Fancy Cocktail Hour: JW Marriott Grand Rapids

Saturday August 17, 2013

JW Mariott Grand Rapids

One of the first things I did when I knew that we’d be going back to Michigan for a few days was block off our only Saturday night there to spend with our friends: Ken, Mindy, Tyler, and Becky.  These two couples were who we’d always spend the one Saturday night that we’d allow ourselves out each month when we were still back home and saving every penny.  Somehow, without fail, each time we all got together we’d start the night with dinner out at 6:00 and end up at someone’s house after, then look at the clock dumbfounded that it’s 4 am and no one has realized it.  I swear those hours after midnight seem to disappear into the Twilight Zone.  They’re always gone in the blink of an eye.  I didn’t know what our next night out with them would hold, but as soon as I knew we were coming, I told each of them to book a babysitter for night and to make sure they didn’t have any responsibilities to tend to until the next afternoon.

When Mindy asked me what I wanted to do for the night, I said that we should keep it simple, probably just grill some steaks at their house and have a bonfire so we could keep the night relatively cheap.  But then I got to thinking about something all of us girls had talked about way before Matt and I ever left last year, but never ended up doing.  Which was to get dressed up and go to a trendy bar downtown for a few drinks.  Basically, just like the fancy cocktail hour we had in Jamaica, but in a big city.  Many reasons came in to play of why I wanted so badly do this on our visit home.  One was that I wanted to get downtown and enjoy the city for a night since who knows when I see it again, another was that, well, I like getting fancy, but most importantly, I have a dress that’s been sitting in my closet for three years now and I needed an excuse to break it out.  It was originally purchased to wear to my 10 year high school reunion, but somewhere along the line the ball was dropped on that occasion and we never had one.  Way to go Northview class of 2000….. (kidding!)

So the plan of action was to go downtown to have a drink (‘Only one!’, Matt lectured, since we’re still trying to keep our spending down) and then make our way to Ken and Mindy’s where we’d follow the rest of the original plan of grilling steaks and hanging around a bonfire.  Becky and Tyler weren’t going to be able to make the ‘fancy cocktail’ part and were going to meet up with us at the house later, so Ken and Mindy came to pick us up from Matt’s mom’s, after I’d just rushed home from Muskegon, blowing through the door and yelling ‘I need the shower, I need the shower!’, to be able to get myself ready to be picked up an hour and a half later.  With only one working in the house at the moment, sometimes it needs to be fought for and I was going to be damned if I was the one standing on the other side of that door while another person used up my precious time inside.  Quickly bolting myself into tiled safety, I ran through the 20 minute ritual of washing, shaving, and scrubbing, …all the necessary prepping to make one fancy.  Even though I still felt a little rushed at times since then drying and styling my hair after it’s been washed can be another 45 minute episode, I think the results turned out ok.  And just like in the days when Matt and I were back in high school and ready to go to a formal dance (two of which we actually attended together), there was still a few minutes for the obligatory photos from parents.

Matt & Jessica before fancy cocktail hour

Did I mention that only the girls were getting fancy?

 

The bar we were off to, to enjoy our one cocktail, was not really a bar in it’s own standing, but rather a bar attached to an upscale hotel, the JW Marriott.  The reason we (I) had chosen this is because the bar that’s part of the hotel, Mixology, sits in a part of Grand Rapids that overlooks the Grand River, has a trendy little sitting area inside, and cabanas just about hanging over the river on their balcony outside. And since this was my one chance to get out on the town during our trip back, it was either go big or go home.  Since my photos won’t do quite the justice it deserves, let me take a moment to show you a few photos, of which are not mine, to give you a feel for this place and why I wanted to spend my evening there.

JW 2

JW 4

Nice, right?

 

Even though it was now around six in the evening, the sun was still bright and blazing in our faces as we walked from the parking ramp to the hotel.  Did that stop me from asking to sit in the nice air conditioned lounge with views of the river instead of getting a table out in the scorching heat where I could get an even better view of the city?  Absolutely not.  The rest of the group trudged behind me as I excitedly called out to the hostess, “I wanna sit outside!” and we were led to a table (not a cabana, where I’m guessing you have to be ready to spend big $$ to sit there) that did not harbor any kind of protection from the sun.  I enthusiastically slid into my chair as everyone else slumped into theirs, pulling out sunglasses and using their hands to shield the sun from their faces, as if they were about to melt into a puddle under the table.  I tried to tell them it was a beautiful day out.  Besides, why would they want to miss out on views like these?

