Sunday, February 26, 2012

Back Story: High Noon at the Golden Corral

The first time in this restaurant is a bit overwhelming. The stockyard theme, albeit unintentional, is ubiquitous. We walk through the the front door and are confronted with a maze of guide rails designed to contain the herds of humanity that line up in the lobby to graze in this place. It's the Golden Corral in Beavercreek. We are here because Amy has heard that there is a Chinese woman from Malaysia who works here and wants to meet her. We timed our visit so we would be hungry.

We pay as we enter the buffet - not cheap, $27.50 for the two of us, including a Diet Pepsi and a lemonade. We ask the girl at the register where the woman is working and find her. She is lovely and friendly. She is glad to see us. She shows us to a table.

"I knew from the moment I saw your face that you must be looking for me," she tells Amy. They jabber on in Chinese, both of them smiling all-the-while.

She has worked here for nine years, she tells us. She is happy with her job, as she is able to take three months at-a-time off to travel to Malaysia. When she returns, she still has a job. She likes her regular customers and is clearly proud of this place. She tells us where to find the best stuff - the seafood is over there, cooked to order - the steak is over there, just tell them how you want it - over there are the fried clams and calamari...

I have heard enough. I am off to the fried food. The buffet is crowded. I have to elbow my way in. I load up a plate with onion rings, fried clam strips and calamari. Back at the table, Amy comments on the pile of greasy stuff on my plate and starts moving pieces of it to her own, so I won't eat too much of it.

I go back for steak and chicken. They each look good, but taste remarkably the same. Everything is too salty. The steak is about one-third fat. I look around the room. The mostly redneck clientele is wolfing the stuff down, oblivious to the artery-clogging, trans-fatty nature of the the fare.

I am seated facing a window, looking out on the parking lot. A hunky, tricked-out, Chevy Silverado pulls into a handicapped spot right in front of the window. The driver pays no attention to the lines, parking at an awkward angle. He makes no attempt to correct it. An elderly woman climbs down from the passenger seat, stepping gingerly on the black rubber treads on the chrome exhaust pipes that run the length of the truck. I can't see the driver until he hobbles by the window. He is a skinny little cowpuncher in his nineties. They come inside. A few minutes later, a young dude comes along and eyeballs the pickup like it's been the ride of his dreams for his entire life.

I head for the dessert bar and return with blueberry pie and apple cobbler. I survey the room one last time before we leave. The diners, if I can use that word, are mostly overweight and unkempt. I catch my reflection in the window glass. I haven't shaved in five days and haven't had a haircut in months, maybe a year. I wonder what has happened to me. I look like I fit right in. What is this place, a chuck house for the intelligentsia..?


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