After my daughter’s out of town volleyball games, Janet and I look for out-of-the-way places to eat in rural East Texas. Sometimes though…
…sometimes, we should turn around. Like, what if the door doesn’t have a closing time? What kind of place closes just, whenever? It reminds me of the Hotel California — you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. Hint, hint, hint. There’s no closing time on the door. Yikes!
Inside we stood wondering what to do, but it was a country cafe so we seated ourselves. We saw another couple we know from volleyball who had the same bright idea. We spoke and discovered they had been there a while but hadn’t ordered yet. (There’s another clue.)
Third sign was when a rotund, very pale man with little round glasses wandered over and greeted us with a slow southern drawl, but in a high pitch, squeaky voice. It was a painful sound, like an invisible man was stretching his ear lobe across his face and nose to touch the other one. Somehow you got the feeling that if he sneezed, he’d explode with color like a gender reveal party. He explained they only had one waiter so it might be a while. I guess he was management. Don’t get your hands dirty with the minor stuff, you know?
The waiter came shuffling out like he was running a hundred yard dash in baby steps. He even had on black track pants with stripes down the legs, a black polo shirt and he spoke with a heavy Spaniard accent.
He delivered drinks to a nearby table, put the tray down, half ran, half shuffled behind the counter for sugar packets. He ran in baby steps back to the table to pass out drink orders to a table of eight. He didn’t get one, not one, right. Finally, a man seated at the table who was wearing pajama bottoms took charge and put the right drinks in front of the right people. (That sounds odd, but I promise it’s the truth!) He told the waiter they needed more sugar for the tea and the waiter said, “I so sorry. I go get more sugar”. He ran back to the counter and tossed the sugar packets on the table.
The waiter went to our friends next and while taking their orders, the big, pale man came back for our’s. He looked a tad frazzled, and it was kind of creepy that he could open his eyes almost as big as his little round glasses.
Right after we ordered, the waiter came to our table and asked, “What you like to order?” I told him the other man had just taken it. He looked bewildered, and glanced side to side wondering what man I was talking about. I pointed out the man and he said, “OK! We had waiter quit today, and only one cook in back now!” He turned and began his baby step run to the kitchen.
He reminded me of Manuel, the waiter on an old British sitcom, Fawlty Towers. He could’ve been his son! I told Janet and she began to laugh saying, “Yes, yes!”
Half a dozen tables away two middle-aged couples sat talking. One couple was married and the other apparently on a blind date set up by the married couple…
Let me stop and say again that we were in a very, very small community in the heart of Deep East Texas. There are some good folks around here. There really are! And honestly, I love, love, love seeing people, real people, who are not trying to be anyone but themselves, even if they could be regulars on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest! Heck, I could be the star!! It’s part of the beauty of humanity, even where all the kids carry pocket knives, men pack pistols, and the women keep cans of snuff in their purses for emergencies! The stereotype of this neck of the woods is a combination of Appalachian hillbillies, Cajun gator hunters and Deliverance! (My apologies to the hillbillies!) 😉
…So, back at the blind date table. The middle-aged single man wore a Hawaiian flower shirt and had a ponytail most Miss Americas would die for. He dominated the conversation about a woman he knew who had married four men. He said she eventually figured out her best husband was the first one, so she divorced #4 and remarried #1. Number one, however, died a few weeks later. (Again, I promise this is what he said!)
The married man thought the guy was hilarious and hung on every word. The single woman was wearing a camouflaged t-shirt (again, Scout’s Honor here), and neither of the ladies were impressed at all with him. In fact, they both sat facing away from him with their arms crossed. It didn’t matter one bit to the single guy. He droned on and on about a video gambling house, how jets use aluminum for the wings and the best way to cook okra.
When the waiter, Manuel’s son, brought out their plates, he brought them out one at a time. He’d plop down a plate and run back to the kitchen until all four had their food. They stopped him before he left, and he apologized profusely before running back to get their silverware.
Our order was going to be a while, so we looked at the decor. All things considered, it was a lot better than you’d expect. I got up and took some pictures while Janet just sat amused at the table. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, here’s several thousand words:
I was reading a sign and Manuel came running up to me and asked me where I would like to sit. He looked pretty confused when I pointed at Janet and told him we were already sitting there. Then his light bulb came on…no, that’s not accurate….then, his night light came on!
Manuel’s eyes lit up and he said, “Ooooohhh!! I knew I see you somewhere before!” (Again, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!)
When the big, pale, secret mass murderer with round glasses brought out our plates, he apologized that the baked potatoes were still baking. They must have microwaved them, because literally two minutes later he proudly brought them out. We smashed them on the table a bit to soften them up.
A woman wearing a sleeveless shirt, shorts and a pair of cowboy boots was busing a table after pajama man and his group left. She asked if the potatoes needed more baking. We assured her they were just fine. Truth be told, they were still pretty hard, but we didn’t want to be the last ones out of the joint!
We were cautiously eating and Janet closed her eyes and started shaking her head saying, “I could have gone my whole life and not seen that!”
I looked over my shoulder but didn’t see anything. She said the big, pale guy who brought out our food had pulled up his shirt and was rubbing and scratching his belly! He clearly violated Janet’s Constitutional Rights because that’s just cruel and unusual punishment!
It did remind me to pray though: “Thank you sweet Jesus that I didn’t see that!” Even the thought could give you a repeated nightmare where you walk in, see that guy laid out shirtless on your living room recliner watching TV while using his belly button as a cup holder for a coke! That thought puts a shiver up my spine!!
Eventually our friends were leaving and visited for a minute saying their food was so-so. We realized then they do the same thing after out-of-town games…they intentionally mission off the beaten path to seek out new life, new civilizations, to boldly go where only backwoods locals have gone before!
We wondered what the kitchen looked like, but dropped that conversation figuring what happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen.
Afterwards, neither of us felt very good. Maybe it was the food. Maybe it was exhaustion from watching Manuel run in baby steps, or the big, pale guy pulling up his shirt and rubbing his belly cellulose. Maybe it was imagining what went on in the kitchen. I don’t know.
But maybe, just maybe we don’t need to eat out off the beaten path any more!