Grand River from JW Marriott

For the next hour we all sat around the table enjoying ourselves and our drinks (that’s right, Matt ordered two!) and I tried to tell everyone that the heat wasn’t so bad, that we had it much worse in Guatemala, while truthfully, there was enough perspiration on my legs to keep me sliding around in my seat.  Before I could turn into too much of that constantly sweating person I am while back on the boat, I decided that a nice breeze up the skirt would do me some good and did a little wandering around the patio area.  Taking a few photos here and there, I made sure to capture the River House condos where Matt and I would be living had we spent our money on a new home instead of a life at sea.  Which, he had full view of the whole time we were enjoying our drinks, and made sure to bring up many many times how we could be sitting on the 16th floor overlooking the river and the beautiful lights of Grand Rapids each and every night, had we decided to stay home.  I have to admit, it was looking pretty tempting at the moment.

beers at Mixology

River House condos across the bridge

 River House condos in the background.  We would have had a view looking right.

Matt at JW Marriott

While I was up and about, I talked our server into taking a few moments away from running from table to table to get a couple of photos of our group.  She was very willing to help us out with the photos.  The guys…not quite as willing to be in them.

Mindy & Jessica at JW Marriott

Ken, Mindy, Jessica & Matt at JW Marriott

 Back at Ken and Mindy’s place, we unwound on their shaded deck while waiting for Becky and Tyler to show up.  It didn’t take long for the sun to go down, and all of a sudden, that heat that we’d been trying to take shelter from all evening was completely gone.  I forgot that up in the 42nd degree of latitude, the nights don’t stay warm after the sun disappears.  It didn’t take too long before my fancy attire was crumpled in a heap on the floor where I had traded it in for much more comfy jeans and a cardigan.

sunset over a field

enjoying wine at sunset

As soon as Becky and Tyler showed up the steaks went on the grill and we sat down to more food than I could ever eat in a lifetime.  Salad, 10 ounces of meat, and a loaded baked potato.  I’d been dreaming about this meal for weeks which meant I felt guilty about not eating every single bite.  I basically had to be rolled away from the table, swearing I’d never eat again, the same way someone with an epic hangover swears they’re never going to drink again.  It’s an empty threat, but one that always gets repeated after any episode of overindulgence.

setting the table

 Then it was time for something else I had been looking forward to since there’s not many chances for them when you’re surrounded by water.  The ever popular bonfire.  You can’t say that you’ve fully experienced a summer season without attending at least one.  While Ken and Mindy went outside to set up the fire pit, Matt and I stayed behind with Becky and Tyler to mix the cocktails.  Becky was stirring up some kind of concoction in a large thermos that included Southern Comfort, orange juice, and 7 up.  Since the two of us are not normally fans of whiskey of any kind, she promised that by the time she was finished, we would not even taste the alcohol.  That it would be just like drinking fruit punch.  Which, after having another set of friends used to make what we liked to call the ‘pink drink’, including: pink lemonade concentrate, vodka, and a can of beer; we found out can be very dangerous when you don’t realize how much alcohol you’ve consumed, and in Matt’s case, think it would fun to jump in your hot tub fully clothed with your wallet and cell phone in your pocket.

Becky mixing drinks

I think the Twilight Zone of missing hours happened while we were out at the bonfire, because I’m pretty sure the fire started blazing around 10 pm, and before I knew it, the clock was reading midnight and all the sturdy logs we had stacked up were now reduced to nothing more than glowing embers.  The night was over yet though.  As we straggled back inside I remembered that Becky had brought me a box full of ‘old’ clothes that she wanted me to look at to see if there was anything I could use.  Not that there is any room on the boat for me to bring as much as a souvenir back from Machu Picchu, new clothes did not fit into any extras that we can bring back with us.  But drop a box of free clothes in front of a girl, and she will shop through them.  The next two hours basically turned into a fashion show where I’d riffle through the items, found something that I liked, ran to the bathroom to change into it, and come back out to show everyone.  Some of the items weren’t even used, price tags still hanging off the side, like a pair of American Eagle jean shorts that fit me so perfectly it was like I had sought them out among 50 other pairs.  Luckily since Matt was a few drinks in at this point, I was able to smuggle about three news pairs of shorts and five new tops into my bag without any argument from him.

 

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 The shoes, unfortunately, were borrowed and not on the table for my taking.

