Saturday, February 5, 2011

Destination Invitation

Destination invitations are showing up in my mailbox as frequently as Dollar Store flyers. There's destination weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, confirmations, graduations, and just about any excuse for a destination celebration a person could imagine. I like a good party as much as the next fellow, but when I get one of these invitations, all I can think about is the airfare, hotel, meals, out-of-town beverages, rent-a-car, souvenir pillows, and whatever else goes into the cost of attending the event, not to mention the possibility of bringing home bedbugs in my bandanna. And isn't it a tad presumptive to expect people to travel the globe to an event that could just as easily be celebrated in a rec room?

Most of these destinations are fancy resorts or exclusive tropical paradises where over-paid Hollywood types gather to pat each other on the back for being so talented ("lucky" would be a more accurate term, but they like to think of themselves as having "special gifts"). Here's the paradox: I dread getting these invitations, but also feel grateful for being considered. The whole process, though, leaves me wondering: whatever happened to renting a hometown catering hall like Grazioli's on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. It's reasonable, there's plenty of parking, clean restrooms with fancy seashell-shaped soaps, as well as access to musicians, and Nick Grazioli makes an effort to create an atmosphere worth remembering.

Kerby Torp, the Chicago-based land-locked surf aficionado, had his wedding at Grazioli's, and the way the place was fixed up, you would have thought you were in Hawaii. There were plastic palm trees (botanically accurate reproductions), surf boards, coconuts on the tables, and Clarence Wetzel, the roving accordion player, serenaded the tables with stylized renditions of Jan and Dean songs, something he calls "polka surf." The waitresses wore genuine grass skirts and every party-goer received complimentary Hawaiian leis (some of the splashy folks wore three at a time). The valets greeted each guest with an "Aloha." And upon leaving, said, "Aloha, gracias," if a generous tip was involved. It was a complete luau experience without the airfare and pricey souvenir shops.

The pinnacle of all invitations was the one we received to a destination dog party on Captiva Island in Florida, a place with the reputation as the playground for those attempting to purchase affection by throwing lavish parties. The dog, Borough, who I think of as "Burro," is a fine dog (even though he, like his owners, looks down his nose at me), and would likely be just as happy if the shindig was held in someone's backyard where he could play catch with a soggy tennis ball. But his owners are hell bent on showing the world how much wealth they've accumulated, and so we got an invitation, complete with airline schedules, directions, and a dress code (no bluejeans in the dining room, and no bandannas, please).

My birthday is coming up soon and, in appreciation (or retaliation) for all the destination invitations I've received, this one is going out in the mail:


The party is in Brazil, a wonderful place to go this time of year. You'll appreciate the climate and the good-natured attitude of the local tribes. Brazil airlines offers a round-trip ticket for two for the price of a serviceable used car, but there's a 10% discount if you mention Charro, the much beloved cuchi-cuchi icon.

Upon landing in Rio de Janiero, take a taxi north to the scenic and, depending on the season, dangerous, Rio Piranha. There's plenty of dugout canoes for rent at the bridge; Delgado's Barco Rentar is very reasonable. No motors, please; this is a green event. Ask for Armondo, he's a strong oarsman. Travel upstream for ten miles (keep your fingers out of the water) until you get to Arcuai. It's a small village with plenty of thatch-roofed huts easily seen from the river. Make sure you get a hut that's away from the water. It's more expensive, but worth it; the mosquitoes can be bothersome this time of year. Bug spray is recommended, but make sure it's organic; this is a chemical-free celebration. Each hut has two colorful hand-woven hammocks with an ample supply of freshly-cut wet leaves for traditional bathroom hygiene.

Dinner will be served at sunset on Friday. It's an eco-dinner, prepared by the natives and includes many delightful tropical fruits. The main course is called "catch of the day:" some kind of arboreal primate or fish, steamed in banana leaves. Dancing will follow, along with drumming, far into the night. You will find peace in Arcuai and may find it appealing to trade with the indigenous people. They like anything with the likeness of Marie Osmond on it. You're sure to find something for your scrapbook. But whatever you do, don't mention Joan Rivers. She frightens them. The mere mention of her name sends them running into the jungle to hide.

Remember, the trip home is down-river so you won't have to hire Armondo for that unless you enjoy watching the tropical sun reflecting off his shirtless body. I hope you're as excited about this event as I am. See you there!