Last year, while teaching a class in Monterey, I yelped restaurants around my hotel, and it directed me to the very highly rated Monterey’s Fish House. I arrived and there was a line out the door waiting to get in. Each of the parties wanted a table, but being by myself, I opted for a seat at the bar and squeezed my way into this small neighborhood restaurant. This is a little cottage, turned bustling restaurant, where they pour generous glasses of wine and serve simple fresh food, much of it wood grilled.
At the corner, right next to me, was an older man with a glass of chardonnay named Dennis. He wore a polo shirt with the restaurant’s name stitched onto it. Everyone knew him, and said hi to him. His glass was attentively topped off by the staff, no questions asked. I asked if he was the owner. No, he wasn’t, but he informed me that he goes to eat dinner almost every night. I wondered how accurate that statement was. Dennis and I chatted while he ate is salmon (his doctor’s orders apparently) and I ate my grilled oysters (Dennis’s recommendation) and fish. He was a retired NASA engineer. Moved up to Monterey to enjoy life, golf, and apparently this fish house. At the end of the evening, I paid my bill, said my goodbye to Dennis, and returned to my life.
This year, I got the chance to return to Monterey. Because the fish was good, and the oysters were great, I returned to the Fish House. I also secretly wondered if Dennis would be there. At 5pm it opened, again there was a line and I was #2 in line. However, when the door opened, guess who was already at the bar, glass of wine in front of him? Indeed. It was Dennis, and at the same seat. I took a seat at the other side of the bar as the two seats next to Dennis reserved for another local patron. The same scene replayed in front of me, only now there was a new person next to Dennis. I returned the next night and observed the same scene again, a new set of locals, visitors, and Dennis. Each night, a new seat for me, and a fresh perspective on this place.
What is it about this place that keeps Dennis coming back every night? And me returning when my training brings me to town? This was not the best fish house I have ever been to, but it was certainly the most neighborly. Fresh simple food, generous wine, a welcoming committee of well trained, friendly and attentive staff, and Dennis. I suppose when we find a place that makes us feel at home, makes us feel comfortable, we want to return to that place, and share it with others. That’s what Neighborly Life means to me. I suspect that’s what Dennis has found.