asked.  Our host smiled and looked at each of us intently.  "It has no name," he quietly answered. "It has no address and it doesn't take credit cards. Very few people even know about it.  You should be honored to be here."

I immediately began questioning things in my mind.  How can a place this large and luxurious maintain any kind of secrecy?  There were staff, waiters, bartenders, bellhops, concierges -- a veritable army of employees.  Finally, I broke the silence and asked what everyone else was thinking.  "How can something like this remain hidden?"

Our host leaned back and took a sip of his 30 year old scotch. "It's a product of, shall we say, natural selection.  Look around this room. What do you see?  Men in jackets and ties.  Women in dresses.  Children sitting attentively, having conversations with their parents."  He leaned forward in his chair. "You won't hear someone else's loud music blaring in your ears and you won't see people shoplifting napkin rings from their tables. Everyone here wears sensible shoes. They dress respectfully and act appropriately toward one another. Everyone here actually appreciates this place and realizes that if its existence ever became public knowledge, the government would open it up to the public, which would close it down immediately."

In that moment, we all knew why we'd been blindfolded. We all knew that we must have been screened and judged worthy of membership.

"This is why," he continued, "nobody knows anyone else's name and nobody can pay their tab with credit cards.  The entire operation is 100% undetectable -- as it should be."  He waited a beat, raised his glass and smiled once more. "Welcome," he toasted, "to the last vestige of civilization."

I'm pretty sure we were all taken aback by his revelation, but in fact, the entire meal was less about the food than it was about a lost dimension of reality.  The more we looked about, the more we noticed that nobody was on his phone.  In fact, there were no screens of any kind to be found anywhere. It was almost as if the evening has been suspended in time, where every word of conversation could be considered and every drop of wine could be savored. There was no place we had to be; no reason for interruption.  It was, in a word, glorious.

Our host looked at us.  "There was a time when places like this flourished out in the open. Anyone who could afford the experience was welcomed. Of course, that was before anything and everything was attacked as being exclusionary.  The forces that govern us determined those places had to open their doors to anyone at any time. It didn't take too long for all of them to deteriorate into the kinds of places where people steal, shout over their loud music and engage in fist fights.  Not too long after, all of those places closed down."

He smiled thoughtfully and looked down at his drink.  "Oddly, the very people who demanded access are the very ones who destroyed it.  A shame, really. In any event, now you know the reason for all the drama and the secrecy. In time, we may approve you as members and you may visit us again. For now, think of us like the speakeasies during Prohibition. That lasted about ten years and then the country came back to its senses. So for now, we're here, but we're not here -- at least not until the climate improves."

The rest of the dinner was just as remarkable.  The conversations was good, the desserts even better.  As we rose from the table to leave, the maitre d' appeared and handed each of us our blindfolds. Donning them securely as we entered the limousine, we all knew we'd experienced a visit to long-forgotten civilization. We'd taken a trip back through time, when life was a series of honor and challenges, respect and rewards.

We'd been to the mountain top and liked what we saw. We knew we'd come back. Until then, we'd vigilantly guard the secret and work for a better day -- knowing that millions more like us had already made their reservations.