 

When the fashion show ended we were all running out of steam and ready to call it a night.  Matt and I were sleeping over, so there was never a worry of drinking and driving, and as we climbed up the stairs to settle ourselves into their three year old’s bedroom, we were surprised to see it was only after three.  Looks like we can’t even keep the party going until after four anymore. We’re starting to get purposeless in our old age.

 

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Fancy Cocktail Hour

Thursday May 2, 2013

Matt & Jessica, fancy cocktail hour

Isn’t he just the cutest little thing ever?

(Photo courtesy of Rode Trip)

 

I’ve mentioned that I like to be girly, right?  I think this sprouts from the days back in my youth when I was a tomboy with braces and frizzy hair and only wearing hand-me-down clothes from my older brother, which eventually let to me being the outcast in junior high and the realization that the girly girls were being treated much better than I.  It took years of training and practice, but I eventually morphed into one of those girly girls myself. Don’t worry, I still kept the tomboy attitude.  And although I realize that being a girly girl isn’t important on the high seas, it’s not going to make sure the main sail gets reefed during a storm or give you the extra muscles to haul in lines (wait….I’m still missing those…), it is unfortunately a part of my life that I could not completely leave behind on land.  Yes, I still crave dresses and my hair dryer, and, oh how I miss them, high heels.  The Bahamas held lots of athletic gear: sports bras; lycra tops; quick dry shorts;..but my inner girl was clawing to get out.  Introduce….Fancy Cocktail Hour.  An excuse for all of us girls to put on our best dresses, straighten our hair, and wear eyeliner.  Stephanie and Ashley were just as excited about the prospect as me and we basically just told all the men what was happening since we were not even going to give them the option to say no.  They were encouraged to dress up as well but it wasn’t required as long as they showed up.  There may have been a little more enticing them with the promise of Dominoes, but I think that was more for me as well.

The earlier part of the day was a hot sweaty mess.  Matt and I finally dragged our laundry to shore since it hadn’t been done since we were in Black Point, Exumas which was five weeks ago!  While it was running we tried to find some relief from the sun under a shady tree which also happened to be just in front of the office and it’s internet connection.  Joining us as we chilled were Ashley and Jimmy and we all sat around talking.  Jimmy told us about their visit to Cuba and how it was full of ‘all time lows’ according to him and the guys.  Something he’s glad he’s done once but he would never go back.  Both Matt and I have been just a little more than excited to go there (it’s our next stop after Jamaica), so we were just a tad disappointed to hear that it might be a total let down for us when we get there.  Way to kill my dreams Jimmy, way to kill my dreams….  In picking up the mood though, Ashley told us about a great roti place just up the road here in Port Antonio and after doing the best she could to give us directions (there’s so many unmarked buildings all over the place here, it’s a wonder anyone finds anything), Matt and Jimmy and I decided to head there once laundry was finished.

Getting out of the shade and into the street the sun was merciless and beat down on us without a whiff of breeze in the air.  We went through the normal routine of turning down ten taxi rides out on the main drag, something I’m starting to become accustomed to now, and hooked a right on the street Ashley had told us to go down.  She said it would be a big yellow building with the restaurant on the second floor and we shouldn’t be able to miss it.  Having started in the middle we walked west until the street came to an end and saw a kind of yellowish-orange building that we weren’t sure was it.  Normally I’m not the one to randomly walk into a building hoping it would be a restaurant but thinking it could also be someone’s private residence, but I was frantic to get out of the heat for even just a moment and was willing to take that chance.  The guys followed me up and while we did find that it was a restaurant we also learned that they did not sell rotis.  Back on to the hot street it was.  We wandered up and down aimlessly until the sweat was pouring down our heads and blinding our eyes.  The simple thing would have been to ask for directions, but even that can be tricky in a place like this.  Depending on who you ask they may give you a straight answer or they may send you down the street to their cousin’s chicken shack telling you it will be the best roti you’ve ever had, although it obviously won’t exist there.  We did try to ask a few business people roaming the streets, a secretary out to lunch with her friend, the security guard at the local bank, but unfortunately none of them knew what a roti was or where we could find it.  Ultimately we ended up back at the restaurant we had originally entered by mistake, eating fried chicken and rice and just happy to have a cold Ting in our hands.

Before I knew it the clock was ticking after three, and if I was going to make this sweaty mess into something pretty by 5:30 I had to get back to the marina because there was a lot of work to do.  Getting ready for the evening I showered, shaved, plucked, lotioned, and pulled out my wet-to-dry flat iron that is terrible for my hair, and luckily only gets used about once or twice a month.  My make-up was applied, dress was ironed, and the closest thing I had to heels were pulled out.  Since I might just have the best husband in the world, Matt spruced himself up for fancy cocktail hour even though I told him (honestly) he was free to go in board shorts if he felt like it.  But knowing that a fancy date would mean a lot to me, he ironed his khakis and a button down shirt and even threw on a palm tree tie that we had brought on the trip just for fun. Gathering once again at EZ since Lance definitely has the best cockpit of all of us (although he’s out of town at the moment), we had a pre-beer there before claiming our spot once more by the pool.  It turns out that if it’s not happy hour Monday, the rum punches are actually cheaper to order than Red Stripe and the little frill of a pineapple slice on the side of my drink fit perfectly into the theme of the night.  I pulled out my easy-to-use color coded set of dominoes and since a surprisingly few number of people knew how to play, started with a few demonstration rounds for everyone to get the hang of it.  We also ended up throwing a little twist in, kind of treating it like Uno, and each time a person was down to their last domino they had to cry out “Jamaica, Jamaica, I love you….!”.

We had only been about one drink and two rounds into dominoes when we all realized that while prepping for fancy cocktail hour, no one had bothered to make dinner.  Looking as good as we all did, we didn’t want to shuffle back to our boats and cook in the stuffy galleys so it was time to take this party on the road.  Gathering our things up we walked across the street from the marina to a three story concrete building that is supposed to be some kind of mall, housing a nice restaurant on it’s top floor.  Taking an initial few wrong turns on the stairs we stumbled into Ambiance and found it to be a much better place that we ever expected.  There were wide leather couches positioned against the windows, modern tables placed in the center, and tv screens pumping out top hits from back in the States.  As we’re getting so good at doing now, we pushed a few tables together and looked through the multi-option menu that had a multitude of mouthwatering items.  While waiting for our food we started back up our dominoes game but this time with Ashley’s set.  Which is not color coded.  And as much as I teased people at first, I also succumbed to not being able to tell the difference between nine and twelve dots and placing down the wrong piece of porcelain only to quickly have to snatch it back up.  Then there was Brian who’s turn was just before mine and even though he was brand new to the game, had the expertise to play each open train I had my eye on just before I was given the chance.  I may have gotten frustrated and yelled out “I am going to burn down your boat!”, but fear not, Rode Trip is safe.  I just needed a little Red Stripe and sweet and sour chicken to calm my nerves.

With Ren and Ashley departing the next morning for an eventual arrival to the Bay Islands of Honduras, they excused themselves a bit earlier than the rest of us and I attacked them with hugs in case I didn’t get to see them off in the morning.  Brian and Stephanie were shortly behind them but the rest of us were not quite ready to go.  Jason, Jimmy, Matt, and myself stayed until close to midnight while we waited for Piers to come back from his trip to Kingston, a pilgrimage to find necessary parts for Tamarisk.  Eventually he walked in with his friend Kewah the Messiah, a local rasta from the area that has made traveling around Jamaica so much easier for them, and we stayed a little longer as they ate before figuring out the rest of our tab and heading back to the marina.  But do you know what I got that morning?  Sleep.  So I was not ready to go to bed yet.  Playing sort of bumper boats in our dinghies, we followed Jason back to Tamarisk where the six of us climbed on board and raided what was left of the almost empty fridge.  Pulling out a bottle of chilled Havana Club rum we also mixed some fruit flavored Tang and tried to get as close to the rum punches we were drinking by the pool as we could.  Making our way back out to the cushy cockpit we set up some mood lights and Piers brought out his guitar again.  Matt and Jason busied themselves with boat bits and electrical issues below, but the rest of us hung out in the cool breeze under stars and listened to the strumming of the guitar.  When Matt and I finally pulled ourselves away to go back to Serendipity we were surprised to find out our clock was reading after 2:30 am.  Not only were we way past cruiser’s midnight, we were only a few hours away from cruisers rise time.  Did I not say these guys were trouble?

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Recipe for the perfect evening: rum punch and dominoes.

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Ren and Ashley, the cutest little couple (and soon to be family!).

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Brian and Stephanie looking all dapper.

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Can anyone tell me why I always look so damn surprised in these photos?

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NF, Jimmy, and Nick, opting out of ‘fancy’.

Jessica, fancy cocktail hour

Ahhh, a normal face.  That’s better.

(Photo courtesy of Rode Trip)

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Dominoes Biotchhh!

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