My First Debt And A $5 Lobster
This is the humorous, embarrassing, and expensive story of how I acquired my first debt.
The story begins just a couple of months after I graduated high school. I was working at a fast food joint and although I liked my job, I was ready to start college. A friend of a friend was moving to Los Angeles to start school. He wanted to be a filmmaker and figured that schools in L.A. were his best bet. He was looking for some folks to help him move and I had a month until college started so I figured what the heck. I was tired of my job anyhow.
I had traveled before, but hadn’t done very much on my own at that point (I was only 17 years old). The trip to L.A. was going to be a long drive, but I had savings from working and a credit card with a $500 limit. I had plenty of money for a road trip!
I had been good with the credit card up to that point. I had only purchased a few things and had primarily gotten the card to start building my credit (on advice from my father, who helped me get the card when I was 16). My dad had really drilled into me that the credit card was only to be used for emergencies, or small purchases I could pay off quickly. It was just to help build my credit and nothing else.
I was excited about going on the trip. I had a good friend in L.A. that I had not seen for years and I called her up to let her know I was coming. I quit my job just a few works before I had told them I would and they said it was no problem. I was ready for the trip!
Along the way, we made several stops (it’s a couple days drive to L.A) One stop we were excited about was Las Vegas. None of us had ever been there before. We were too young to gamble, but just seeing the glitzy town was enough draw for us. Plus, we had heard that you could get steak and lobster meals for about $5. That sounded great to us!
We made our way to Las Vegas and got in fairly late. We had reservations for 2 nights at the Excalibur (one of the less pricey hotels in Vegas). We were all sharing one room to save money since none of us had a whole heck of a lot of it to spare. We were starving and wanted one of our promised cheap steak and lobster meals. We set out in search of a restaurant.
Lo and behold, one of the first signs we see is a picture of a guy holding up a lobster that’s nearly as tall as he was. We had found our place! We hailed a cab and told them we wanted to go there (I’m going to leave the name of the restaurant out of this post).
We arrived to the restaurant feeling a tad underdressed – most folks were dressed pretty nicely. Then we saw another group in there looking about as ratty as we did and figured we were dressed “well enough” for Vegas. We sat down to order.
They had a special – salad, steak, lobster, dessert, and coffee for four people. Perfect! And the price was “market price”. So that’s about $5 per person, right? We all agreed that must be it since we’d heard that’s all it cost for steak and lobster in Vegas.
We placed our order. I have a memory now – not sure if it’s accurate – that the waiter’s eyes gleamed when we placed our order. He was thrilled! We didn’t really notice or care at the time. We were just hungry.
We picked at our salads, and devoured our steaks. They were much better than we had expected for $5! Then came the lobster. I kid you not – this thing was the size of a 2 year old child! It was enormous! We were all going to share that single lobster. Looking back at it now gives me a pang of guilt because that lobster must have been ancient!
Some of the wait staff, and even some of the diners in the restaurant, came by to see this enormous lobster. We dug in but could only finish maybe a third of the thing. And that’s 4 hungry teenage boys! We were stuffed!
The waitstaff encouraged us to eat more. Repeatedly. We couldn’t eat anymore. No, we didn’t want a box because our hotel room didn’t have a fridge. Besides, it’s only a cheap meal so what does it matter?
Then the bill arrived. Without hesitation I grabbed it. I was tired and ready to head back. I don’t remember the exact amount it was (I’ve blocked that particular memory), but I got immediately sick to my stomach. I was too frozen with fear to do much of anything. I must have turned white as a ghost because my friends all looked at me. They asked what was up and I just handed them the bill. We were all silent for a good five minutes. We had spent nearly $500 on dinner!!!
The waiter must have noticed that we were panicking and immediately got the manager who stood in front of the only exit watching us as we sat around and whispered. I guess they were worried about a “dine and dash” scenario. We had no intentions of running out on the bill. We were all good kids, but I understand their concern.
After talking it over for a bit, it came down to me to pay for most of the meal – up to the $500 limit on my credit card – and the guys would piece together the rest of the money from what they had on them. Two of the guys were waiters and after we recovered some from the shock, they said we had to give at least a 10% tip. We did have great service and it seemed the right thing to do. It sure hurt though!
We had to scrimp and save for the rest of the trip. This was before cell phones and long distance calls were extremely expensive. We had enough money to make it to L.A. and back if we didn’t stop on the way back except for gas. Only three of us were making the drive back and we did shifts driving and sleeping in the car. We really didn’t even have enough money to get food on the way back. We just wanted to get home.
When I got home I told my parents the story. After their initial upset and concern, they thought the story was hilarious. To this day, I smile when I see something labeled “market price”. My parents still tease me about “market price”. Now I always ask what “market price” is.
The card got paid off, but to be honest, I don’t remember how. What I will never forget is how I got the debt in the first place.
Image by man pikin