Posted by: chptr37 | 04/12/2009

Pg. 11: All the Girl’s Names


Marion, VA, in the morning. I wish I had pictures of the fried-green tomatoes instead, but who thinks to bring their camera to breakfast?


  • Miles Today: 485
  • Miles Total: 4591
  • From/To: Virginia to W. Virginia to Mary(land) to Penny(sylvania)
  • Slept: Wilkes-Barre. Please. Don’t ask.
  • Soundtrack: Zeppelin, James Taylor and various oldies on the radio.
  • Best Thing: Seeing this very very old guy in an old-guy car (so, sue me–I don’t know anything about cars, but it looked like a grandpa car) with a vanity license plate. It read: NTICE ME. Let me just say, I was tempted.
  • Worst Thing: The. hotel. Gah.
  • Quote of the Day: “Everybody’s gettin’ their god on today, boy,” about all the cars parked at the church for the Easter Sunday services.


When I was eighteen, I moved to Syracuse, NY on a whim with no house, no job and no idea what I was going to do with my future (Hm…why does that sound familiar?). Shortly after moving, I got a job waiting tables and bartending at this place called Fridays. Yes, that Fridays. The one from the movie. Imagine Jennifer Anniston in Office Space (without the shiny straight coiff, the big boobs or the doctor-created pert little nose) and you have me. Short black skirt. Patterned stockings. Semi-high heels. Suspenders. Red and white striped shirt. Flair. Gah, flair. I had so many pins stuck to my suspenders that they rattled when I walked. And there was food and margarita mix and jack daniels sauce globbed on the metal because no one at Fridays ever washed our suspenders. We just threw them in our bags at the end of one shift and pulled them out at the next.

I got in trouble for my flair at Fridays all the time. It wasn’t about how many pieces I had, but about what they said. I had feminist pins (“Behind every great woman, is a guy looking at her ass.”) and sex pins (Smile: It’s the second-best thing you can do with your lips.”). I had a pin that read “Jesus had a mullet” and a few others that I can’t remember, but which I wore on my back until some manager spotted them and made me take them off.

Despite the amount of flair I had to carry, I liked the work. I made a ton of money. I had a lot of fun (and sometimes had no fun at all). I liked the people I worked with. And best of all, I was good at my job. I remembered orders without writing them down, I remembered people’s drinks from one visit to the next, I sashayed and twirled bottles behind the bar a la Cocktail. But mostly I smiled and smiled and smiled. I stayed at Fridays for years–first in Syracuse, then in Binghamton, then on the west coast. All that time, I was writing, learning the tricks of fiction and poetry, while paying off my student loans.

When I finally left Fridays, it was because I’d scored my first newspaper job. By then, I was ready to say goodbye to the place. I’d had enough of showing of my legs in exchange for money, enough of cleaning up after other people’s food and mental messes, and enough of watching the same people drink themselves into a stupor every night.

What brings me to this memory? For the first time in a long time, I returned to a Fridays tonight. Now, in ‘real life’ (meaning me when I’m not traveling across the country at what seems like break-neck speed), I don’t eat fast food very often. I don’t even eat non-fast fast food (meaning chains like Fridays). Portland is the foodie’s land of opportunity, and I took full advantage of it. Great, hand-roasted coffee. Beer and wine made nearby by drink geeks. Fresh salmon and berries and peaches. Locally grown melons, greens, nuts. Wild berries and mushrooms. Everything and anything that you could want on your plate, in your glass and upon your tongue. I was spoiled by opportunities.

While I admit to being a foodie (although I hate that word, it does seem to hold true to what it means), I will say that I’m not a food snob. I like all kinds of food. I’ll try anything (segue: barring mayonnaise, which I tried once at the tender age of five or six at the urging of my grandmother. “Come on, hon, it’s potato salad, you’re going to love it.” Love it I did, right until I promptly threw it up all over her lap. I’ve not eaten the devil food since, even though one of my roommates used to think it was funny to chase me around with a heaping spoonful of mayonnaise yelling my name. I hid his Immodium AD out of spite.). I love high-end foods from fancy restaurants just as much as I love deep-fried pickles (which I always type as ‘deep-friend pickles’ for some reason), Ho-hos, and movie theater popcorn. I also love childhood and regional foods that you can only get from the East Coast: Friendly’s buttercrunch ice cream with chocolate sprinkles, certain seafood, my mom’s glorified rice (which we call petrified rice in my family because I could never remember the word ‘glorified’ and which my mom was making today when I called her, and promised to save me some).

