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Marilyn Hagerty: Messages are good, bad and ugly when you go viral

Marilyn Hagerty

GRAND FORKS - "You are a dolt and the main reason why North Dakota is viewed as being a backwoods dump. The Olive Garden is the McDonald's of dining ... A touch of Europe? Ha! Why don't you take a vacation and visit New York or San Francisco and see what real people eat?"

That was one of the emails I received when I started going viral a couple weeks ago. My chin trembled, but I didn't cry.

I didn't cry because for every nasty message I received, there were 40 or 50 friendly notes.

Here's how the friendly emails were running:

• "Greetings from Boston! I just wanted to drop you a note to say I wish more food critics had your sensibility. Most critics in this town would rather tear apart a dish or take down a chef than offer a simple and honest report. I'd have lunch with you at the Olive Garden any day of the week." -- Mark Sickler

• "I was so pleased to read about the Olive Garden review that went viral. My family came to Grand Forks Air Force Base for duty in 1973, and back again in 1982. When we first arrived we knew no one. But we read the Herald daily, and it was your writings about people and places that made us feel welcome." -- Dearel Friend, Captain, USAF Retired.

• "Just a note -- from Katonah, N.Y. -- to say I enjoy your work and gentle perspective on life's regular activities. I so appreciate your simple observations, rather than usual reviews fraught with the "importance" of most reviewer opinions." -- Susan Scofield

About the time I would get all pumped up with friendly messages, I would take more shots. Here are a few:

• "I am a Grand Forks Herald reader wondering if you could tell me more details about the breadsticks at the new Olive Garden. I am anxious to try them."

• "How do you critique food without talking about the food itself? In your review of the Olive Garden all you did was refer to the portion size and the price. "Warm and comforting" is hardly a food critique..."

• "Your self-righteous attitude that is common with senior citizens is repulsive and while I am sure you are enjoying your new found notoriety it's time to retire and leave the critiquing to someone with more advanced culinary senses." -- Alicia in Minneapolis.

That one really stung. So, I made a sweet response thanking Alicia for her interest. I'm all right with that. The past couple of weeks have been the wildest, most wonderful I have ever known.

I do not despair. I take heart from the messages that were flowing in and not leaving me time to check Facebook and Twitter.

People like Pamela Fuller help me hold my head up high. She messaged she had just read a Los Angeles Times article about the responses to my Olive Garden review. She said, "The idiocy of the Internet population is astounding to me. I used to work for a small newspaper and unless those naysayers have, they can't possibly understand. I wish you continued good health and good fortune and hope your readers appreciate what you do for you community!"

Other friendly notes from afar:

• "I am genuinely a fan of your warm and unpretentious writing style. It is not often that I am moved to send an email, but here I am. As others have said, your review of Olive Garden made me want to head to Grand Forks and grab a seat. I am glad that through social media I am able to experience your columns."

• "What a great review of Olive Garden! The rest of those people who take sport in making fun of your review are like Anton Ego, the cartoon food critic from 'Ratatouille.' They are practicing the fine art of food snobbery. Please continue with honest reviews."

• "Speaking as an editor, I have to tell you that your Olive Garden review was just about as fine a piece of journalism as I can imagine: informative, succinct and enjoyable to read."