The email was simple. “You’re confirmed for October 8th,” it said. Details followed, and then “Dinner begins at 7:00p. Dress is Smart Casual.”
The panic started shortly after. What the fuck is Smart Casual? I don’t travel in any circles that have a dress code. I avoid traditions and rituals and ceremonies that require dressing in a certain way because I hate social norms and conventions that only exist to make us all conform. I know what Business Casual is (I think? khakis and a button-down shirt?). I know what Casual is (shorts, sandals, anything, really). I know what Avitable Casual is (a pair of red manties with decorative socks [see below]). But Smart Casual? Is that like being naked with a pair of glasses? A pair of shorts and a pocket protector? Why was I doing this?
THIS referred to, of course, The Dinner Party Project, a brilliant gem of an idea by Dana Marie Roquemore (a classic timeless name that evoked thoughts of Dickensian villianesses). Beginning as a gathering of random friends for dinner, it’s transformed into one of the coolest things to do in Orlando. Eight people are chosen at random, asked to donate between $40-70, and once confirmed, invited to dinner. I showed up to Downtown Credo, a fascinating coffee place and nexus of social awareness and positive action that also rents out its space for meetings, parties, and dinners, at 7. And if you’re wondering, I decided that Smart Casual just meant “Don’t look like a homeless idiot” so I opted for a gray long-sleeved shirt, jeans, and dress shoes. I decided not to wear my new favorite hat.
I was greeted by the warm and friendly Dana, who was not hosting tonight’s event and on her way out the door, and then introduced to the hostess, Jeanie, who promptly handed me a whiskey sour. Things looked promising!
We were an interesting group of people – Crystal the former restaurateur turned recruiter, clearly used to hosting and running events; Shannon the wedding planner who spent a lot of time giving wry looks; quiet and innocent looking Matt with a surprisingly hardcore Rage Against The Machine fist tattoo on his shoulder that looks more like a Black Power fist instead; Asia, the recent transplant from Los Angeles with the amazing-looking Neon Cowboy Hat business and strange aquatic snail fetish; Autumn the Starwood Hotel furniture purchaser who has the sarcastically-inflected terrible luck to spend a lot of time in Hawaii doing her job; Michelle (or was it Melissa – now I’m doubting my memory) who works at Full Sail and had some fun stories about what she’s witnessed with students, their parents, and rampant idiocy; our hostess, Jeanie, who initially gave me the impression of growing up with a silver spoon in her mouth, but later showed exactly why you should never judge a book by its cover, nor by its inner wrist Paula Abdul “Straight Up” tattoo; and of course, me.
They served delicious wine in wine glasses from Eva Solo, and as the wine eroded inhibitions, the conversation became more personal. Less concern was given to biting tongues, language grew a shade coarser, and a few stories could probably be classified as ribald (not all of which were mine, surprisingly). Topics ranged from wise advice and favorite places (mine vacillates between The Orlando Improv and Dancers Royale, of course) to meth and Jesus. And many more.
The food, prepared by chef Mike Garcia, was fantastic. Revel in the photos of a meal prepared by a man who clearly loves what he does, and shake your head in jealousy that you didn’t get to sample any of it.
In my daily life, I meet a lot of people, and the impact they have on me depends on my relation to them. Sometimes they’re audience members saying hi after a show, and I won’t remember who they are thirty seconds after they leave. Sometimes they’re new comedians entering the scene, and I don’t even care enough to remember them until they’ve been around for at least six months. Maybe they’re girls I’m listening to while I collect phone numbers that end up in conversations that will eventually prove fruitless.
And sometimes eight strangers sit down at a table and share a meal, then go their separate ways, strangers no more.