Getting a bunch of journalists to co-exist in a room together for more than five minutes requires at least one of three things: alcohol, free food, a paycheck or the equivalent — the promise of awards.
The Society of Professional Journalists, Oklahoma Pro chapter, offered the last of the trifecta, with an option on the first.
At a recent awards banquet, journalists from dozens of state media outlets worked to plaster on smiles and enjoy sitting through an hour-long presentation in the hopes of hearing their names attached to a prestigious award.
Unfortunately, before the awards comes the meal. And the meal was an unmitigated disaster.
The Petroleum Club, operating out of the Jim Thorpe Event Center where the award ceremony was held, provided a three course meal … but with all the overtones of the Three Stooges, complete with mad dashing in every direction as they tried to repair errors of foresight.
Kicking off the comedy of failure was an apparently delectable salad. I say apparently, because I never got to eat it. I am violently allergic to milk, and the salad was coated in feta cheese and a creamy dressing from top to bottom.
When I asked for a substitution, I was politely informed by a harried manager that they had pre-prepared all the food, and there were no substitutions possible. So, no salad.
As the entree course encroached, it became clear the Club had not only failed to take unusual diners such as myself into account; somehow they also had failed to take the number of diners into account.
Servers ran from table to table frantically collecting spare salads and desserts to give to other guests.
But soon enough, the covered carts carrying the food rolled out.
My hopes of an enjoyable meal died a quiet death at the sight of chicken fillets stuffed with cream cheese and spinach, served alongside mashed potatoes and buttered vegetables.
However, the annoyance of attempting to cleanse the offending items from my food was postponed for about a half hour as the servers seemed to make a deliberate attempt to avoid not only our table, but every person in the room.
Waiters and waitresses filled their arms with plates of steaming chicken before performing an oddly tribal dance involving three passes around the room, weaving in and out of the tables, and possibly a round of “eeny-meeny-miny-moe” to decide which diners would receive food when their arms grew tired.
Just as my tablemates were gathering up every spare bit of fruit garnish from our already placed dessert plates to prevent me from passing out, half our table finally got their entrees.
That was followed by another 10 minutes of interpretive dance before I, and the other half of my fellow diners, saw food finally appear before us.
I picked my food apart, eating what I could to keep from passing out with hunger, consoling myself with the thought of the bread baskets I’d seen circulating around the room. Ah, but there went another quarter hour and no bread materialized.
When my boss finally flagged down a server and asked for bread, he cheerfully offered us the two rolls left in the basket he was carrying.
Oh, yes. They didn’t have enough bread, either.
The arrival of the bread was followed by several rounds of table cannibalism as they hijacked our coffee, water refills, tea refills, and the remainder of our bread to serve to other tables, always without asking if we were done with it.
The piece-de-resistance of this whole barrel of worms?
While the servers were delighted to take away items and food we were still using, the dirty plates and cups stayed sitting on the table the entire evening.
Only once did someone come to clear a moderate handful away and only then because my boss had bussed the area in front of her.
So if the need to feed a large group ever arises, definitely look elsewhere. The Petroleum Club is obviously incapable of serving a group of rabid badgers, let alone a party.
To contact Jeremy Cloud, email firstname.lastname@example.org.