There comes a time when you go from drinking PBR to Guinness. There comes a time when you discover that food goes beyond french fries and mozzarella sticks. In the late 90s, I made these discoveries through friends and I call it my "coming of food-age". Now we have Roosevelt, Metzgar, and Saison. Then, we had Helen's, Zeus Gallery and...Bamboo.
The first time I went to Bamboo, I felt like I had gone from College Prep to my Masters. It was just a grown up place. It wasn't fancy, far from it, but I had heard the food was amazing. Here, you drank grown up, you talked about grown up things, and you ate some really good food. You felt as part of the establishment as the asses of bar flies adhered to their squeaky stools. I never felt uncomfortable there, no matter how much I was in someone's armpit. I knew when I went to Bamboo, I wouldn't have to deal with Irish Carbombs and dudes rubbing their crotches against me.
I sat at a booth with my soon to be fiancé, my best friend, and her husband. It was dark, but cozy on a nice Spring night. I had no idea what to expect, but was ready to indulge in a night of hanging out and taking in the din of the growing crowd. She walked up to the table, licked her fingers, and put the bevvy naps on the table. "What can I get for you guys?" slithered out of her lips as if to say, I don't have time for you to decide if the Bordeaux is from a good year or whether the fish is broiled or grilled. We ordered abruptly and said thank you. I was apprehensive to ask her questions about the specials, but she had a way of assessment with folks. It was like, she could feel out that we were in the "business" that we weren't going to treat her badly and we would send her off with a tip to put a smile on her face. In her lovable rasp, she commented on her night and was happy to tell us which specials were worth splurging on. Then I watched her stand at the bar, cigarette in hand, while she looked at her order pad. I was kinda in love with her whole thing.
From frequent nights and brunch's at Bamboo to eventually working for her at Cafe Rustica, Michelle Turner had become a fixture in my life that spanned almost two decades. I looked forward to seeing her and hearing how her day or morning was going because I could always guarantee a story full of spitfire and humor. She was one of my favorite waitresses in town and she was someone I would be scared to party with for fear she would drink everyone under the table, climb on a table, throw the bottle across the room and exclaim, "Children."
Michelle Turner had a personality. She was full of fire, she was funny, she was shocking, she was political, and she didn't give a rat's ass what you thought. She was a complete techsist. If she didn't have to have a cell phone she would gladly trade it in to be surrounded by the pages of books. How she loved to read. She used to get so angry with me when I started the crossword, because just like me, she hated when she went to do it and it had been started. We both had a love for art and we saw eye to eye on her want to do regular shows at Rustica. She provided an intimacy with Rustica you don't get anymore. I loved doing openings there because it was a night surrounded by friends, good food, and she was proud to give these artists exposure.
Her and Sam were my restaurant family. They took me in when I lost a lot in my life. Michelle, although often times, surely, had a kind heart. She always believed in doing the right thing, often times giving the bum a few dollars for washing the windows of the restaurant. I loved sitting with her while drinking her recommended wine while she told stories or we talked about what book she was currently reading or the latest gossip around town. There were times when this bold woman would be seen at her most vulnerable and it was always endearing when she put her arms around Sam, her husband, as he stood tall beside her, coffee in hand, a kiss to her head. Then she would respond with something snarky, but you knew it was in love. She was my Mommachelle, she took care of us when we needed it and she gave us tough love when necessary.
I will always remember the obvious things about her, the rasp, the curly hair, the cool jewelry, the wine tastings, those reading glasses she lost often. Her spirit is what will remain with me for the rest of my days. As I sit here through the tears, I can't help but laugh out loud because I just imagined her standing here and smacking me upside the head and saying, "What the f*ck is wrong with you! Get off your ass and go get a mimosa, it's Sunday for Christ's sake!" That was Michelle and I loved her dearly and I'm only sorry that I didn't get to see her again, to sit and listen to NPR while she mumbled over some issue she was having over her phone, while the beautiful flowers she brought in adorned the bar and I sip on my Tempranillo, tempted to steal her Style and start the crossword puzzle.
NOTE: Craft RVA will continue. I truly believe the best relationships I ever have had with people is through the intimacy of food and drink. It seems inane to let that go and I know Michelle would have encouraged me to continue it.