Work In Progress

Dispatches from the Wasteland: The Turbulence of Tight Spaces

Another snippet from my work-in-progress novel, “Cruise Control”. All you really need to know: It’s the butt crack of dawn, and a massive caravan of my family members is headed to Galveston to embark on a cruise. We stupidly decide to pull off the highway and get something to eat at a fast-food restaurant in a tiny Texas town…

Once inside the fine-dining emporium, I found my clan all crammed together in front of the tiny ordering counter, gathered in a minimal space between the counter and the miniscule seating-area of the restaurant. There were only about four tables, none of them occupied, probably because an average-sized human being couldn’t fit into the diminutive seats. Who designed this layout? The Lollipop Guild?

I joined the rest of my family at the counter, huddled as they were like badly-dressed immigrants at Ellis Island. I was already over the situation, because I don’t like crowds, even if I know or am related to the people doing the crowding. Everyone else was studying the menu board, salivating and dreaming of useless grease coursing through their bodies. I was studying the fact that there were no employees standing on the other side of the counter.

Where were the people who worked at this place? Shouldn’t one of them be out here with us? That certainly seemed like a good idea to me. I briefly considered the possibility of a grisly store robbery having just taken place before we got here, leaving slumped bodies strewn across the kitchen and greatly impacting customer-service response times. Then I heard a burst of cackling laughter coming from said kitchen, a sound that normally doesn’t follow slaughter near the deep-fryer. Okay, then. The staff wasn’t dead, they just didn’t care.

There was a small bang, which could have been anything from someone being fed up with the malt machine to a bedpan being hurled at a cheating boyfriend, and then a woman came through the doorway into the counter area. She seemed thoroughly amazed to find so many people looking at her. I was thoroughly amazed that she could keep her eyelids open, considering the stunning amount of metallic-green eye-shadow she had heaped on those straining lids.

She just stared.

We stared back.

No one was immediately satisfied.

Then she finally sighed and pried open her just as heavily-coated lips. “Whaddya want?”

One of the clan stepped forward. (Okay, perhaps I should say “was squeezed closer to the counter by the remaining tribe”.) A very simple order was placed, one without embellishment or special instructions. Metallica did not respond in any way. Our clan member tried again, being very thorough, and practically acting out the butchering of a pig, the preparation of bacon, and the placing of the fatty strips on a biscuit.

Metallica flinched the tiniest little bit, a very dim light briefly sparking in one eye. She looked down at the cash register that apparently surprised her by being there, and she made a small sound of discovery and instant confusion. She then turned around and looked at the menu board over her head. Something she spied up there eventually triggered a synaptic firing in her brain, with a reanimated primal instinct reminding her that she should probably push one of the buttons located on the keyboard of the mystical register. After about three days, she finally found a button that appealed to her in some way, and she stabbed at it, frowned, and stabbed again. On our side, the customer-view display on the register responded with a one-word assessment of her efforts. ERROR.

I was two seconds away from being done with this whole mess.

Metallica valiantly tried again, with her methodology apparently being “hit every button until it does what you want it to do”. To be fair, Metallica did have a handicap, in the form of bejeweled fingernails that were the size of tongue depressors, so this took a while. Eventually, the register made a pleasing noise and the “ERROR” changed to “$2.19”. Metallica studied the results of her handiwork while the register did something important, seemed satisfied with the results of whatever this was, and then looked back at our family member, her facial expression indicating that she fully expected this order to be the largest ever placed in the history of the planet.

But no. “Um, that’s it, just the biscuit.”

Metallica was quite pleased with this development, happy that the unbearable horror of taking an order was over for at least a few minutes. Emboldened, she searched for and punched another button. Almost immediately, a cry of “Got it!” rang out from the kitchen area. For my family’s sake, I hoped the cook was talking about the biscuit order and not an STD.

Metallica announced the purchase total, and then seemed devastated when our family member handed over three bills. It became very clear that Metallica preferred the simple swiping of plastic cards over the handling of live cash, because the second option required her to count, and she already had far too much going on in her life to mess with that. But she sighed and took the money anyway, rooting around in the drawer for what she hoped was the proper amount of pennies and nickels.

