If you dine out regularly in large metropolitan areas, odds are excellent you will eventually encounter a famous person sitting nearby. My recent celebrity sightings include Chris Noth from "The Good Wife" and "Sex and the City" in a Manhattan tavern, Jay Leno in a Las Vegas California Pizza Kitchen and British funnyman John Cleese in a Chicago Pan-Asian establishment.
Embarrassing as it is, I often find myself staring at the celeb, wishing I could pull up a chair and join both the meal and the conversation. And because celebrities are usually quite wealthy, I'm confident I won't have to extend my arm when the check arrives.
Unless of course that celebrity is running for the nation's highest office. With the election season in high gear, be prepared to get stuck with a bill that includes one, and possibly two commas, if your meal companion is named "Romney" or "Obama." Worse, you may still walk away hungry.
Case in point? Mitt Romney supporters recently paid $2,500 each to nosh on teensy hamburgers, aka "sliders," at a Chicago fundraiser.
Sliders? Seriously? I have consumed about 500 sliders in my life, most between 3 and 4 a.m., courtesy of the White Castle hamburger chain. Are they delicious? Absolutely. Nutritious? Highly doubtful. Filling? I would need to eat 20. And if I did, I would pay $13.60, as the price of a slider at my neighborhood White Castle is 68 cents. Cheese is an extra 16 cents. Note to Romney: Should you win, please don't raise the price of sliders to $2,500 even though some are willing to pay it. Most Americans are still trying to stomach $4 gas.
President Obama knows a thing or two about raising bucks through burgers. If he's not collecting $40,000 a plate from Hollywood's elite for a dinner at George Clooney's house, he's willing to dine with ordinary citizens if that's what it takes to pad his campaign coffers.
For the past several months, my web browser has been tempting me to click on a "Dinner With Barack" ad. Finally, curiosity got the best of me and, upon clicking, my PC magically transported me to the Obama campaign website. Yes, it was true. I could actually have dinner with the president if my entry was deemed worthy by the president's reelection team. I could even invite "a guest of my choice." There would also be "four other grassroots supporters" in attendance, according to the site. In other words, no Republicans or fans of Fox News.
The ad featured a photo of the president, shirtsleeves rolled up and tie loosened, sitting at a table with Judy and Mitch Glassman, a Cambridge, Mass., couple who were among the winners of the previous contest, held in March. Either the waitress hadn't arrived with menus or nobody was hungry because there was nary a morsel of food on the table. Not even a slider. Instead all three were having water. The Glassmans also had small glasses of what could have been soda or a nice Chianti.
The president's next dinner contest ends June 30, so time is critical. Those wishing to include a contribution with their entry can choose from amounts ranging from $5 to $500. They can also put an amount of their choice in a very large, prominently displayed box marked "other." Yet the website clearly states that donating to the Obama campaign will not improve your chances of winning. Riiiighhht! And throwing bloody fish guts into the ocean won't necessarily improve your chances of catching a shark.
The mother of all meal invitations -- and meal checks -- occurred recently when an unknown individual ponied up $3 million to join billionaire investor Warren Buffett for lunch at a Manhattan steakhouse. The price was actually $3.46 million; I assume the $46,000 is the waitress' tip.
Buffett has been doing this for 13 years, with all the proceeds going to the Glide Foundation, a San Francisco-based charity he supports. The winning bidder gets to invite up to seven friends, but I doubt they will get a word in edgewise. If I had just shelled out $3 million for a meal, I'd take control of the conversation before the breadbasket arrived. First question? "Mr. Buffett, I'm a little short on cash right now. Do you know of any investments with a return of 300,000 percent?"
So why do people pay exorbitant amounts to dine with the rich and famous? Money manager Ted Weschler might know. He was Buffett's winning lunch bidder in 2010 AND 2011, paying a combined $5.3 million for two meals. Weschsler now works for Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett's company.
So if you see somebody hovering near the sliders at another Romney fundraiser, take a good look. It might be his running mate.
(Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author of "Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad," available at http://amzn.to/schwem.)Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun