And I was prepared. I never ate at salad bars, or if I did, I never touched a creamy dressing. Ground beef was out. In fact, beef was pretty much out, unless cooked extremely thoroughly and masticated slowly and carefully. Additionally, I had mastered the self-administered Heimlich maneuver -- ball fists and place below ribs, fall across the back of a chair -- just in case people assumed I was playing charades.
Naturally, I was chagrined to discover there was a hazard I had completely overlooked. "Oh, yeah," my friend explained, soberly, "people get killed in restaurants all the time."
We were reading a story describing a shootout between gang members in a crowded Vietnamese restaurant on Northeast Glisan Street, the Kim Lan, in which two teen-agers were killed.
"Gang members aren't the only ones who get killed," she continued. She then shared a story from Portland's past. A woman once killed her date in a local restaurant by stabbing him in the heart with her fork. I made a mental note. Do not permit dining partners to use utensils.
But my concern went deeper than this. Could it be true that those embodiments of good fellowship and conviviality -- cafes, restaurants, taverns and the like -- could be, instead of warm, friendly environments for the exchange of ideas, bon mots, and perhaps a charming flirtation, in reality, something less savory? Could there be blood on those red-checked tablecloths?
The manager of Sam's Hof Brau, a college eatery near Portland State University, got himself shot in the leg during a robbery in 1975. I could have been there. Sam's was practically a second home for me while I was in college.
A man acquainted with a waitress at the Nu Cafe on Southwest Capitol Highway saw fit to kill her and himself at 5:30 one afternoon. Right by my parents' house. Could have been there.
Or I could have stopped in for a quick Big Mac the night in 1976 when a Vietnam vet thought he heard sniper fire and 20 people spent four-plus hours hiding in a basement of the Northeast Union Avenue McDonald's -- with only McDonald's cookies for sustenance, as one survivor noted.
And these were all back in the old "safe" days. These days, I crave Chinese food. So I could have been sauntering past the Hop Sing Tong two years ago when members of the Red Cobra gang decided to settle a gambling dispute by blasting away at each other on Northwest 4th Avenue in Portland's Chinatown. Or, a few years earlier, have exited Rickashaw Charlie's in time to see convicted felon and restaurateur Robert Lee shoot and kill an intoxicated drifter. It may seem unlikely, but I could have stopped in for breakfast at Jody's Bar and Grill last April, when the owner's ex-boyfriend decided to "go postal" and shoot the woman and her new boyfriend, as well as himself. I drive right past there every day.
It's not even safe, before and after your dining, to get to and from your car. As lately as Oct. 7 of this year, Cordell Blockson, former owner of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's favorite bar, Gabi's Restaurant and Lounge, shot (apparently in self-defense) a man who had gone to a lot of trouble to pick a fight with him in Yun's Garden Restaurant. It appears the managers of the establishment had tried to avert trouble by closing early, ejecting the troublemaker and keeping Mr. Blockson inside for nearly and hour.
It didn't work. Perhaps nothing would have. Restaurant parking lots may be dangerous in and of themselves.
The whole situation made me feel like having a beer.
But not at the Old Town Cafe. In spite of the gaggle of hangers-on clustered on the corner, Gus' Old Town appears to be a picturesque, yet fundamentally OK place to hang. (It has an O'Doul's sign in the window, after all.) But the same helpful homicide officer noted that in 1986 and again in 1987 there was a killing in the tavern.
In fact, the records of tavern incidents show that, not only is it true that "guns and alcohol don't mix," but also knives and alcohol, and fists and alcohol (and possibly people and alcohol) shake up to something a bit less urbane than a dry martini. The real question: Do food and alcohol mix? Given the already proven effect of the presence of commercial kitchens on the human temperament, is it not foolhardy to require, as the OLCC does, that food be served in the same place as alcohol? The records reveal the dismal reality.
There are literally dozens of "brew"hahas -- "spats," "fracases," robberies, fights, shootings, and "ambushes" -- in Portland taverns and bars yearly. And the big M. places include Fred's Place, Table Square, paragon Club, Kanpai, Gordon's, Elmo's Cycle Club, the Stone Pony, the Calico Cat, the Cracker Box, the New Copper Penny, the Perch Tavern, Jamie's Place, and the Midway. Doesn't a place called the Grateful Burger sound kind of relaxed and laid back? Well, in 1991, an irritable drinker strolled out of the place to his car and returned with a gun, which he fired randomly into the tavern, striking a young woman in the chest. Even upstanding citizens such as the Trail Blazers lose their grip when alcohol and food are present at the same public location, as basketball player Clifford Robinson illustrated in 1990, during a brawl at Goldie's Restaurant and Lounge. The connection is clear.
Food brings out the beast in the beast -- can it do less in relatives of the great apes? White tablecloths, the ridiculous requirements of etiquette, snotty waiters, low light, all these customs serve to defuse the natural tendencies of the human animal to squabble at the table. (More incidents occur at establishments without these accouterments than at those with them.)
And most of the time they work. Except when they don't, and dinner comes to a sudden, unappetizing conclusion. Add alcohol, notorious for lowering inhibitions, and invite the public, and we have a recipe for disaster. In conclusion, dining, or worse, consuming alcohol and dining, at public "establishments," as they sometimes refer to themselves in that corny Victorian way, can be extremely hazardous to your health. (We're not talking secondary smoke here.)
As for me, I guess I'll have that beer in the living room. And it might be best to stick with home-cooking from now on -- at least I can control the guest list. But I did notice a magazine article the other day that mentioned that the majority of home accidents occur in the kitchen. It figures -- there's quite a lot of food in most kitchens. And forks.