By Wendy Hodge

There is a restaurant in New York City, right in the heart of the theater district, called Don’t Tell Mama. It is dark and atmospheric, and the gravy they serve on their mashed potatoes is good enough to make an Alabama girl lick her plate. Yes, I’ve done that … and I’m not ashamed.
There are even a few pictures to document that moment. Any time someone mentions New York to me, it is that table in the corner of this hidden gem that always comes to mind first.
The plate-licking incident was just over three years ago – a cold Friday night. And with the impeccable timing the universe has, our singing waiter approached the table just as my tongue touched the plate. “May I get you another serving, ma’am?” he asked.
“Oh, no. I’m fine, thank you.” I replied.
“Better enjoy them while you can. Tonight is the last night we offer that particular dish. It’s being retired.”
“But why?!” My voice must have risen an octave, as it always does in a case of emergency.
“All good things come to an end…” He sang the Nelly Furtado song as he whisked away our dirty dishes and returned a moment later with my second helping of the best mashed potatoes and gravy I have ever tasted. Imagine if we’d chosen to eat there on Saturday rather than Friday! I would have never known that delicious pleasure.
It’s all about timing. Sweet serendipity.
Following our dinner at Don’t Tell Mama, my theater-loving, teenaged children and I walked a few blocks to The Imperial Theater, our Les Miserables tickets clutched in our hands. To say we were excited would be a ridiculous understatement. This was the highlight of our trip. Alfie Boe, who had played Jean Valjean to perfection for years all over the world, was (and still is) one of my favorite sounds in the universe. His turn as the lead in this musical was coming to an end, and he only appeared in a couple of performances a week. We had been told the odds of seeing him that night were slim to none, but I had hope.
We found our seats and waited for the lights to dim. I must have read the program front to back at least three times… as if Alfie Boe himself were somewhere in those words. And then an announcement was made: “There has been a change in tonight’s cast. Through a fortunate turn of events, Alfie Boe will be playing the role of Jean Valjean.”
I think I cried.
The next three hours were heavenly. Each scene, each song, each lyric were done to perfection.
In the second act, when the French revolution is at its peak, and the stage is filled with a bloody barricade behind which patriots are sleeping, the lights dimmed and the first notes of ‘Bring Him Home’ filled the theater. Alfie Boe sat in the center of the stage, the only light in the whole place shining softly on his face. And when he sang, every soul in the room held their breath. My son squeezed my hand, and a tear ran down my daughter’s face. Musical perfection. I will never forget that singular experience.
After the last curtain call, Alfie Boe returned to the stage to bid farewell to Les Mis. We’d had the incredible fortune to see his last performance as Jean Valjean. Divine timing. Sweet serendipity.
The truth is, that entire trip to New York was based entirely on fortunate timing. A year earlier, a friend of mine had shown some of my writings to his neighbor. The neighbor happened to be the editor of a newspaper in Tennessee, who offered me a bi-weekly column. By chance, that same editor had a friend who lived in New York City. And one morning, because her iPad had not charged overnight, she pulled a copy of that same Tennessee newspaper from her briefcase and read it on her way from her apartment on the East Side to her office downtown.
This friend of my Tennessee editor happened to be an editor herself… for Harper Collins. It was my column she read, and she liked it. She liked it enough to call her friend in Tennessee and ask about me. A few weeks later, my own phone rang. In a heavy New York accent, Ms. King of Harper Collins Publishing offered me a dream come true. And a few months later, I found myself signing contracts and meeting an agent in the Big Apple.
Timing of the universe? Absolutely. Serendipity? Without a doubt.
Three years and a million words later, I am preparing for another trip to New York. This time my best friend is going with me. My agent called with a surprise for us. He managed to call in a favor and get us dinner reservations at the best seafood place in the city. On Valentine’s Day.
And the hotel he booked? They only had their finest rooms available. A balcony suite.
Sometimes the galaxy itself seems to be against you. Seemingly strong friendships fall apart.
Your grown children suffer and struggle. Your Toyota eats a Christmas tree.
And then you are handed a gift and reminded how very many gifts you have already received and continue to receive on a daily basis. Parents and children who love you. A job with coworkers who are like family. A Ford Escape with actual door handles that work! Words and stories that have become your passion. And a best friend to share the whole adventure with.
We’ve made an NYC bucket list, and on that list (right near the top) is a visit to a classic dessert destination – a restaurant named…. Serendipity. I will order chocolate. And I will lick my plate.
Wendy Hodge is an Opelika native, an empty nester and lover of all things Opelika. She previously had a column titled A Word or Ten, which was featured in the Tennessee Star Journal and is currently awaiting release of her first novel with Harper Collins Publishing Company.