If you know me, chances are you know that I am a vocal Never Trumper.
He secured my vote neither in 2016 nor in 2020, and my Facebook feed in an election year essentially serves as an anti-Trump Burn Book.
So if you know me, you also know that Mar-a-Lago is the last place that I would be caught either dead or alive, but if I were going to be forced to step foot on property, I would very much prefer to have expired prior.
Unfortunately, that preference did not come to pass, because I — alive and well — went to Mar-a-Lago on Saturday in what I am hesitant to call a hostage situation but featured a very unwilling me.
We had been invited by one of my husband’s clients on a number of occasions, and while we were able to successfully sidestep the first few invitations, we found ourselves unable to deny his final attempt and relinquished ourselves to a certain and unwanted fate.
In the weeks leading up to the happening, we engaged in a number of thought experiments.
What if we were greeted by the former president himself?
What if we were asked about our voting history?
Would we even pass the background check needed to gain admission? We were required to provide our names and dates of birth in advance of our visit for purposes of investigation, which presumably did not include a social media sweep since I inexplicably passed.
I had half-hoped that I wouldn’t. That they would deem me a threat due to the, dare I say, psychotic number of posts that I had written over the years.
But no dice. I was deemed to be acceptable, and my subsequent prayers to be taken by the rapture did not come to fruition.
So by late Saturday afternoon, I found myself in the car on the way to Palm Beach.
On the stretch of bridge leading to the club waited a smattering of Trump’s supporters. One woman waived a Trump 2020 flag. Another, dressed as the Statute of Liberty, wore a Keep America Great hat and hoisted a “MAGA USA” torch.
His followers are nothing if not ardent.
When we pulled up to the sprawling estate, we were greeted by dark-suited men and well-dressed ladies carrying tablets that bore the names of all approved guests. After providing our identification and confirming that we carried with us no weapons, we were ushered in through the gate and directed to the valet. Once through the detailed portico and ornamental wrought iron doors, we were greeted by a woman who certified our credentials and guided us in the appropriate direction.
And there our journey began.
Immediately past the reception area lies the main living room, and I must admit that it is spectacular. While some might find it a bit too loud for their taste, I was taken with the antique furniture, the Spanish-Moorish architecture, and the Neo-Gothic and Andalusian accents. Here, steps are marbled, ornate rugs carpet the floors, and the walls are splashed with gold-plated decor. Chandeliers hang from soaring ceilings, Florentine frescoes paper the walls, and Venetian arched doorways welcome you into each adjoining room. Of course, not everything here is from a distant age, as a newly minted model of Air Force One sits proudly on a timeworn table.
Continue through another set of wrought iron doors, and you find yourself in the courtyard. Outside, the walkway is shaded by striped awnings, the floors are pebbled with stone, and the walls are adorned in tiles with a Hispano-Moresque flair. You feel as though you have been transported to another country or time, and it is all a bit surreal.
As our host had not yet arrived, we made our way to the outdoor bar. Other patrons enjoyed drinks at nearby tables, and I continued looking about like a deer in headlights with an expression that told our neighboring club-goers that I was not, in fact, a regular.
Once in possession of my liquid courage, we ventured back inside to wait — even under cover, the South Florida heat proved too oppressive — and were met with the face of Sen. Rick Scott as we stepped into the living room. Sen. Scott, who was conferring with another guest, was well groomed and exuded an air of confidence and Medicare fraud.
It was then that my husband decided to Google Mar-a-Lago and the date, and we realized that our dinner reservation also coincided with the Lincoln Day Dinner, a separate event being hosted by the Republican Party of Palm Beach.
Shortly thereafter, our company arrived, and we were shown to our table in the courtyard. Sheltered by umbrellas, the tables overlook the pool and an expertly manicured lawn beyond, bookended by the Intracoastal Waterway. A beautiful view, to be sure, but I was personally drawn to the architectural details of the buildings.
Not long after being seated, a round of applause erupted amongst the diners, and when I looked up to find the source of the fanfare, I noted Gov. Ron DeSantis walking to the ballroom, waving in appreciation.
I returned to my menu.
When it was time to order, I opted for the pasta bolognese. Not only because I required carbs to cope, but because it was the cheapest entrée on the bill of fare, and I was already adding significantly to the tab with my nervous alcohol consumption. I did not want to add insult to injury with the branzino.
One other entrée caught my eye: Mary Trump’s Meatloaf. I originally thought that this was a nod to Trump’s vocally critical niece, but as it turns out, Donald Trump’s mother shares the same name and is famous for her dish. This explanation was considerably less fun, as I almost admired the level of petty that the former would have required, but such is life.
By the time our food arrived, my expectations were sky high, as the pretzel bread that we were served at the start was admittedly delicious. The pasta bolognese was no exception. Tossed with the nectar of the Gods, this bundle of carby goodness almost melts in your mouth, which is a thing that I was not aware that pasta could do. And it didn’t hurt that the live singers were performing their rendition of “The Best” by Tina Turner as I ate, lending the atmosphere a Schitt’s Creek-like bent.
The air had cooled to a pleasant degree, the food was delectable, the music serene, and the conversation divine.
It wasn’t until the subsequent chorus of claps that I was knocked from my trance.
There, on the walkway, was former President Donald Trump, followed closely by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo trailed him like a dutiful companion, as Trump made his rounds and exchanged pleasantries. He looked different to me in person. There was less of his signature amber glow and a more youthful exuberance to him — words I never imagined would exit my mouth. He traveled from eager admirer to eager admirer, eventually landing at the table adjacent to us. I held my breath, waiting to see if he would next visit ours, but he turned on his heel and retired to his residence, exiting to a cascade of cheers.
One cookie tray and one ice cream sundae platter later, we, too, were ready to depart, marking the end of an evening that I had been dreading for weeks but had somehow ended up enjoying.
Mar-a-Lago, to its credit, lives up to its billing. Its decor is opulent. Its guests well heeled and privately bred. Its food expertly crafted. There is a sense of privacy and exclusivity, effectuated in part by things like signage prohibiting one from taking pictures or using their cellular phones. (This rule, of course, is not rigid, as our waiter took our table’s picture at the conclusion of our meal.)
I even found myself surprised at times. Like when I visited the restroom and saw the COVID-inspired hand-washing instructions, which concluded with a message: “Remember, we are all in this together.”
I did not exactly expect to find a unifying sentiment in a Trump-designed washroom.
But I guess that is the nature of life.
Life is not black and white. It may occasionally defy expectations and throw you for a loss.
I had many preconceived notions about our night at Mar-a-Lago — some of them accurate, some not. I had made assumptions about the company we would keep that were not wholly correct. I had assumed that the environment would be hostile to COVID-conscious talk. I had assumed that Trump, were we to see him, would be more orange.
And while I am by no means suggesting that everyone go out and line Donald Trump’s coffers with a $200,000 membership, my visit did serve as a gentle reminder of the importance of remaining open-minded.
So thank you to my husband’s client for a lovely evening. I apologize if, at any point, my facial expressions betrayed me. I have never quite been known for my poker face.
I now return to my regularly scheduled programming, featuring significantly less gold leaf.
And I will go to sleep for the rest of the week clad in my Biden/Harris shirt in a desperate attempt to cleanse my aura.
Though I can’t promise that I won’t dream of pasta bolognese.