Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Five Star Restaurant

Vintage House Senior Center, Sonoma, California, USA

Christmas Day, December 25, 2013



This essay, Five Star Restaurant, is the seventh in a group of eight written on Christmas Day:
  1. Holiday Service
  2. Out Of My Head
  3. How To Enroll The World
  4. Holiday Service II
  5. A Game Worth Playing
  6. Peace On Earth And Good Will To All People: A Possibility
  7. Five Star Restaurant
  8. Direct Experience
in that order.

I am indebted to Marissa Fitrakis and to the donors and the volunteers (supervisors, kitchen staff, food preparers, chefs, sous-chefs, carvers, cutters, servers, drivers, waiters, barmen, dishwashers) and the staff of Vintage House Senior Center and to the senior citizens of our planet who inspired this conversation.




It's an amazing undertaking preparing and serving Christmas dinner for two hundred people. It's extraordinary doing it twice  on Christmas day - once in the morning and then again in the afternoon.

Nine years ago I decided I wanted to serve on Christmas day rather than receive. What surprised me when I began contacting groups and facilities offering to volunteer, was how many people had the same idea, so much so that all the groups and facilities I contacted thanked me for offering to serve, and then asked me not  to come. They had way  too many volunteers already.

That's nice, don't you think? So many volunteers wanting to serve, that they ask people not to come. And that's not just in my home town of Napa. That's the entire Napa Valley and  the entire San Francisco Bay Area. What I've learned is I need to make sure I'm listed to volunteer a year ahead. Now, immediately after I prepare and serve Christmas dinner for four hundred of the infirm and the elderly, I ensure my name is down for next  year. It's something not to be missed. It's quite literally the only game in town on Christmas day - at least in my opinion.

The two hundred meals we prepare in the morning are for people in the local community who are too frail to prepare a meal for themselves, or they're bedridden and can't get out of bed to come over here for Christmas dinner. So we take Christmas dinner to them. A team of drivers wait for ten dinners each, the ingredients of which fit perfectly into compartmented boxes. Each has a map directing its driver to the home of its recipient where the meal is served to them. That's right: if they can't make their own dinner or come here for one, then we'll take Christmas dinner to them at home.

The two hundred meals we prepare in the afternoon are for elderly people in the local community who can get here for a sit down meal in the big hall. And it's an awesome sit down meal. White tables with brilliant centerpieces make a spectacle for the proceedings. Once everything is in place, my job is to pour gravy on top of the mashed potatoes on each plate which is passed to me from my right. I figure out how to do it just so. I make a small well in the mashed potatoes by pushing down on them with the back of my gravy ladle, then carefully fill it with gravy, not spilling any.

Given all the servings plus a few seconds, I do it two hundred and twenty times. Then when I'm wearing another hat walking around clearing empty plates from the tables so the pumpkin pie can be served, a gray haired gentleman sitting at one of the tables thanks me and asks me whether I cooked the meal. I tell him no, I only put the gravy on the mashed potatoes. He's genuinely impressed. He says "Excellent work Son. You should put that on your résumé.". He means it. He noticed. Listen: you think putting gravy on mashed potatoes is too trivial an act to make a difference with people? Think again ... Later at another table I place a plate with a slice of pumpkin pie in front of each guest. An elegant elderly woman in a wheel chair takes my hand as I pass her. Her grasp shakes my entire arm (probably Parkinson's) but she doesn't seem to mind or notice. "Thank you  for serving us this wonderful dinner!". She's effusive. We talk for a while, hand in hand, me standing over her with an armful of plates with slices of pumpkin pie, she sitting on her wheel chair looking up at me, lit up - and shaking. I tell her "I've tried both options: sitting down with you for Christmas dinner ... or  ... serving you Christmas dinner, and I think I prefer serving.". She laughs. I laugh. "Thank you for allowing me to serve you" I say. She gets it. She says "You've all done a wonderful  job. This is like a five star restaurant.".

What a grand lady! I hope she comes back next year. And if she can't make it, then we'll take Christmas dinner to her at home.



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© Laurence Platt - 2013 through 2016 Permission