A friend sent me this defense of the now viral Olive Garden review by Marilyn Hagerty of the Grand Forks Herald:
I’m going to level with you: I love the Olive Garden. LOVE it. I love the Tuscany-by-way-of-Atlanta decor, I love their horrible Italian portmanteaus, I love that you can buy their unpalatable wine by the jug (I know this, because my friends and I split one on Valentine’s Day). I love that their corruption of lasagna is so far beyond the pale that it’s borderline transgressive.
So when an earnest review of the chain in a small North Dakota paper set the Internet ablaze like the scornful Tuscan sun, I felt compelled to defend my favorite midpriced chain from all this web inhospitaliano.
The author, Julieanne Smolinski, spends valuable column inches defending Olive Garden, which is pointless because I don’t think anyone cares that much if she eats there (although she seems to care a great deal that we care). I also don’t dispute that Olive Garden is successful. That’s one of the reasons I found Hagerty’s column absurd: It’s similar to printing a review of a new Starbucks or McDonald’s. Olive Garden is a national chain with an extensive advertising reach. It doesn’t need Marilyn Hagerty or the Grand Forks Herald.
It’s possible the Grand Forks Herald’s readers don’t watch TV or have never set foot in an Olive Garden. However, any public interest would have been satisfied by a review half the size. Arguably, a “review” itself was unnecessary. A brief news blurb about the arrival of the restaurant would’ve been sufficient.
The article, regardless of its subject, was horribly written and edited. Or as Smolinski says, “The real issue is that Marilyn writes in a style we’re so unaccustomed to.” Yes, because it’s bad.
Smolinski would have us believe that “earnest” and “sincere” are synonymous with or a justification for incompetence. I disagree.
My booth was near the kitchen, and I watched the waiters in white shirts, ties, black trousers and aprons adorned with gold-colored towels. They were busy at midday, punching in orders and carrying out bread and pasta.
It had been a few years since I ate at the older Olive Garden in Fargo, so I studied the two manageable menus offering appetizers, soups and salads, grilled sandwiches, pizza, classic dishes, chicken and seafood and filled pastas.
At length, I asked my server what she would recommend. She suggested chicken Alfredo, and I went with that. Instead of the raspberry lemonade she suggested, I drank water.
This should’ve been edited down to “I ordered the chicken Alfredo.” If it was an especially slow news day, I might have allowed the overview of the menu. Although, she repeats it more concisely in the final paragraph.
The story I’m interested in is why Hagerty is even employed at this paper. I’ve read a few of her columns — including her “cheerful persons of the week” — and it’s like paying to sit next to a talkative elderly woman on a cross-country flight. Her piece about airline seating was similar to the five-hour-go-nowhere conversation I endured when flying from New York to Portland before my wedding.
I know someone has to sit in the middle, but I wondered this past week why — on two longer flights — did it have to be me. The aisle is OK. You can get up and go to the lavatory. The window seat is good. You can look out over the landscape. That is, on a clear day and if you aren’t right over the wing…
The existential conundrum of why one is condemned to the middle seat would have more impact if it wasn’t so easily avoidable. Book your flight sufficiently in advance and select the window or aisle seat. Even when traveling relatively last minute for business, it was rare that I was assigned a middle seat. But I digress.
I saw a man in the airport in Minneapolis taking off his woolen socks and putting on lighter socks for the trip to Florida. I heard a woman tell another, “My husband and I have played golf together for 45 years. We have two rules. We don’t get mad, and we don’t keep score.”
I checked a news magazine rack in the Minneapolis airport with scintillating headlines. They included, “Whitney Houston’s Autopsy Secrets” and “Burn 300 calories in 22 minutes—lose that arm jiggle.” Then there was a headline asking, “Is everyone kinkier than you?” And another saying, “Flatten your belly.”
This is not a column containing insightful observations or amusing anecdotes. This is a fourth-grader’s essay about his first trip on a plane. And it would get a C.
Sorry to be ungallant but the least anyone can do for someone who has lived to the age of 86 is not to lie to them. Age isn’t really the issue. Either her writing has always been bad or it has dramatically declined in her later years. If the latter is true, then Grand Forks Herald should have the decency not to publish her anymore. I have too many friends who have lost jobs due to the shrinking print journalism market. Unemployment is around 8 percent. So I don’t think Marilyn Hagerty’s “earnest” pseudo-Onion articles are cute. I think they’re depressing.
And Smolinski’s piece doesn’t cheer me up, either.