Thursday, July 7, 2011

Charleston, Chewed - Part 11

Click Here to read this story from the beginning…

Sadly, it turned out our hotel only provided room service to guests when they were actually in the hotel. I found this rather rude, the result of some management person making a very thoughtless decision, but I chose not to dwell. Besides, I needed some form of motivation to actually walk back to the other end of the pier, and the fact that we might never get fed again unless we hoofed it seemed suitable inspiration.

It took a bit to get everyone in agreement that it was time to reenter the serving range of the hotel. Tiffany was the most difficult to convince. “But the ocean is speaking to me!” Of course it is. Everything speaks to you. In some states, this is grounds for involuntary committal to places where everybody wears white, and drooling is a form of communication. And they don’t let you have your own tube of lip gloss.

Tiffany immediately forgot her deep relationship with the sea and ran to the front of the pack traipsing back across the boards. Two days and a short break at the halfway point later, we reached the other end of the pier and clattered back onto the deck of the hotel. More drinking, more eating, eventual bed. There may have been a contest involving the tossing of olives, but this is hazy and undocumented.

Next morning, we arose and rushed forth to greet the day. Okay, maybe we didn’t rush. But we did eventually say hello, and before too long we were all in the car and headed to our first official destination of the day, Fort Sumter. We were on something of a tight schedule at that point, since the tour of the fort took a certain amount of time, and we had to be at The Citadel later in the day for pre-graduation ceremonies. Therefore, we decided to keep breakfast simple and eat at some restaurant on the way to the fort.

This proved to be more of a challenge than one would anticipate. Firstly, we had never had the pleasure of traveling the particular path one must take when headed toward this particular landmark fort. We had no idea “what was along the way”. Consequently, there was a considerable amount of rubber-necking taking place in our vehicle.

Secondly, as mentioned in previous installments detailing our Charleston sojourn, folks around here are not particularly fond of large signs outside retail establishments. Things are supposed to be pretty and neat and tucked away, resulting in discreetly modest little plaques whispering that you were very near a bookstore or a sushi bar. The trouble, of course, is that you can’t see the damn signs until you’ve whizzed past the entrance to the appropriate parking lot.

So there we were, squinting to read the miniscule signage in a very limited amount of whiz-by time, thus resulting in multiple false-alarm cries of discovery. “Wait! I think I see a House of Waffles over there! Oh, my bad. It’s House of Weaves. Carry on.” Thusly, Terry kept having to hit the brakes and prepare for a dramatic automotive maneuver, only to be stymied by identify failure and disappointment. Not only were we starving to death, we were now developing low-grade whiplash as well as a reputation for apparent drunken driving.

Finally, as we erratically traversed a charming curve in the road (actually, all of the curves in this part of town were charming, but this one was especially pleasing and tree-lined), we spied what possibly could be a diner. Cries of absolute joy filled the air when we located the tiny sign, bearing some mess about breakfast being served all day.

We were in the parking lot and out of the car within two seconds. There was a brief moment when Tiffany was almost inadvertently locked in the trunk due to a misunderstanding over valuable-storage protocol, but we worked it out and Tiffany remained free and non-mussed.

We trotted into the building. People were at tables snarfing up eggs and such, a glorious, almost religious sight that had us glancing into the kitchen to see if Mother Teresa was working the grill. The efficient waitress herded us to a booth, slapped menus on the table, took drink orders, then raced off to one of those places where serving people go when their assistance is not immediately required.

The menu was massive. These people obviously took the morning meal very seriously. Intricate and varied combinations of all things breakfast filled the multiple pages. Despite my weakened, malnourished state, barely able to hold up the menu, I perused every selection to rule out the horrifying possibility that I might miss the exact combination that would transport me to grease-based heaven.

Our waitress returned. I don’t recall her name, so we’ll call her Sorbonne. “Whatcha all want?” Said in a nice, neighborly way, not in a defiant, crack-head manner. It’s all in the Southern inflection.

Round-table we went, with each of us carefully identifying exactly what was required for our complete satisfaction. Sorbonne scribbled away, nodding gently, then turned away to submit her paperwork.

It was at this point that someone in our little group chose to speak up, adding a further, quite declarative directive. “And we’re in a HURRY!”

Oh, God. The lovely people who work in the food service industry do NOT care for pushy customers. (Here to tell ya.) Especially when said food service person has performed just fine so far and done nothing to indicate potential tardiness and dismay.

Sorbonne paused, and then she and her creatively-piled hair turned back to us. Her eyes asked “did you think I was going to take a nap before I turned your order in?”. But her mouth said “I’m sure it will be right out.” Then she continued on her flight path into the kitchen. I may have been mistaken, but I believe I heard the faint sounds of a shotgun being loaded.

Great. It was possible that we would never see our food. I began taking tiny sips of my coffee, on the off chance that it turned out to be the last bit of nourishment for several hours. I contemplated taking all the sugar packets and little jelly tubs as well.

Two minutes later, Sorbonne arrived with an enormous tray, heaped with thousands of plates because we’re all pigs and we order too much. She deftly arranged the offerings in front of the appropriate consumer without any hesitation or clarification, then smiled politely. “Anything else y’all need?”

Looking at the overstuffed table, I doubted there could be anything left in the kitchen. “This looks great. I think we’re good.”

Sorbonne beamed and then bolted.

Now, everything really was quite extraordinary, in that Charleston way with food. I don’t know where these folks learned what, but they cook with a conviction that most of us can only vaguely imagine. I truly didn’t care who could hear my smacking and belching, I was in a different place. But there was one item that really stood out.

Terry was the first to taste the delicate roundness, his facial expression changing to one of post-coital bliss and wonder. “Oh my GOD! You have got to try the biscuits!”

But I was in the middle of ravaging my omelet, and I didn’t really care to stop right at that moment. “Sure, just after I finish-”


Okay, then. I whacked off a piece and popped it in my mouth. Almost instantly, doughy deliciousness melted across my tongue, engaging taste buds that I didn’t even know I had. How could something be so soft and so good? How? I wiped away a tear as I took another bite.

Tiffany made a noise that I didn’t realize humans could make, and I glanced over at her just as she dove face-first into her plate, entire biscuits disappearing in the blink of an eye. She paused for air very briefly, wiping butter off her lips. “Jesus has risen!” Then she grabbed another biscuit.

I turned my head the other way, studying the kitchen. Who was back there that could make such things? Was it really possible that just an average citizen of Charleston was responsible, creating such glorious starchy gifts by day and then simply going home to a banal life of church-going or alcoholism or whatever they did when not on the clock? A home where indifferent relatives did not praise and worship them, consecrating statuary in their name?

Or was it really Mother Teresa after all? Tenderly using her sanctified biscuit-cutter to express love and devotion for hungry mankind, an angel lowered from the clouds, bearing flour and baking soda.

I hopped up from the booth and headed toward the kitchen. Whoever it was that made these things, I was determined that they were going to legally adopt me. Right now, so I could eat biscuits like this every day for the rest of my life.

There was a blur to my right. It took a second for me to put a name to the streak of color. It was Tiffany, trying to get to the kitchen first! Aw, hell no. I broke into a run…

Click Here to Read the Next Entry in This Series…

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