Coordinating and executing a dinner for 100 people is a humbling experience. Did I say humbling? I meant horrifying. Or it might have been had any part of our plan shifted even a bit.
At around 5:45, as the first groups of people began wading their way into Forage, it occurred to me that it was possible (probable even, given my bad luck), that our carefully planned evening might just end in disaster.
My anxieties were heightened by the heat—which wasn’t too terrible for a guy who’d spent four years of “practice-sweating” in Alabama—though I knew it would feel uncomfortably warm for those with less practice in that department.
Then there were my concerns about the food: would there be enough of it, would it stay warm, and would the serving lines move fast enough to fill all those empty bellies?
I’ll spare you my other anxieties, which ranged from normal (“What if the sound system cuts out?”) to abnormal (“What if the sound system cuts out due to a flock of migrating birds caught in a crosswind and hurled through the third story windows of Banbury Place?”)
Spoiler alert: no wayward birds crashed our party. Moreover, the food was fantastic and the temperature didn’t put a damper on our good time.
And in the aftermath of it all, I can say with certainty that I learned many valuable lessons. Most of all, that the trick to organizing a successful dinner is to anticipate the “x-factors.” But the thing about x-factors, of course, is that you can’t anticipate them entirely. All you can do is be aware that something unexpected will happen, and likely to your detriment.
Which might’ve been how our story played out. But it wasn’t.
This time, the x-factor wasn’t what went wrong, it was what went right. It was all the people who came out of nowhere to make the night a success. Any impending disasters that I’d inadvertently put into motion were neutralized by these kind strangers, many of whom I’d never met and whose names I do not know.
Thank you to the bussers, the servers, the dishwashers, the table scrubbers, the sweepers, the moppers, the silverware-getters and the silverware putterawayers. Thanks to the ukulele strummers, the picture snappers, the chair stackers, the food platers, the booksellers, the ticket takers, and most of all: our wondrous speaker, Holly Harden, the best chef anyone could ask for, Brent Halverson, and the incredible Forage crew.
As I chatted with people at the end of the night, I was surprised to learn they came from places as far away as Alabama, Minnesota and Illinois, and as close as two blocks away. Some came because they wanted a great meal, and a great show, and a chance to support the Guild. Others came because Holly was their former teacher, or because they were Holly’s former teacher. That all of these people converged in a single place for such a myriad of purposes was perhaps the source of the evening’s magic. Or at least one of its sources.
That night, after the mopping was done, and the trash was trashed, and the plates were put away, I wheeled a cart full of odds and ends back toward the Banbury Place elevator. It was late, I was alone, and the old converted tire factory was breathtakingly silent. I tried imagining what this place was like back when it was the Uniroyal plant—a place that had done so much to build our community. And I thought, too, how a quarter century after that last tire had rolled off the line, this place was doing it again: helping to build a community—this time, the arts community—in the very same hallowed halls.
I barely made it home that night. And had it not been for a few concerned friends who bought me a burger after learning I hadn’t eaten that day, I mightn’t have made it at all. I was tired, hungry and dehydrated, but most of all, overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers. Sweat drenched, I stumbled into my front door, a wave of something close to catharsis washing through me. I’d tried to do a good thing for the community, but once again, the community had done a good thing for me. Our community had served as the x-factor I hadn’t known I needed.
Just before bed, I reached my hand into my pocket to find an envelope I’d forgotten I’d received earlier that evening. In it was the check I’d given Holly. She’d given it back.
“My contribution to the Guild,” she’d said.
Holding that check in my hands, I collapsed onto the couch.
A guy can only take so much kindness. And I had all that I could bear.