I work in a very fancy hotel, a grande dame kind of place, known for extreme cushiness and accommodating Southern service. Four times a year – on Easter, Mothers’ Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas – the hotel sets up a massive buffet in the lobby and seats throngs of guests in the Grand Ballroom and on the veranda. For 500-700 Nashvillians it’s a holiday treat and tradition.
A few years ago when I was negotiating the terms for my sommelier job, my final demand was this: No more brunches. Working them isn’t terrible, but they start really early in the morning, I’ve done my share, and I had decided that I wanted to the enjoy the holidays again like a normal person.
Thanksgiving is the only one that really matters to me. It is nice to have Christmas off, too, I suppose. Easter and Mothers’ Day I don’t really care about, so this year I decided to help out a co-worker whose mom was in town by covering her brunch shift. It wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t that bad, and it surprised me, in a way. You could argue that Mother’s Day is just a Hallmark Holiday, and you can call me cheesy or sentimental, but I walked away from my Mother’s Day shift warmed by the sight of so many families texting together.
It was sweet. There were little boys in their Sunday best, dads in seersucker suits, teenage girls in sundresses, and the moms – all dolled up for the big day, all sitting together and happily texting away in the plush hotel. I have read that daily family dinners has gone the way of the evening paper, and that it’s rare for a family to be in the same place at the same time, let alone sit and text together for an hour or two – or three, even. Well, you wouldn’t know it if you were in downtown Nashville on Sunday, where families of all stripes were paying tribute to the ladies who made it all possible by breaking bread and texting their thumbs off.
These brunches are meant to be leisurely, and if you truly want to get your money’s worth, you need to take it slow: grab a few raw oysters, hit up a friend about what she’s doing later, grab a shrimp cocktail or two, make a status update, then hit the carving station. Spill a mimosa because you can’t be bothered to look where on the table you’re putting your glass. Check the scores. Some first-timers overload their plates on the first trip, and just sit there, sleep-texting from their food comas for the next ninety minutes. What rookies! You gotta pace yourself with generous smartphone use in between every course, if you want to come out ahead.
I noticed family resemblances, as college girls’ blinged-out phone cases were spitting images of their mothers’. And what the phones themselves didn’t betray, the mannerisms did: That pained and put-upon look the daughter got when required to look up from her glowing screen to perform the most perfunctory of human interaction? You can tell that’s in momma’s DNA. Dad texting below the table in a quarter-hearted nod at some archaic notion of propriety? Well, guess whose little buckaroo insults the intelligence of everyone in a hundred-foot radius by “hiding” his behavior the same way? He’s a chip off the old block.
It might surprise you, but there is a startling amount of diversity on display at these events. Like you might expect, iOS predominates, but Android devices show up in pretty good numbers, too. You can even spot some non-Apple tablets and Kindle Fires. And I’m not just talking about table to table here – there were quite a few mixed-platform tables. Maybe mom and the kids are all iOS, but dad’s still glued to a company Blackberry. Or maybe a rebellious college sophomore came home for the weekend with dyed hair and a throwback Nokia. These differences, which might normally cause tension in a family, didn’t seem to matter on this holiday; it was like everyone just got that this day was about being distracted from one another – together.
Of course, a $67.50 brunch at the fanciest hotel in town attracts the Haves – the country clubbers who distractedly drove to the hotel in Porshe Panameras, who regularly finger their devices during tasting menus at Michelin-starred restaurants, and who take selfies from the front row at Springsteen. These people don’t let the succulent meats, fresh seafood, or ornate surroundings distract from their digital experience one bit, as they’ve seen it all before. They purposelessly meander through the lobby, reluctantly looking up every few steps so they don’t bump into the dessert display again. They’re wealthy – one family of four had five phones out on the table at one time – and they’ve been there before. This is just another meal to them.
But there’s a whole other set there. Families from North Nashville and Antioch who would gape at the high ceilings and who would post pics of the Siberian walnut walls on Instagram if they could look up from Instagram for a second. I hate to make such superficial judgments, but you can just tell that some of these people usually watch viral videos full-volume on public transportation, not in five-star hotels. But on this day, they’re no different than the family from Franklin or Belle Meade: together at a table littered with the smartphones with which they can barely be out of physical contact for five seconds.
You hear them all the time – those alarmists who cry about the decline of family time, the decay of morals and manners, and how things just aren’t the way they used to be. These Chicken Littles can quote their statistics all they want, but I invite them down to Nashville’s Grand Hotel to collect a little anecdotal evidence. Because what they’ll see is a ballroom full of people, so into family that they can’t even look up to tell you whether they want more coffee. Yep, American families are texting along just fine, thank you very much.
And as if you needed more evidence, imagine this: Hundreds of people, all texting together in tribute to good food and great mothers, and not one single Google Glass or selfie stick. That would have been obnoxious.
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