Earlier today I was watching a recent episode of Anthony Bourdain where he eats at a Sizzler in LA's Koreatown with Korean artist David Choe. Bourdain cheekily calls the restaurant "free from snarkologists" in an attempt to make it sound cool, but really he's only there because of Choe. David Choe genuinely loves Sizzler. It's not an ironic enjoyment, or a funny experience for him to post on Instagram later that evening. Choe grew up in a traditional Korean family that cooked dinner each night. They rarely ate out. If they did, it was usually at McDonald's. Sizzler was only for special occasions, which Choe would get very, very excited about. Because of these cherished childhood memories, Choe still loves hitting the salad bar and filling up on taco shells with meatballs, despite the fact that he's wealthy enough to eat wherever he wants. And he's not ashamed of it. But, really, why should he be?
Choe's experience is not unfamiliar to me. My wife feels the same way about many American chain restaurants. She grew up in a traditional Mexican family. Her mom did not work. She stayed home, took care of the kids, and cooked every meal herself. Eating out somewhere like Round Table Pizza was a big deal. To this day my wife still loves eating Kraft Mac and Cheese from the box, chomping down on sugary cereals, and getting grilled cheese sandwiches from the roadside diners. Unlike my childhood upbringing, where home-cooked dinners were interchanged with Pop Tarts and Taco Bell, these were things she rarely got to do. She looked forward to them, cherished them, and knew of no reason to be embarrassed by them. She feels the same way today. What's wrong with eating at Red Lobster? Nothing. Unless you're ashamed of being an everyday American.
Many everyday Americans are ashamed of these "culture-less" experiences and they like to pretend they've moved beyond them. Living in the Bay Area today you'd think no one grew up with TV, everyone read literary novels as a teen, and travelling the world was just something their families did. Try inviting an everyday Bay Area native to Sizzler. "You're kidding, right?" Try inviting an everyday San Franciscan over to watch a few episodes of the Big Bang Theory. "I'm too busy doing something outside." Yet what do we truly enjoy doing as everyday Americans? I don't mean what we act like we enjoy doing, like the myriad of exercises we pretend to love because it looks good on our Facebook profile, I mean honestly: what is it we truly love?
There were of course moments in my life when I was embarrassed about some honest truths. I wasn't always proud to be from Modesto, the hometown of serial killers, murderous bikers, and adulterous politicians. People have often made fun of me for being from Modesto, as well as for my obsessive relationship with professional wrestling. Yet I steadfastly watch it because it makes me so incredibly happy. I love Modesto because it's home and I associate it with happy times. I don't care how much methamphetamine we're producing over there, it's where I was raised and I love it. I don't care if I look unsophisticated because I like watching muscular men roll around on a mat, pretending to fight, with an outcome that's scripted for dramatic effect. I don't care about what people think anymore because I am an adult, and adults should be mature enough to admit what they like and stop pretending. Pretending is for junior high kids and teenagers –– for people who are still trying to find their way and fit in. We're too old for that shit.
Yet, we love to pretend in the booze world. We like to pretend we drink for the flavor and not for the intoxicating effects. We like to pretend that we're not influenced by points, ratings, and reviews. That we think for ourselves when we don't. We like to pretend that wine and spirits are more than just beverages, that what we drink says something about the people we are, when it really says more about the people we wish we were. We document these experiences as proof, evidence for the world to see, that we're not just everyday, run-of-the-mill, Sizzler-eating folk. We live cultured, educated lives. We get it.
But while some of us are out there pretending, others are out there enjoying themselves. Truly enjoying themselves. I hope I am one of them. I'm not always so sure.