Friday, August 14, 2009

All hands brace for impact

As our president suggested recently, sometimes it's good for folks to convene for "a drink at the end of the day." In that spirit, my friend Janet and I met the other night for some decadent after-work cocktails. When we got the bill two hours later, I wondered if we shouldn't have followed Obama's lead and stayed home with a Bud Light.

Our outting — at Stephi's, a moderate-to-upscale spot in the South End — lasted approximately two hours and my share, with tip, was roughly $80. That's nearly 70 cents a minute! And it got me thinking about this expensive city life.

Certainly you can go out in Boston for less. Just last night, I met up with some people for a modestly priced evening that included cheap drinks and snacks at a Back Bay watering hole followed by even cheaper ones at the ultra-divey Tam in Chinatown. The cost of that outting was probably closer to $12 an hour, much more reasonable. Of course, there was no lobster pie.

So, cheap outtings are possible, but living and working in the Back Bay area thrusts many temptations in one's face.

The retail alone can be enticing. My walk to work sometimes takes me through the Copley mall, and occasionally I and my co-worker/neighbor Jon do a little window shopping on our way out, or during our lunch break. Last week, while pausing at the Karen Millen window, we spied a beautiful almond-and-black trench coat.

Jon guessed that it cost $285. I guessed $400, putting me much closer to the actual price of $425. Still, Jon teased that I should buy it. "Come on Sasha," he said. "It's only five dinners at Stephi's!"

Working so close to this mall is interesting. Luckily, everything is so expensive that I'm usually not truly tempted to buy anything. Copley has a Louis Vuitton, a Coach, an Armani — so, you know, very high-end stuff. I often pass the Tiffany & Co. right as they are starting to open for the day, and it's funny because there's usually a small group of people clustered around the giant gray fortress-like doors, waiting for them to creak open and reveal the store's bowels. These people obviously work there, but I think it's fun to imagine that they are privileged Bostonians who just can't wait to start buying jewels.

About a quarter mile from this spot, I did discover quite a bargain recently. On a whim last spring I decided to go to the symphony and found out about a promotion that offered $20 tickets to people under 40. The idea behind the campaign was to start getting young people interested in classical music before all of the orchestra's patrons, you know, die. This was actually a really great deal. The Boston Symphony Orchestra is one of the best in the world, and Symphony Hall is one of the most beautiful buildings in Boston — it's a great way to spend an evening. Normal pricing for the tickets is generally between $30 and $125, and these $20 tickets sometimes included very good seats that must have been on the expensive side of that range. I went several times and was quite sad when the season ended. Of course, because the tickets were so cheap, I went much more frequently than I would have otherwise and so in the end probably didn't save any money, but it was really fun! There's no word yet on whether the BSO will offer this program again next season, sadly.

My current financial dilemma has to do with a trip: I'll be spending Labor Day weekend with my cousin in the Catskills, and right afterword I'm taking a detour into the city to have dinner with an old friend I haven't seen in years. The last time we met, she was pregnant for the first time; now she has two little ones and an infant. She invited me to crash at her apartment, which she assures me is very comfortable except that "the wake-up time is on the early side." Initially I thought I would spring for a hotel, but then I started feeling guilty about the expense. I relayed this story to my friend Maria the other day. I told her that I would probably just stay with my friend and deal with waking up early, possibly to the sound of a crying baby, and forgo the hotel idea. She looked at me as if I'd just said I might vote for Mayor Menino. "Sasha," she said. "Put it on a credit card."

Tempting, yet while walking through Crate & Barrel at lunchtime today, I wondered if I should try to target more of my spending toward my apartment. On the store's third floor, I spotted the perfect easy chair for my living room. It only costs 15 dinners at Stephi's.

As I contemplate all of these possible expenditures, I'm reminded of lyrics by the great Stevie Wonder, from his song "I Wish."

Even though we sometimes
Would not get a thing
We were happy with the
Joy the day would bring

Listening to this song the other day, I wondered, Should I try to be more like this? Of course, when I googled the lyrics just now, I realized that Stevie also says:

Mama gives you money for Sunday school
You trade yours for candy after church is through

Hmmm. Now, this is a little more like it! Though I would have also skipped church.

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Copyright 2009-2010 by Sasha Sark. Please don't reuse without permission.
"West African Dark Blue Cloth" image is displayed courtesy of the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University.