Exit 310 Cracker Barrel – Part Two

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Part Two of Four

The three disparate individuals stood stumped and immobile.

Crusoe moved first.  He still wasn’t used to crowds, but he had learned to roll with the punches.  Seating himself nearest the wall, he started at the top of the menu and began to decipher its mystery.  Hamlet was used to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune; a table for one or for three – what did it matter?  With a bleak glance at the teeming humanity around him, he sat across from Crusoe, tore open a sugar packet and began tracing designs on the polyurethaned table top.

Hester had determined to continue her practice of not speaking to anyone, simply touching the scarlet letter on her gown bodice with one elegant finger when someone spoke to her.  It had worked well in Boston.  But the jostle and crush of people forced her to make a quick decision; acquiescing with a brief nod she seated herself fluidly next to Crusoe.  She would stick to her plan as best she could.  Story of her life.

Silence at the table.  Only Crusoe studied the menu, his craggy face craggier with perplexity.

“What would this ‘hashbrown casserole’ be?” he asked turning to Hester.

Always a beat off due to her years as a pariah, she stared for a moment at him, then shook her head, laying a finger on the letter on her breast.  But Crusoe had had almost three decades of his own isolation, so his conversational beat was off too.  He stared back at her face, then down at the letter, dimly remembering from his English childhood this punishment for adultery.

“But madam, surely that happened many years ago, owing to your advanced years,” he offered practically.

Outcast or not, a woman is a woman.  Hester’s fine nostrils flared and she almost opened up the well of words she had stored up for the magistrates, the village women, pitiful Arthur Dimmesdale, her partner in crime, and even for the God she no longer believed in.  But Hamlet intervened.

“It sounds French to me,” said the Prince of Denmark.

“Then we will steer clear of it,” said Crusoe decisively. “How about Maine Blueberry Pancakes?”

“Thank you, no,” said Hester, disdaining all of New England.

“Here is something called a cheese Danish?” suggested Crusoe to Hamlet.

“I don’t eat,” Hamlet replied.

Hester and Crusoe paused.  “What meanest thou?” Hester couldn’t help inquiring.

“I mean I don’t eat.  Nothing appeals.  Everything is so stale and flat,” he waved at the carnage on the plates around them.  “I drink.  Yes, I do that.  But I don’t see that on the menu.”

“Don’t see what on the menu, sweetie?” said a voice at their side.  Her nametag said, ‘MarthaAnn’ and she was game on point.  “What are we having today?”  She had 4 gold stars on her brown apron and didn’t use a pen or order pad.

“Am I to tell you what I would like from this list?” asked Crusoe formally.

“That’s how it works, hon,” she said, pleasant and needing to keep things moving.

“Good,” he responded with stately pleasure.  “I’ll have the Old Timer’s Breakfast.”

He turned with a smile to Hester and said, “Perhaps you’d like one of these too?  Are you not curious about ‘sawmill gravy’?”  He waved MarthaAnn silent as she was about the define it.  “No, no.  I just want to discover it in the moment.”

Hester ignored his suggestion and spoke briefly, “I would like one oatmeal muffin and a hard boiled egg please.”

MarthaAnn nodded the slow nod of one studying a puzzle, and turned to Hamlet.

“Do you not have any vodka?” he begged.

She laughed good-humoredly, “We’re dry.  Sorry.  But you’re skinny as a nursing cat.  I’ll bring you something good.”  And off she went scanning tables left and right for who needed what.

 ~

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Exit 310 Cracker Barrel – Part One

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Part One of Four  

Christmas Day and the gift shop was packed with stuffed people going and hungry people coming and lonely people mingling and people sick of their families escaping.  They all breathed the same scented air and edge-stepped around each other, sucked-in and taut, trying hard not to break anything.  Three frantic hostesses conferred and worked logistics, estimating x number of dining minutes per party, times 11 on the waiting list and more coming.

Trying to accommodate MarthaAnn’s regulars and the two-highchair-one-gimp-hip party of 8, head hostess Sarah looked with dismay at three separate parties of 1 on the list before her:  Hester, Hamlet, and Robinson Crusoe.  Singles were so hard to seat on days like today. MarthaAnn was trying to placate her regulars, the regulars were screaming about not getting MarthaAnn, and Irvin just informed Sarah that a charter bus of golden gals and guys headed to Nashville to the Rockette’s last show had even now opened its doors with a hydraulic hiss.

Sarah had to diminish the waiting list.  Now.  These were the moments she loved her job.  An alter ego took over and she became Queen Sarah, Solver of Problems. “Gimp Hip, party of 8, Gimp Hip, party of 8, your table is ready,” she sang in her head, while her mouth called for the Millers.  Glaring at the bus boy to step it up, she pointed the party to a large table to the immediate left, and receiving inspiration on the fly, called, “Hester, Hamlet, and Crusoe, parties of 1, your table is ready.”

Smiling, impervious as a nurse requiring a sample, she greeted the three somber separate people with a collective air and waved them after her, deciding that walking and explaining brooked no argument, “As you can see, we are unable to seat you separately, but I am certain you will find your dining experience satisfactory.  Ma’am, Gentlemen.”  She gestured to a table just inside the dining room, handed them the signature enormous menus, and whisked away eagerly to the next seating challenge.

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