During Spring Break Road Trip '09, ... one of the many attractions we visited was an undisclosed location of Golden Corral, that oasis of buffet dining that beckons weary travelers and satisfies with a mighty punch. Few places can deliver such a variety of entrees (meatloaf and spaghetti ON THE SAME BAR), a buffet of carb-related side items (baked potato bar, fried okra AND macaroni and cheese), all punctuated with soft-serve ice cream and mini lemon pies. And when you're lucky? It's seafood night!
And seafood night means fried clam strips, fried cod, fried scallops, fried catfish, fried coconut shrimp and just about anything that you could pull out of a body of water, dip in flour and throw in grease. Similar buffets go the extra mile and throw in seafood salad, which has become our family's punchline for just about everything, after one family member ate three helpings of warm seafood salad in Bowling Green, Kentucky (but it was not at a Golden Corral) and barely made it out alive. "I don't know what made me sick. I think it could have been the seafood salad."
"You think? What about seafood salad served at room temperature appealed to you?" And on that particular night, some five years ago, we just left him in the prone position, groaning on the hotel floor, and we journeyed on to the heated pool. He eventually rebounded. We knew he would. He's a tough cookie.
Back to the story. This was the last night of our seven-day trip, so nothing but the best for our family. "Have at it, kids! Eat all you want! Just don't hurt yourselves." We waved farewell from the table and watched the troops descend upon three different serving areas. Would they make good choices? Would they get injured? Would we be proud of them at the end of the evening?
Our instructions had been, in the end, too little, too late. Within the hour, two were in the bathroom, one was crying at the table, the fourth was holding her head and slumped down in her chair. Was it the excitement of the evening? Decision overload? Overindulgence? Did they eat the seafood salad?
While the entire dining process should have begun and ended within a 60-minute window, an unexpected (not really; this always happens) chain of events delayed our departure. I sat at the table wearing my coat and holding my purse, waiting for everyone's return, as I watched a table of Red Hat Society ladies initiate a pledge. Or whatever it is they do to new members. Maybe Golden Corral is part of the ritual. I call "hazing." And that's wrong.
Two of my own returned from the bathroom, one looking slightly anemic, the other barely able to walk. "Can we just go? NOW? Can we just GO?"
"What in the world is wrong with you? You were fine just 15 minutes ago, pounding back those bottomless bowls of ice cream."
"I don't want to talk about it."
And then, the full report, uttered through labored breathing and the occasional abdominal hold. "There was a guy in the bathroom, and he came out of his stall, HOLDING HIS PLATE."
"Holding his plate? Like, with food on it?"
"No, he was holding it against his chest."
"That's not right. You can get all the plates you want. It's not like anyone is going to take it away from him. Maybe we should tell someone."
"Tell someone what? That a guy took an empty plate into the bathroom stall?"
"Absolutely. This is a restaurant, not an asylum."
I was outvoted. We didn't narc out the plate weirdo. We didn't blow any whistles. Those of us who knew when to say "when" walked in an upright position, waved at our waiter who had supplied us with about two dozen clean plates and headed to the car. The others? They eventually rebounded. They're tough cookies.