I was a sophomore in college and I’d traveled on a dirty airplane with my choir director from Salt Lake City, Utah to Las Vegas for a choral educator’s conference. Meanwhile, four of my classmates decided to drive together in a compact car. Despite my concern over people legally smoking indoors, I was underage, I was (and still am) a practicing Mormon, it was the closest I would get to going abroad, and I jumped at the opportunity. I was excited for the prospect of a fancy buffet and maybe even a musical theater performance or Cirque du Soleil, but the best I got was my first experience at the Cheesecake Factory. I suppose it sounds like I say that with disdain, but it was, in fact, probably the highlight of the long weekend, since I wasn’t gambling and, in the end, the group I was with was less interested in participating in the daily seminars and more into the choral performances and roaming the Strip. Four against one, so I conceded.
I’d only heard about the wonders of the Cheesecake Factory, but by the name alone I knew it would easily become one of my favorite places to eat. An entire factory of cheesecake. I was a little disappointed, I suppose, in how non-factory it was — no plates of cheesecake going through the entire restaurant on a conveyor belt, ready for me to snatch up and taste. When we were seated, we made an agreement: each would order a different flavor and pass it around the table so everyone got one bite. Then we’d finish off our slices, knowing (and openly boasting) that we had chosen best of all. I felt a deep kinship for these four classmates as they slid cool, creaminess into their mouths, licking their forks, dipping their fingers into the mounds of whipped cream. We all wanted to save the world by being life-changing choir directors; teaching kids not much younger than us about the inherent power of beautiful music. We were five twentysomethings with a cause. And I felt like a grown up, sophisticated, at a nice restaurant in a hot city at night, pleased that I was eating something as richly decadent as Chocolate Raspberry Truffle cheesecake. We spent the rest of our meals in dirty, inexpensive buffets with smudged, sticky water glasses and fast food joints that served up stale food, and I couldn’t get the mingling flavors of dark chocolate and sweet raspberry and luscious cream cheese out of my mind.
When I finally gave up the choir ghost, deciding on American Studies instead of Music Education, I became less in touch with these former classmates. And as the years passed, despite my unabashed addiction to social networking, they dropped out of my life, one by one. I find myself wondering, from time to time, what became of them; whether those who became choir teachers are as happy as they’d once hoped, wondering who is now married, who has children, what career paths they took if they, too, decided high school choir wasn’t for them either. I wonder if they remember that night, eating dessert in a large casino hotel, and wonder about me too.