I'm relatively new to the Bravo Universe. I just started watching Vanderpump Rules at the beginning of this year and am only on the fifth of seven seasons of the hit property, which follows the lives of servers, hostesses, and bartenders at an empire of restaurants owned by a Real Housewives Star named Lisa Vanderpump. I've grown to love the show, which my friend convinced me to watch by describing it as a "relatable" reality program, by which he meant rather than documenting the lives of unfathomably wealthy influencers who typically populate such entertainment, it follows a bunch of relatively poor drunks. It's an apt description—like my friend, I'm much more able to grasp the interiority of people who regularly fuck up their lives by drinking and making bad decisions than I am any of the perfectly curated Kardashians.
But for all my newly found fanfare, I learned very quickly on Wednesday morning that there are people who are much, much more into Bravo than I am. Take for instance the three women I met that day who had got in line in front of a midtown Barnes & Noble at 7 AM in anticipation of meeting one of Pump's stars, Stassi Shroeder, as she signed copies of her new book, Next Level Basic. The meet-and-greet didn't start until 1, but this group of friends had taken off of work in order to meet a woman I recognized as the villain of the show, but who I was assured became a hero in episodes I hadn't gotten to yet. "She's the most real character on reality TV," a 25-year-old named Monica assured me. "And no matter what anyone else says, that's the only thing that matters."
Getting to the spot at a much more modest but still quite early 10:30 AM, I assumed I'd have time to finish the book, which I'd started the night before. Basically, it's a treatise on why it's cool to be basic, by which Schroeder means a pumpkin-spice-latte sipping, Game of Thrones obsessive. It's a highly repetitive, standard self-help book, and I didn't end up having the fortitude to power through the rest as I waited in blustery 50-degree weather. That's how I ended up chatting with Amanda, who was there alongside me at the back of the line with a guy named Joe. I was able to make, uh, basic conversation with Amanda when it turned out we went to the same college, but I struggled to keep up as she reeled off facts about the Bravoverse. She quickly realized I was uniformed and began playing Friends trivia on her phone.
After that apparently grew dull, she started a conversation with an actress/bartender named Ali, who was also fluent in Real Housewives. I awkwardly stood by as they spoke in another language—rattling off disses and references that I could only smile at and wish I understood the meaning of. A professor once lectured to me that dogs were inherently tragic, because they tilt their heads when people speak, gesturing at a desperate desire for understanding, as opposed to cats, which just stare straight ahead blissfully oblivious. Anyway, I felt like a dog in those ensuing moments.
It was then that I became determined to know as much as the approximately 270 people who were waiting, all of whom began growing restless at about 12:30. At that point, Amanda asked if anyone wanted to get a margarita, but Ali claimed she had too much to do, even though it was a Wednesday at noon and she had just spent multiple hours waiting outside of a chain bookstore near Times Square to meet a D-list celebrity. I felt obligated to take up the mantle after this dubious excuse not to day-drink, so she and I went to a nearby Tommy Bahama's, which apparently has a restaurant inside.
Amanda and I ordered drinks and sat down, struggling to come up with things to talk about. We went to the same school, sure, but she was in a sorority, and I was a punk, which is to say that our well of references about Gainesville, Florida, ran dry pretty quickly. But a few minutes into our stilted Q+A, I learned that Amanda was a server at a restaurant in Philadelphia, and that she had just hired a career coach to figure out her next move. When I asked what she might want to do and if it involved her history major, the answer was unequivocal: "I want to work for Bravo," she said. It was unclear to her what that would entail, but she just "wanted to meet everyone," regardless of the job description.
As I secretly hoped she would relay this to her coach, the line outside began to move at a breakneck pace. Although I was panicking, Amanda kept her cool. This, I realized, was more of a Bravo-knowledge power move than any of the endless reeling-off of facts I'd seen her pull off throughout the course of the past few hours. Missing an important opportunity because we'd stopped off to booze would be pure Pump, and anyone with a deep knowledge of the show could reasonably have become convinced that such decisions are consequence-free more often than not.
To her credit, we were able to re-enter the line easily. What's more, the conversation finally flowed after that one chugged cocktail. Joe, who was Amanda's companion, went to the bar as he had no interest in meeting Stassi, and I soon learned that I was being presumptuous by assuming he was her boyfriend. According to Amanda, he was a former co-worker who she thought had a crush on her. I leaned into the gossip, telling her that this was probably accurate considering that he'd traveled with her early in the morning from out of state to go to an event he couldn't care less about.
I also learned to fully embrace my Bravo fandom—talking shit about the various characters's apartments and dating lives, I truly enjoyed myself. This is probably an unoriginal insight, but I came to recognize that these programs are basically soap operas for millennials. I also became informed for the first time that Schroeder was not going to be giving a talk or doing anything other than signing copies of the book. I'd harbored plans of bantering with her, but this was seemingly not disappointing to anyone else. After all, "What would she even be able to talk about?" as Amanda put it. Good point, though she'd just written a whole book, which would suggest at least to me that she'd be able to manage a few minutes of sustained monologue.
When we finally moved inside, we waited out our last moments in line next to the Science Fiction/Fantasy section. This seemed apt considering how much people were freaking out about meeting this reportedly larger-than-life character in the flesh. After they'd both remarked that I didn't look nervous, Amanda and Ali started compulsively applying make-up. The former fully broke out in hives. Their shared assessment was partially true: I didn't feel nervous at all initially, though the the excitement ended up being contagious, and my hands began to swell.
"You'd think we were meeting, like, Julia Roberts," Amanda said.
"Yeah, we're literally just meeting a waitress," Ali replied, while staring into her compact.
Though the flier we were given with purchase of the book explicitly stated that no posed pictures were allowed, I could see as I approached Schroeder that people were able to squeak in a moment of interaction before she signed copies of the book. If I had learned anything about my day being basic with a bunch of Bravo super-fans, it was that I didn't possess the requisite amount of arcane knowledge to get anything good out of the star about her show. I instead opted to ask about the best bar in her hometown of New Orleans, because it just so happens to be my favorite place in the world, and if I know anything about the people on Pump, it's that they love to drink.
"I feel like you're putting me on the spot," Schroeder said. "The one with the hurricanes."
There was an awkward pause. The woman who broke out in hives and didn't manage to get out a word looked on with an air of desperation. At that point, I wanted to get a response, if only for her.
"Pat O'Briens," she said. "That's the one."
It was the most basic, perfect answer I could have possibly imagined.
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