My Dad was in town this weekend for his annual medical convention, and we attended the banquet with him on Friday night. This is always a black tie optional event.
Me and The Gryphon
I'd bought myself a dress at Marshall's for only about $25, and I was very happy with it. It had a V-neck and an A-line skirt, with an empire waist, and it was in a rich burgundy color. The V-neck came down low enough that I had to wear a black cami underneath. I also used a black wrap that I'd made to go with another dress a previous year.
The Gryphon wore his charcoal suit, along with a blue shirt and a plum-colored tie with a violet and blue diamond pattern.
I tried to straighten my hair, but I honestly don't have any idea what I'm doing. That was compounded by a relatively brief window to get ready, since we had seen a matinee of Iron Man and then only had an hour to change.
We were a little late, arriving at 6:15 instead of 6 p.m., primarily due to traffic. We paused first to take a few pictures in the lobby. My camera was acting up: I had trouble getting it to play back the pictures, and I fiddled around with it for a little while until I figured out that the number of available pictures was going down, so even if I couldn't view them, I must be taking photos.
Me and Dad
We headed for the hotel's nightclub for the cocktail hour. It was really crowded down there, and we could barely make our way to the bar to order drinks. Then we wandered around looking for a place to hang out. We picked up a few pieces of cheese and fruit, along the way from a table, then stood on the side where a shelf stuck out of the wall. I noticed somebody gesturing to us across the room. Turns out it was somebody my dad knew from med school; they'd been in a fraternity together, I guess. We joined them in one of the curtained alcoves that contain couches and chairs.
But after he introduced us to his family, we didn't get much of a chance to talk to them. First, because it was so loud. And secondly, they turned on the lights and told everyone to move into the main ballroom. Instead of making us go back up the stairs, down the hallway, and then down the stairs again, as they usually do, they opened up a door connecting the nightclub to the ballroom and had us walk that way.
As soon as we sat down at the table, we spotted a potential problem. The main course was filet mignon, and I don't eat red meat. So The Gryphon contacted our waiter and told him about the problem. They were able to provide me with salmon, instead, and from what I heard from the others, it was probably better than the steak.
We had the usual crew at our table, consisting of The Life of the Party and his wife and daughter, The Gryphon and I, along with my Dad, and the med-school friend of my Dad's I'd previously called The Instigator, because of her way of nudging people on to mischief. I will from now on call her The Adventurer, due to her adventurous spirit and the amount of world traveling she has done, including South American sky trips and New Zealand snorkeling excursions. While we didn't sit at the same table as the married couple whom I call Mr. and Mrs. Doctor, since they're both physicians, they did come by and socialize.
(front from left) Me, The Adventurer, The Life of the Party's Daughter and Wife
(back from left) The Gryphon, Dad, The Life of the Party, Mr. Doctor
The Adventurer arrived late and, when she did, sat next to my Dad. They've been dating on a casual basis for about a year now. They live about two hours apart but have managed to take time out of their busy physicians' schedules to see each other every month or so. It's the first time he's really dated anyone since divorcing my mom about 15 years ago.
Whoever organized this year's banquet added more speakers than normal. While some of them were big, important guests, it meant there was a lot more time sitting around, listening to speeches and less time for socializing and dancing.
The master of ceremonies was Mickey Charles, president and CEO of Sports Network. That may be why they decorated the tables the way they did, with arrangements of balloons coming out of pennants for various sports teams, along with big foam fingers. The whole thing sat on a circle of Astroturf. Just ghastly.
While they usually have quirky arrangements based on a theme, this was one of the oddest yet. Also, some of the balloons were hanging too low, and some people actually popped the low-hanging ones so they could speak to people across the table.
We also weren't thrilled with the band. This year the main performer was a woman who was basically a lounge singer, rather than the full band they used to have. She was accompanied by one percussionist and would play keyboards or other instruments herself. In fact, The Gryphon said that he could picture her being portrayed by Saturday Night Live alum Maya Rudolph, who often played over-the-top singers. We also joked about what would happen to her if she auditioned on American Idol. At one point, she was performing the Billy Joel song, "New York State of Mind," to which she added I kid you not a flute solo. And it would only get worse.
Mickey Charles seemed to think it was his job to be entertaining, so he was giving long introductions for every speaker, sometimes involving long stories, much to our dismay. None of us were sure why he was the master of ceremonies, except that perhaps he has an association with the incoming president of the medical organization hosting the banquet.
