Eating on the road is a gamble, especially for lunch on Sundays. You stagger in on legs stiff from driving, starving, desperately in need of a restroom and a large dose of caffeine. You’re not feeling very sociable. Suddenly you’re in the middle of a mob. All the locals just getting out of church, and the folks who don’t do church but like to go out for Sunday brunch are there in groups, waiting for tables. They’re loud, blocking the aisles and not in any hurry. You walk back out the door, try another restaurant, and it’s the same mess. You can’t even find a parking space. Where did all these people come from?
You don’t want fast food and you’re getting desperate. You really need to make it to your next destination on time. So you go into the restaurant at a hotel. They’ve got lots of empty tables, except in the banquet room, where 30 people are waiting for their food. What they don’t have is staff. The same woman is the hostess, cashier, bartender and waitress. The TV over the bar plays an infomercial about hair products while you wait for someone to notice you and bring a menu. The choices are pretty much eggs, hamburgers or a club sandwich. You take the club.
After a while, your waitress/cashier/hostess informs you that orders are being delayed because of the big group in the banquet room. “But I don’t have much time,” you inform her. She gives you more tea and calls you honey. She says she’ll put a rush on it. The guy and his wife at the next table, locals, say they’re in no hurry, it’s Sunday.
You’re looking at your watch and thinking if your food doesn’t come in five minutes, you’re going to McDonald’s. Then she passes by, saying it will be three minutes. Okay. Here it comes, sandwich wedges artfully arranged around a pile of French fries. It’s the driest, boringest club sandwich you ever tasted, but you eat it. Quickly because you said you were in a hurry. You eat the fries, fat, doughy with too much salt. You take little sips of tea because the glass is small, there isn’t enough, and the likelihood of getting more is slim. She brings the check, she brings you change. You’re standing up, sipping the last drop of tea, rushing out, your stomach feeling like you just ate concrete. You swear to bring a sack lunch and eat by the river next time.
This was Salem, Oregon, exit 256, but it could be Anywhere, USA. When you’re traveling, beware of restaurants at lunchtime on Sundays. Especially watch out for the Sunday brunch buffets. Maybe all you want is a burger or a bowl of soup, but suddenly you face a line of fancy foods for an exorbitant price and a line of people who are not in a hurry.
Sunday evening however, no problem. Everyone’s tucked back into their houses except this writer on the road. And surprise, the New Morning Bakery in Corvallis is open until 8 p.m.
I love those giant interstate truck stops with those big, cheap, buffets, places for drivers to shower and little stores with everything from motor oil to DVDs. Folks there get the concept of fueling the vehicle and the body and getting back on the road. But your average in-town restaurant on a Sunday? God have mercy.
I’d love to hear about your experiences eating on the road. Please share in the comments.