It started as a normal holiday dinner — born from the fun tradition of celebrating the last week of the semester before finals with a night out together at the Cheesecake Factory. The Factory (as those of us “in the know” call it) (no one calls it that -ed) is the perfect place for college students to splurge on a nice dinner since it’s fancy enough for everyone to feel like they’re grown-ass adults, but not so grand that people are calling their parents the next day begging for laundry money.
While The Factory is a culinary wonderland, it does have one drawback: reservations aren’t taken. This means that prospective diners have to writhe in agony during peak hours, watching that little electronic buzzer until it finally lights up. The Hartford, Connecticut location — where our tale is set — has enough other businesses close by that there are plenty of options for killing time. You can look at books in the Barnes & Noble across the street for example, or you could do that for exactly five minutes then get bored and resort to standing around the beautiful display of assorted Christmas trees decorating the front of the restaurant. Which is what we did.
Fact: A bunch of bored college kids hanging around rarely leads to anything good. Ideas were brewing, even if we didn’t realize it at the time.
Finally, our table was ready. Dinner was delicious. It’s even possible that an alcoholic beverage or two was consumed sometime during the evening. At one point, a member of our group brought up the fact that none of the attendees’ dorm rooms were decorated for Christmas, adding that time was running out to rectify that situation. That spark was all it took. Another member of the gang mentioned that there was a convenient way to fix things right outside the door! A well designed, spectacular display of Christmas trees just waiting to find a good home. They even had lights and stands! The only cost? Bravery and a willingness to be banned from The Cheesecake Factory — at least this particular location — for life.
Of course there was resistance — there usually is when all your friends suddenly decide that the possibility of a few hours in jail is an integral part of the perfect Christmas — but eventually everyone agreed that it would be funny to take one of the tastefully-decorated trees. Of course, that is decidedly not funny and definitely rude and no current college students should follow this lead, but with that noted, there’s something to be said for a heist of this nature. It isn’t a malicious crime, per se (although separating that tree from its family may have been inhumane); it’s a spontaneous act built on throwaway comments and jokes that somehow become real in the blur of raucous revelry.
Here’s how it goes down: Someone mentions that they looked at the stands while waiting and noticed that the trees aren’t all that well attached; another person remembers that both cars taken to the restaurant have large trunks; a third starts casing the place to determine the line of sight the maitre d’ has to the front of the building…others laugh with nervous excitement, more drinks are ordered, and it’s all downhill from there.