Recently I heard someone ask, "What's the fanciest thing you've ever done?" It's a fun question to answer, because first one has to define "fancy". It's not merely – or necessarily – expensive. But it is luxurious. Classy. A little snooty. And I don't come from fancy stock. Never been on a private jet or a yacht, or in an Italian sports car. Never had bottle service, eaten caviar, or stayed in a $400+ hotel room. (I did take a sip of Dom Perignon this year, but it was so rancid that I had to pour it down the sink.) So I had to rack my brain a bit for this list. This is what I came up with – and it should be noted that I stumbled into most of these scenarios through pure luck.
- The special guests dinner at the Norwegian International Film Festival. I was invited to NIFF in 2003 as I had run into a table of Norwegians at a video convention the year before, a couple of them ran this festival, and they bonded with me. (My father is from Norway.) So they flew me out and put me in a hotel, all expenses paid, just so I could show Foreign Correspondents and Claustrophobia on DVD (and give an impromptu talk on digital projection in US cinemas, which I knew nothing about). But the big deal was the special guests dinner. Around 15 of us were driven by private cars to a converted lighthouse, which was gorgeous, all white wood and candlelight. We were treated to a multi-course formal dinner with wine pairings. I sat next to Jason Biggs and across from Christina Ricci. Other than the fact that many of the guests were dressed like slobs (Hollywood!) and they all smoked like chimneys after dessert, it was extremely elegant.
- Dinner at the Peninsula Hong Kong. Back in 1998, a professor friend of mine flew me to Hong Kong, ostensibly to give lectures about film and new media to his students, but really to help them design a website. Anyway, said friend took me out to dinner at Felix, the top-floor restaurant at HK's famed Peninsula hotel. I don't recall the bill being overwhelmingly high – maybe $150 for two, no alcohol. (Probably about $250 in 2016.) But the view was worth a million bucks, and the men's room was especially over the top, with free-standing urinal "sculptures" lined up against the windows so you could look out at the city as you metaphorically pissed on it.
- Flying first class to Norway. You may have seen videos of wide-eyed proles' experiences in Emirates' outrageous first class section. I have not experienced anything close to this, but flying first class on any airline wins fancy points. I've done so thrice, each time bumped up from economy at the last minute: once, in the '90s, on the dearly departed Reno Air, simply because it was my birthday. (Ah, the good old days, when planes routinely flew half-full and had vacant seats in first.) It was just San Jose to LAX, so no biggie. Then around ten years ago, I got bumped up on an Alaska Airlines flight from LAX to Seattle on Thanksgiving because my flight was overbooked and I volunteered to take a later flight (just one hour later). First class – along with a $200 voucher – was my reward. But the topper was when I was 12 and flew on SAS from San Francisco to Oslo with my father and his wife. The main cabin was overbooked, but they had seats in first class, so hell yes! I even got to sit alone. Too bad first class wasn't as high-tech in 1982 as it is now, but it was still swanky.
- A private dinner in Mallorca. My wife and I have done very few fancy things together. Sure, we've traveled to glamorous cities, but always on a budget – and since she is vegan, we haven't been able to eat at the sort of restaurants that charge $400 a head. But in 2014 we went to exotic Mallorca and our friend there, who is also vegan, arranged a private dinner for three at a beautiful B&B in the hills. Gorgeous view and a home-cooked meal. I think it only set us back around $80 per person, but we felt like kings.
- A night at the opera. I guess it's assumed that foreigners have a better handle on elegance than Americans, which is why so many moments on this list took place overseas. (Another contender is when my wife and I had afternoon tea at Jacques Genin, the chic Parisian chocolatier, except our experience was tainted by a soul-suckingly long wait for a table.) This time I was visiting a friend in Munich in 2004. Because her friend worked at the Bavarian State Opera, she got us an amazing deal (€8?) on choice loge seats at Die Frau Ohne Schatten. It is, thus far, the only time I have been to a proper opera. I should go again.
- Room service at the Wynn. You can see how affordable my "fancy" experiences have been – the Wynn/Encore resort in Las Vegas is snazzy, but if you go during the middle of the week in the summer, like I did, you can snag a big room on the 60th floor for just $150 a night. Anyone can do it. Anyway, for my wife's birthday this year, we stayed at the Wynn and opted to celebrate with lunch in our room, as the sweeping view was more atmospheric than the noisy restaurants on the hotel's ground floor. It was the first time we ordered room service in our 13 years together.
- Visits to Hollywood's Magic Castle. This quintessentially Los Angeles experience is somewhat tricky (ha ha) to wangle, as one can only visit the Magic Castle if given a "guest card" by a member magician. Yet somehow just about every Angeleno makes it here at least once. I've been to the Castle about three times over the years. It counts as fancy because it's the only place in LA that enforces a strict dress code: jackets and ties for gentlemen, nice dresses or suits for ladies. And the Victorian building is magnificent. The attitude here is relaxed, and magicians have long walked the line between classy and cheesy, yet the experience remains a special one.
- The "Interactive Academy Awards". Clearly I'm running out of truly fancy examples. Anyway, the year was 1994, and a CD-i(!) project that I had designed called Titanic: An Interactive Exploration won an award at the first – and, I believe, only – Interactive Academy Awards, held at Universal Studios. The dress code called for "creative black tie", which I didn't understand, so my old boss guessed that it meant "wear a tuxedo with sneakers or something." Literal-minded idiot that I am, that's exactly what I did: I rented a tux and wore it with my old green Chucks. (The only other time I wore a tux was at my sister's wedding in Monterey, which was somewhat fancy.) Anyway, the ceremony, hosted by Leslie Nielsen, was lame, but we had a nice private dinner afterwards at the fancy-ish Off Vine in Hollywood, and before the show we got to ride Universal's now-defunct Back to the Future ride for free.
- A limo ride en route to Hawaii. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain must be some perfectly fancy memories. But try as I might – I scratched my head over this ninth entry for days, dear reader – I can't find them. So I'll cite the first time I ever rode in a limousine. My mother, stepfather, and I went to Hawaii in 1986, and I got to bring my friend Rob along, even though I was 16 and he was nearly 21. (He paid his own way and proved a suitable pal and chaperone.) The whole trip was a treat, but taking a limo to the San Francisco airport – a good hour-long ride – was certainly a highlight. I've only been in a limo on two other occasions: once for a bachelor party – fun, but not elegant; and once for a funeral – elegant, but not fun.