Over the course of the evening, we heard the initial introduction from Charles, which went on much longer than normal, an invocation before dinner, remarks by the outgoing president, remarks by special guests, the presidential speech, congratulatory messages, a presentation of presidential awards, and acknowledgments.
One of the surprise guest speakers was Governor Ed Rendell, who spoke about his efforts to change the health care system in the state. This didn't make The Life of the Party very happy, since he disagrees with his changes, and he fumed all through the speech.
Ed Rendell and Mickey Charles
I thought the best speech of the evening was a congratulatory speech read by one of the office employees of the incoming president. She gave a heartfelt, well-written speech that I found really moving, and I told her so afterwards.
After the initial hoopla, we got to eat. I felt bad that I had to leave so much of the food uneaten, but they served me enough for at least two, possibly three meals. I did enjoy the fruit tart served as dessert, which was also pretty.
Another addition was the presentation of the flag by the color guard of the Valley Forge Military Academy. Charles asked the entire room to sing "God Bless America." Many people didn't know the lyrics, so it would have been helpful if they'd projected the lyrics onto the screen they used all night to project the pictures and names of those who were speaking.
Then they brought out the Polish American String Band, which is always a lot of fun. There were more people than ever dancing on the floor. Usually it's just a few old ladies. This time, they jammed up the dance floor in front of the band.
The band played "The Pennsylvania Polka," dedicating it to Ed Rendell, and everyone paired up to dance. Since it was mostly women, a lot of them paired up, as well. A woman about my age asked me if I'd like to dance, so I did. As we were dancing, we talked and discovered we both had a little Polish heritage. Dancing the polka reminded us of family reunions and weddings.
Dancing near us was a really tall woman who kept slamming around, with no regard to who was around her. Perhaps she was drunk. It was frightening, because the woman I was dancing with was smaller than me, and she bore the brunt of it. I kept striving to kept us away from her, to no avail. One of the dangers of a crowded polka floor, I suppose.
After the band, Mickey Charles was introducing the former president, and he told a story about the Polish American String Band traveling to Europe to play for the pope. They received all sorts of gifts. They were in the process of loading the van and were pleased to discover that they were capable of packing in all the items they'd received since they arrived. Then they discovered the door on the other side of the van was open, and everything was falling out of the other side.
This would have been an amusing story, except that he tacked onto the end, "And of course, this was the Polish American String Band." A couple people in the audience booed, and I got up and walked out. After listening to music that reminded me of my Polish grandfather, I was not prepared to hear a Polak joke. I mean, would he have told a black joke right after watching a performance by African-American dancers?
The Gryphon followed me into the hallway to make sure I was OK, and I told him that the MC had been getting on my nerves anyway, but that had been the last straw. I returned when another speaker took the stage.
Finally, all the speaking was done and it was time for entertainment. But instead of returning to the lounge singer, who might have been laughable but at least was halfway decent, they made a big show of introducing Sal Amato and the Dions (I think). They said that Sal's band had been fictionalized in the movie Eddie and the Cruisers, although I haven't found any confirmation of that, aside from the fact that a character in the movie shares his name.
Maybe he was better in his prime, but right now he had a lot of trouble staying on key. He was sort of stumbling around the stage, looking a bit like an unfinished Squiggy clone. His backup singers were a little better but couldn't save the performance.
They played a number of '50s songs, most of them slow ones, which was a bit frustrating because we wanted to cut loose. I stayed up with the The Gryphon and danced to the ballads, hoping a faster song would come.
I thought they would be the entertainment for the entire evening (a cruel joke, I felt), but after mangling several songs, the doo-wop group left the stage, and we were back to the lounge singer. She was good by comparison, but she suffers from the belief that she's a great vocalist. She performed big ballads like she was a headliner at Vegas, but we weren't into it. After all, it was just more slow dancing.
Our group was feeling pretty gypped by the end of the evening. Even when there were a few faster songs, the dance floor was so crowded that we could barely move. Usually, people jam the floor for the slow songs and the floor opens up for the fast songs.
But at least we got to see old friends. And before we left, we made our own fun.
Mr. Doctor and The Life of the Party's Daughter in a big-finger duel
Dad with a souvenir
The way to make the evening special is not by more speeches.