I recently bought a Wisconsin Dells weekend getaway Groupon so that my roommates and I could live out our childhood water park fantasies as mid-twenty-somethings. Having never been there, we asked our seemingly innocent, middle-aged hotel front desk clerk where we should eat lunch. After starring hard at me for a few seconds, she said, “There’s this one place in town; it’s got a nice patio.” I shrugged off the intense eye contact she had given me, but upon arriving at our destination, I instantly realized that I had fallen into a trap. I’ll just say that Marley’s Caribbean Restaurant was definitely not named after that cute dog that (SPOILER ALERT) died in that Owen Wilson movie.
I froze the moment I noticed the color scheme. Red, yellow, green. Everywhere. That judgmental witch had sent me straight into battle, unprepared. So there I was, a dreadlocked girl at a Bob Marley-themed restaurant. “Fuck,” I thought, crazy-eyed, as my fight-or-flight instincts kicked in. It’s like seeing an ex at a party. Do you play it cool and act like you’re above all the bullshit, maybe try to make out with his roommate? Or do you duck into the nearest room and drink your six-pack alone while trying on all the coats people have thrown on the bed? I contemplated waiting in the car while my friends ate, but I had skipped breakfast in order to paint my toenails with Hello Kitty decals and memorize the words to the One Direction single, so that was not an option.
I guess I should tell you that I think I got dreadlocks by mistake. I was 16 and those were different times, see? After nine years, I still love them so, so much and I’m not ashamed, but I’ve never really “clicked” with the culture often associated with them. I tend to avoid what I call “White Person with Dreadlock Stereotypes” at all costs. This means I can’t smoke hookah, attend outdoor music festivals, flash the peace sign, or shop at organic grocery store co-ops without breaking a nervous sweat. Are people watching me ask for tofu in my pad thai? Are they rolling their eyes as I walk by in my tie-dye shirt (it’s my kickball team’s jersey, OK?!)?
Anyway, I eventually decided to man up and kick the dreadlock stereotype in the teeth. I sat down quietly and looked around suspiciously over the top of my sunglasses. For some reason I felt like, if I could just be very, very still, maybe nobody would notice this pathetic hippie cliché I was enabling. I timidly ordered the house salad because that’s the only menu item that wasn’t called something like “Rasta Pasta” or “Jammin’ Jerk Chicken Sandwich.” I did not bob my head to the loop of Wailers tunes blasting from the speakers. I did not take a picture with the statue of Bob Marley smoking a fat blunt.
Finally, we finished our meals and I was almost free of Marley’s and this all-encompassing black hole of self-hatred that I had made it into. I decided to tip the server exactly 20% thinking that if I tipped less due to the fact that I was extremely uncomfortable the whole time, I would be embodying yet another dreadlock stereotype of being broke/without a job because I was too busy protesting wars and Western World consumerism. On the other hand, if I tipped more than the standard 20% it would appear that I had thoroughly enjoyed my time at Marley’s because I was, in fact, a classic reggae-loving, Jah-worshipping hippie.
After lunch we went to the waterpark and had a wonderful time. We found a normal place to eat dinner and I made sure to order my steak medium-rare so that our server wouldn’t think I was a vegetarian. I slept soundly that night. As it turns out, restaurant-induced self-reflection crises are quite exhausting.