October 2004

Praise the Lord and pass the pancakes

By David Feela

Drive across America along the Interstate and you’ll get the impression that sleeping, eating, and getting gas are the activities we hold dear to our hearts. I’m not saying they’re not, but of these three the greatest seems to be eating.

I’d stayed the night in Ogalala, Neb., at a motel no driver could see, much less imagine, off the Interstate. It probably had been built in the 1920s, remuddled in the 1950s, and then pretty much left alone. No HBO, no ice machine, no continental breakfast, no security device for the door unless a doormat that wouldn’t stay flat helped deter intruders. My room had no fewer than three double beds. A young clerk bottle-feeding her infant checked me in. She gave me the single rate and expressed relief that I’d taken the last room, for then she could put power to the word “No” on the neon “Vacancy” sign above the door and rest assured that the motel was full.

In the morning I drove back toward the Interstate for breakfast. The Golden Trough sported a huge sign visible at least a half mile away. I pulled into the parking lot, locked up, and stood patiently beside the notice that announced, “Please Wait to be Seated.”

“Table for one?” the hostess inquired.

“Yes please, and non-smoking if that’s available.”

“Did you get a ticket?” she asked.

“No, I carefully observed the parking lot speed limit when I pulled in.”

Her body language smirked, Another guy that thinks he’s funny, but all she said was, “I mean, for the breakfast buffet. You’ll have to wait a minute.”

Three other breakfast parties had crowded in behind me and she glanced toward them with a rekindled graciousness.


The party directly behind me waved their papers in the air as if they were bidding on the prize sow at a livestock auction.

Before the words “If you’ll come this way” could be uttered, the entire clutch of eaters pushed past me, making a beeline toward the seating area.

I had unknowingly stepped into one of the many (but often not talked about) Buffet Triangles. Unlike its namesake, the Bermuda Triangle, people crossing into this vortex don’t disappear – they just get substantially larger. It’s the hundreds of pounds of meat, potatoes, eggs, and pastries that simply vanish. Just like that. Had I chosen to spend the night at a chain motel I’d possess my own ticket, a complimentary breakfast coupon packaged with each room’s rental. Instead, I ended up at the Goldilocks Inn, where I got three beds and none of them just right.

You see, last night I didn’t feel like patronizing corporate America, the old ball and chain, and this morning the breakfast buffet appeared too big for my appetite.

The hostess returned like a sheepdog, prepared to herd another ticketed clutch of grazers into the dining room. She glanced at me, remembering that I’d asked for something unusual. “Will you be having the buffet?” she asked.

“No, I think I’ll order off the menu. You do have a menu, don’t you?” She gave me one of those looks reserved for wolves, a sideways kind of facial snarl that amounted to a warning not to mess with her lambs. “I’ll have to clean a table. It will be a few minutes,” she asserted. Then she looked over my shoulder. “Tickets?” Another group of hungry motorists accelerated past me toward the dining area.

All three groups waiting behind me had been seated before I finally got ushered to my own table. I ordered a simple cheese omelet, and then sat back to observe the buffet crowd. There’s always a kind of excitement in the air when food is present, an aroma that triggers memories and abducts the rational mind. A buffet is designed to “peak” the appetite, which is why so many plates carried past my table were heaped like little mountains. The buffet seems to say, I dare you to eat more than you paid for. Now that Medicare has declared obesity a disease, we probably need to rethink the buffet. The Pillsbury Dough Boy has been America’s roll model long enough.

I mean, even bartenders can be held responsible for serving drinks to obviously intoxicated patrons. By my count over half the customers shuffling past me appeared corpulent, paunchy, potbellied, or just plain fat. There should have been a designated eater standing by in the lobby.

I’m lucky I wasn’t in a hurry, because during the long wait for my omelet, I almost caved in and ordered the buffet. I could have had it all, and the problem was that it would have been easy.

David Feela is a teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School.