Driving eastward has proven to be both wonderful and hard on my palate. I’ve had two amazing, perfectly cooked meals in restaurants so far. I’ve also eaten a lot of boring, but healthy things–in an attempt to save money (and not gain forty pounds while I’m on the road), two meals a day come out of my portable cooler. This means a lot of bananas, nuts, organic granola bars, dark chocolate, carrots and grapes. I grab an apple and a cookie at every hotel that serves them up free, and I take advantage of the continental breakfast if it doesn’t look too awful (at one hotel, I scored Lucky Charms, which I swear I haven’t had since I was nine. This morning, breakfast included the very best fried-green tomatoes I’ve ever, ever had, battered in corn meal and fried to a perfect crispy and golden brown.).

Two meals on the go leaves one meal out on the town. Usually it’s dinner. Not by choice, just by happenstance. I try to go somewhere local. A hole-in-the-wall is ideal. I use Trip Advisor a lot, because I’ve come to trust the recommendations there. If the food’s not amazing, then the atmosphere usually is. And at the very least, I get a feel for the town or the area, just by sitting and listening to the other people eating and working there.

Tonight landed me in Pennsylvania, a college and work town. Not where I wanted to be, but it’s close enough to my family that I’ll arrive at my childhood home sometime tomorrow, and that was my real goal. There are other restaurants than Fridays nearby, but the thought of getting back into the car after more than eight hours on the road just about killed me, and Fridays was within walking distance.

The clothes have changed–they’re red and black, without much flair. The menu items are healthier. The attitude and atmosphere have mellowed some. The prices are nearly double. The service was the same. The food was… somehow the same too. Fairly bland and overly sweet. Generic and homogeneous. Just as I remembered it.

But memory’s a funny thing, isn’t it? The memories that stay with us get warped by time and exposure, by all the retellings: Did I really hide my roommate’s Immodium AD? Or did I just want to? Was it true that I puked up potato salad on my grandmother’s lap? Or did I just think I was going to? Did I really wear a pin that said “Oral sex makes a great last-minute gift” in which I’d scratched out the word gift and written ‘tip’? Oh, yes, that one I did do…

And when I arrive home tomorrow, for the first time in too-many years, will petrified rice taste as good I remember? Somehow, I think it will.

Far and fast, s.



A farm. Somewhere in Maryland. I would have put pictures of me in my flair if I had them. Maybe.


“Nothing is more memorable than a smell.  One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town.  Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines hidden under the weedy mass of years.  Hit a tripwire of smell and memories explode all at once.  A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth.”  ~Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses.



  1. “I love deep-fried pickles (which I always type as ‘deep-friend pickles’ for some reason)”

    Haha! That’s right–I remember that, now that you mention it. And love it, of course.

    Have you ever ordered them that way in a restaurant?

  2. Enjoy the home stretch!

  3. ”… makes a great last-minute gift” in which I’d scratched out the word gift and written ‘tip’? Oh, yes, that one I did do…”

    I would have loved to see your managers response to that. ROTF.

  4. PS Even though I never had fried green tomatoes ir sounds good, even for breakfast. I already miss the days of eating non- traditional breakfast food.

  5. Fried pickles! Friend pickles yes.. but frying them!! Oy, the things you put in that mouth of yours

    I am sorry honey but I’m still laughing in my head (I’m at work, they think I’m screwy as it is) over your “flair” Oh it’s a good thing the universe didn’t have us working in the same joint. We’d be trying to see who could outdo each other with pins (scratching out the gifts for tips was pure genius in my opinion)

    Have fun with the family. Relax, catch up – have some petrified rice and give mom an extra hug from us. We’re glad to have ya around missy ;p

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