Metallica shoved the distasteful coinage at her first customer, obviously put out with people who used actual money, then moved on. “Next?”

But before anyone else could bravely step forward, an odd beeping noise took place in the mysterious, staff-only hallway, some kind of alert signal. “Oh,” announced Metallica. “Someone’s at the drive-thru.” Then she turned and slowly sashayed out of sight, the weight of her multi-tasking in this establishment causing her feet to drag even more. I guess the stress of all this responsibility prevented her from being a considerate human being and cordially saying to us “I’ll be right back!” or “Feel free to suck on some ketchup packets” or “Please take a seat in the furniture behind you that we stole from Barbie’s Malibu camper.”

The buzzer on my tolerance alarm clock went off, and I was finished. I calmly turned to partner Terry, explained that I had to get out of here before lives were destroyed, gave him my rudimentary order (one sausage biscuit, that’s it, nothing else or Metallica’s head would explode, drenching us all in radioactive glitter), wished him luck, then turned and fled. I did not look back.


Originally published as part of a series in “The Sound and the Fury” on 11/08/11. Considerably changed and will continue to change, being a WIP and all. Completely useless trivia: This took place at a Jack-in-the-Box restaurant, name of town withheld to protect the identity of She Who Glitters. For those of you unfamiliar with this American chain, wherein all things cholesterol are raised to the sun in worship, it’s probably best that you remain in the dark…

And yep, that’s me reflected in the image of the green tiles. (Taken in a Malaga hotel room on our recent trip to Spain.) It’s not the greatest photo, but it’s my tribute to the working title of this chapter, “The Mask of the Green Death”…


19 replies »

      • I would absolutely love to. You really do write very well and have such a light touch with prose it is positively delightful to read. I always get annoyed when people say my work is ‘effortless’ as I know the work that goes into it, so when I say your writing feels ‘effortless’ please do not take offence – it’s a compliment!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Once upon a time, I lived in Phoenix. For about the first five months, I thought that Jack-in-the-Box was a kids’ restaurant and that the Circle K was the “Okay”. I didn’t go into either because, well, there were no small children in my life and secondly, why would I go to a place that was only okay? 😉 The joys of foreign living, even if we do speak the same language. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Full confession: I have a very unhealthy obsession with Jack-in-the-Box. The food is wretchedly bad for you (500 fat grams in a single tater tot, or some such) which means everything is grease-drippingly delicious. As for Circle K, I thought those things were all long gone, but apparently they now making a comeback as they are popping up around Dallas once more. I’m not sure why, as they were never my favorite store. Probably because they didn’t sell hamburgers… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Um. So was the biscuit made of anything remotely biscuit LIKE? Notice I’m not asking about the sausage because it’s already been a very long day, it’s hot and the description of mystery meat just might end with my head exploding. No glitter. (Astonishingly good old chap. As usual.). One question: How did you get your entire clan to actually decide on a destination to eat? I’m going to be ‘bonding’ koff koff ** crabbily associating with** koff koff koff my own in the near future and one thing that makes me crabby is that NONE of the seventeen of them can agree on when or where to eat, until the moon is down and it’s 3 a.m. and they suddenly realize everything is most likely closed. I’m determined to be happy happy joy joy about this reunion, but am also going to tend to my own dining arrangements. Let the rest fight over whether pizza is ‘so gross’ and chicken is ‘not really you KNOW what they do to those birds??” and drive throughs are low-class, but a sit down affair is too much work….Man. I’m working overtime to talk myself OUT of doing this… GREAT POST if that didnt’ come across before I text womited all over your comment section..

    Liked by 2 people

    • You bring up a very good point, with the general decree that large groups of family members simply cannot come to a mutual decision about food-partaking without several hours of emotional distress. (There is an entire series about this mind-numbing situation buried somewhere in the archives, entitled “I Really Don’t Think This Is What Genghis Khan Had in Mind”.) As for how we managed to wrangle the masses in this snippet, suffice it to say that we had been up since 3am and everyone was out of their minds with starvation, making them weak and compliant…

      Liked by 1 person

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