Q. We have an annual grown-ups’ fall bash, with about 150 guests: front- and backyard tents, two bartenders, parking valets, and about three tons of smoked pig. We know at least a few attendees will have one too many and then try to drive home. What to do?
You’re hammering right at the unforgiving rock face of the hostly question, namely, how far does a host’s responsibility extend? One doesn’t want guests emanating from one’s fall barbecue and racking up a raft of DUIs, or much, much worse.
It’s difficult for a host to flat-out declare a guest too drunk to drive, although as a last resort, you may have to. The key is to present an attractive, luxe alternative at the outset—to set up a seamless (meaning, not provocational or insulting) home-going system into which all guests can effortlessly slide. Here’s the math: First, hire triple the number of valet parkers you would normally need for the evening. If you anticipate needing a team of four for 150 guests, hire twelve. Some will be idle at first, but when the witching hour arrives, you’ll need every last man. For this system you’ll also need four “runner” cars. Hire ’em from the valets.
In your invitation, channel your inner saint and include a semi-gracious sentence like “Valets will be available to ferry cars home.” Whatever phrasing you choose, present it as a party comfort. This puts the emphasis on the machines. Your more bibulous guests will realize that they are being spared the ignominy of the morning-after car-retrieve, if not a glassy-eyed mug shot in the local police blotter.
Let’s assume that the first third of your valet troops will be devoted to the ordinary return of cars. Your eight backup, SWAT-team valets will work in pairs, as follows: As the classically impaired Judge Merriwether toddles to fetch his car, one valet says: “Judge Merriwether! Please allow me to drive you and Mrs. Merriwether home. My colleague Dan here will follow us and drive me back.”
Bingo. Having been offered an instant limo driver, if he is in his (somewhat) right mind Judge Merriwether might even take the alacrity of the hostly attention as a compliment. On the off chance he doesn’t, make sure to have extra towels, soap, and fresh linens in the guest room. Not that you really want to awake in the morning and see the judge. But them’s the breaks of being a good Southern host.
Q. This is my first Southern Thanksgiving, at my in-laws’ house in Georgia. Where I come from, in Michigan, we celebrate early and then everybody pretty much tunes in to the Big Ten. What do I need to know?
Purely FYI, you’ll notice a marked improvement in the quality of the televised football. Inferior Big Ten teams aside, man to man? Your ass is being inspected over these two or three days, Mr. Wolverine, and will be reported on in infinitesimal detail, and not just by family members. This is the most important marital advice I can give you: Assume three times the number of old ladies that you ordinarily see at Thanksgiving in the North. I don’t know why—the superior food, I imagine. At any rate, on that day, shake hands and exchange pleasantries with every elderly woman you come across. Be as curious about their lives as if, say, you were at a long formal lunch in Buckingham Palace. I mean, every single old lady, OK? Why? Because you don’t know which one is the duchess who rules the town. At the end, after the appropriate amount of fortification, they will want to kiss you. Kiss ’em all, twice, and heartily. It will help boost the tone in the reports about you that will be delivered to your in-laws early the next morning. Aside from that, are you a good wing shot? It’s quail season.
Q. I prefer over-and-unders, but my hunting buddy swears by side-by-sides. Who’s right?
First, a little history. In the late nineteenth century, when hammerless side-by-sides were patented, the idea was that the field of a wing shooter’s vision over the gun was supposed to be…well…a field of vision. The flat, or side-by-side, application of the barrels, canted toward each other so the shot patterns met about forty yards from the muzzles, would provide the shooter with the ideal view of the bird. Over-and-unders, now about eighty years old, were more rifle-like and target-oriented—hence the extreme over-and-under designs for professional target shooters. In the last thirty years, with the advent of sporting clays, over-and-unders have become ubiquitous in the field. It’s really about what works for your shoulder, your reflexes, and, not least, your eyes.