The Olive Garden reviewer


Marilyn Hagerty catapulted to Internet fame for her review of the Olive Garden, and my middle-of-nowhere, small-town heart loves it.

The story, that is, not the Olive Garden. The Olive Garden is sometimes hard to love … but Marilyn—she’s something special. If you haven’t followed her story, here’s the gist of it.

For several decades, Marilyn has reviewed restaurants in Grand Forks, ND, population 66,991. With only 100 or so active restaurants in the whole town, necessity has forced her to review places like Taco Bell and Dippin’ Dots. Desperate times, desperate measures.

When her review of the Olive Garden went viral, people didn’t know what to make of it. Was it irony? Was she totally honest? Was she crazy?

Now that the full story is out, it’s clear that the snarky, hard-working 85-year-old and her friendly reviews embody the absolute best of small-town life.

Some might call it niceness. Some might call it sincerity. We might even describe it as grace or honesty or perseverance or a warm acceptance of small-town reality. Because let’s face it: small towns don’t have the same night-life that big cities do.

If you live in a small town, you know this. Having grown up in a community of less than 5,000 people, it felt like we had survived a nuclear apocalypse and all we got in exchange was a Pizza Ranch with really bad hours. But we still went, because that’s what we had … and we had fun.

Marilyn doesn’t impersonate critics in New York or Paris or someplace else, and she doesn’t come across as cynical or jaded like the food critics in those cities. That’s how her homey review of the Olive Garden captured the attention of so many people: it made people realize you can still enjoy life without living in one of the world’s top cities or pretending that you’re in some posh glamor ad.

That realization makes Eastern great, too. We get the small-town sincerity of Cheney, but we also get the large-city culture of Spokane. You actually get to choose which world you call home. You can even choose both, if you want. Few schools that can say that.

Cheney is the best of small towns, of course. It has a major university and businesses that cater to students. It’s safe. There’s free transportation for students. It has a handful of unique restaurants coupled with all the dives and fast food joints that college students love. (Speaking from experience, Taco Bell at 2 a.m. sounds way better than it turns out to be.) It’s surrounded by adventure including hiking, cycling, skiing, swimming, rafting and rock climbing.

But it’s still a small town, and it feels that way when you step into a café or stop by the grocery store. It’s kind of nice, really.

If small town friendliness isn’t for you, you can choose Spokane and the half million people in the metro area. You can have your arena shows, dozens of coffee shops, nightlife and genuinely amazing restaurants. (The best Italian in Spokane is clearly Italia Trattoria, FYI.)

But that’s the essence of Eastern: having choices. City mouse, country mouse. Small town quiet, big city hustle. It’s entirely up to you, and we love that freedom.

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