Bachelor Lunch V - Late Lunch
Late Lunch (Part Five)
I’m traveling on business to the Finger Lakes region of New York.
The trip requires spending the weekend at a factory, making
observations and writing reports. My hotel is a few miles away, on the
other side of a small town.
The Finger Lakes district is pleasant enough- particularly on this,
the weekend of the town’s annual Strawberry Festival. In celebration,
the locals barricade the state highways and set up impromptu
toll-booths, shaking down travelers for their pocket change. I’m
accustomed to seeing firemen do this for one worthy cause or another.
But these townsfolk see no need to justify their racket. They just
want your money “Tossed in the Bucket” in exchange for passage.
No explanations offered, no excuses entertained. Welcome to the Our Town, city man.
I save thirty-seven cents by taking an eleven mile detour from the
hotel to the factory. Gasoline is, after all, on the company tab. But
extortion payments come out of my pocket, totally un-reimbursable under
state and federal law.
The factory conforms to the universal industrial convention of
calling the mid-shift meal-break “Lunch” regardless of the hour. So
for my 8pm “Lunch,” I seek the comfort of a national fast food chain.
I get on the main freeway and head West, under the theory – so obvious
in Southern California – that within two or three exits I’ll find a
cluster of gas stations, fast-food restaurants, and convenience
stores. I even entertain hopes of a donut shop.
Westward, into the night. Miles roll by. The exits are total
wasteland, or have a single, scary-looking place with a
crudely-fashioned sign reading “Roadhouse.” One thing becomes clear:
There will be no donuts for me tonight.
After more than an hour, I reach the city of Elmira. Driving
through the residential outskirts, I find that the rental car has no
compass. It’s a moonless night, and if I take too many turns, I’ll
exceed my brain’s capacity to guide me back to the highway. As hope is
fading, I come upon a supermarket.
And this is the odd part: Having sought fast-food for the last
ninety minutes, I now can’t decide what to eat. I push the cart
listlessly down the aisles, dispirited. I eventually settle on a can
of house-brand diet soda and a bag of fried pork rinds. Unlike my
younger days, there is no joy for me within this bag of pork rinds. I
know I’m acting out of irrational nostalgia for my happier,
zero-carbohydrate-diet days, but I buy them anyway. And choke them
down, one at a time, as I make the long drive back.
It’s midnight as I approach my hotel. The strawberry-tollbooths
aren’t manned at this hour, so I drive straight through. Because I’ve
taken the direct route, I’m now in a position to see, one block on the
other side of the hotel, a cluster of fast-food places. Located, no
doubt, in the exact spot that market research indicated people could
use a quick meal.