It is Sunday, and we’re in Frederick, Md. At the moment I’m in the lobby of a hotel that claims its rooms are actually suites — suites with their own uncomfortable sofa, narrow desk and miniature microwave. This chain also boasts a “full complimentary breakfast” and right at the moment I’m waiting for that little perk to start.
At 6:30, the coffee canisters are working, but the middle-aged attendant — the sole employee — says there will be a slight delay in the scrambled egg, hash brown, sausage patty part of their complimentary program, and we might, she says, want to watch the video monitor where a local minister is in the midst of his homily.
For several days Susan and I have been residing in of our loft in North Adams, Mass. Frederick, Md., is about half-way home. When we left this morning there was snow in the mountains — the Berkshires — and the first part of our trip was a slow, winding, descent that reminded one of Norway although — come to think of it — I’ve never seen Norway.
Then we drove down the Taconic Parkway, crossed the Hudson at Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and when we moved into Western Pennsylvania, we found ourselves sucked-onto Interstate 84.
The Interstate System — put in place by Dwight Eisenhower as a homage to Hitler’s Autobahn — is built for speed, directness and cruise control. In the process the Interstate removes all interest in the landscape and erases all sense of adventure.
If you get hungry, you are reduced to four or five food options clustered around each exit. If the Wendy’s is one-tenth of a mile closer to the exit than, say, Taco Bell, you’re going to take the Baconator and fries regardless of your love of Mexico and it’s gift to America — the burrito. The Interstate dulls the senses and reinforces the singular goal of maintaining an 80 mph speed.
As I write I can now see that the empty stainless steel chafing dishes are full of scrambled eggs, hash browns and circular, hamburger-like meat. And so I abandon my little table and join the desperate crowd of guests who are piling their small, entirely inadequate paper plates with those newly-arrived eggs and hash browns — not to mention the sesame seed bagels, cellophane wrapped banana nut muffins, pre-cooked waffles and the vanilla yogurt cups one finds, stacked-up, in a small refrigerator.
My bright yellow eggs are cold. My bagel frozen. The hash browns completely, entirely free of that savory, onion-enhanced, sautéed-in-an-iron-skillet flavor that defined my youth.
My mind inexplicably jumps to Korea — to the image of my exhausted father sitting outside a field hospital on the side of a tree-shattered, recently reacquired hill — eating equally cold eggs, sausages and hash browns and being grateful for the opportunity.
And for a moment I’m truly ashamed of my contempt for this tasteless, semi-frozen, concoction of additives and artificial color that comes “complimentary” with our $160, plus taxes, suite.
What have I become?
Now an attractive, younger woman wearing blue jeans and an Eddie Bauer fleece jacket walks up the attendant and says, “This is cold … and it’s an awful, disgraceful excuse for breakfast.” And with that she drops her fully loaded paper plate into the trash can.
While I watch this scene with more than a little admiration for the angry woman, the lobby erupts. A loud-talking group of late-waking breakfast-eaters arrive toting brown paper bags that resemble what you might get at Publix when you forget to bring your own tote bag.
These folks target the pre-packaged muffins sweeping them into their bags; then they scoop-up all the small-boxed cereal. Then its into the refrigerator for the milk, butter and yogurt. Then on to the oranges, bananas and apples. Finally, its a cup of coffee (for the road) and straight out of the sliding glass doors and into their full-sized Escalade.
There are, at the end of the lobby, two black suit-wearing managers standing behind a long, laminate reception desk. They are looking down at their respective computers — probably wondering when the last of the rampaging breakfast-seekers will leave — and who must witness this scene every morning.
How, one wonders, do they keep their smiling, stoic equanimity in the face of this frantic, frenetic scene each and every morning?
But maybe, I think, this little two-act play is worth $160 plus taxes?
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at email@example.com.