Sunday, September 3, 2017

To Review or Not to Review

Five years ago, on my 32nd birthday no less, I was in Hawaii.

This thought has struck me each year since: no birthday will ever be as wonderful as the one I spent at Germaine's Luau on Oahu. Everything since has been a bit of a let down. (No offense to the very special cake I baked for myself last weekend.)

Hawaii was amazing. On the last day of our trip, Julia went surfing for the first time. The owner of North Shore Surf Girls, the establishment we chose for our seven-year-old daughter's first surfing experience, asked me to write a review on Trip Advisor when I got home. The surf lesson was a life changing experience and I like to review things. I signed up and wrote my first review.

I've been hooked on Trip Advisor ever since. To date, I've written 54 reviews. Every few weeks, I get an email from Trip Advisor that says I'm in the top 4% of Pittsburgh reviewers. Do they say that to everyone?

Don't tell me. I don't really want to know.

But I review just about every restaurant, hotel or attraction I visit that's listed on the site.

I'm honest and thorough. I tell you what you need to know. I usually have no trouble writing exactly what I think of a place.

Then I published a novel. And not that I'm overly sensitive to reviews, but my self-worth is entirely dependent on them. Right away, within a week of the release, an old friend wrote the following:

"To my fellow mom: I'm very proud of you for writing the novel you always talked about. Congrats!"

At least she gave the book four stars, but holy cow, did she hate it that much? That's a textbook mom response to the painting that's too ugly to hang on the refrigerator, "sweetie, I'm so proud of you for using all of those colors. At the same time."

It has taken several months and four other reviews (that will apparently never push that one down on Amazon) for me to recover.

Consequently, reviewing things now gives me pause.

Last weekend, we had lunch at a restaurant. We don't eat out much. During the summer, when our restaurant patronage peaks, it's an every other week kind of thing. If I have Arby's coupons, we get a couple of roast beef sandwiches and chocolate shakes. We hardly ever eat somewhere new when we're not on vacation. But last weekend found us in an unusual circumstance. We had lunch with a family friend in a non-Arby's establishment.

It wasn't terrible. I had a Reuben that was above average except for its $12 price tag. (That's steep here in the Pittsburgh suburbs.) The rest of the menu was really weird. Everything had avocado and aioli on it. The ingredients were fancy and our familial palate is very salt and pepper.

Tim and Julia both got hamburgers. ($13 eaches. That's REALLY high here in the Pittsburgh suburbs.) Tim was adventurous and ordered his as presented in the menu: white cheddar, tomato jam, bacon, arugula, aioli, crispy onion. Julia went for the bare burger.

In the interest of avoiding unnecessary description, later in the day, they weren't happy about having eaten those burgers. It wasn't food poisoning, but distinct tummy unhappiness. Julia announced, "you need to give that place a bad review on Trip Advisor!"

Maybe it's the aforementioned review sensitivity. Maybe it's that we met the owner of the restaurant and he seemed like a nice guy. Maybe I'm getting soft in my later years, but I can't bring myself to voice my opinion that the place was overpriced and the menu was weird. Also the physical menus were printed on copy paper that was splotched and crinkled. Ever heard of card stock?

I feel like that review would crush someone's dream. At the risk of destroying my integrity, I decided not to review the restaurant.

Perhaps time and additional honest book reviews (seriously, tell me what you didn't like... gently) will put me back to normal. Until then, I'll be writing on Trip Advisor when I find something I like. Otherwise, you'll never even know I was there.