Hard-boiled litigator went soft-boiled


This hard-boiled litigator went soft boiled, and I’m $40 poorer for it.

I recently visited Los Angeles for the first time since 1978. All I remember from that trip was a young tough, wearing a t-shirt that said “I like to ____” (use your imagination). He ordered me and my friend to stop walking behind him on the sidewalk. We obliged, and lived to see the La Brea Tar Pits the next day.

A lot has changed in 38 years. Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA to you puzzled Midwesterners) is a hotbed of toney restaurants, A-list celebrities, and tiny, fit people walking small dogs. To this cultural mecca came the annual conference of the National Employment Lawyers Association, with all my rabble-rousing plaintiff BFFs from around the U.S.

One of the annual traditions of the NELA conference is a 5K, loosely organized and even more loosely measured. This year’s installment, featuring about 20 one-block sprints followed by 30-60 seconds waiting at an intersection, probably measured about 4K. Still, we all felt a sense of accomplishment and finished with high fives and strong appetites.

I tried to make do with the conference continental breakfast, a bountiful selection of seasonal fruit and tiny muffins (with the emphasis on “free”). But when one of my racing colleagues said she was hungry for a hot breakfast, I offered to keep her company. I was in the mood for some scrambled eggs anyway, and went to the hotel restaurant with her in our sweaty running clothes.

I perused the menu. I figured DTLA hotel restaurants would be pricey, but this was in the nether regions, with eggs, toast and breakfast meat for $21.95. I shrugged and went for the buffet, a mere $2 more.

(A parenthetical note here to illustrate the difference between midwest and west coast pricing. When I called for a hotel room at the last minute, the clerk said “I have good news, Mr. Roumel! I have one room left at $435 per night. I responded that “In Michigan we don’t use the words ‘good news’ and ‘$435 a night’ in the same sentence.” She chuckled, and I rented an Airbnb a mile away.)

So here I was, eating my scrambled eggs from the buffet, and chatting with my colleague. As she was staying at the hotel, she charged it to her room and I offered to contribute my share in cash. “Change for two $20’s?” I asked. She did not have it, but promised to find me later. I gave her the $40, went back to my Airbnb to wash up, and returned to the conference.

I saw my colleague at lunchtime. She waved a cheery hello. I returned her wave, hoping to convey the expression that said “You owe me somewhere between $10 and $15.” She smiled and turned away.

I saw her again later, and got the same cashless wave. I wasn’t going to push it. I figured at some point she’d find the extra $20 in her wallet, ask herself “how did this get here?”, then look me up in the directory and mail me my change.

Still waiting. In the meantime, I think about those $40 eggs. I’d cross the street to eat them, because as you may know, “I like to eat eggs.”


Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel.