Dining with old people

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to love to go eat at cafeterias. Sometimes she’d take me with her. I quickly began to notice a couple of things about those cafeterias: First of all, the food was universally bland and boring. Sure, there were a lot of options to select from, but the baked fish was incredibly bland, as was the baked chicken, as was the meat loaf, as was the pork chop. And I wasn’t even about to touch my grandmother’s favorite dish at those places, liver and onions.

The other thing I noticed about the cafeterias was that there were people over 60 at every table in the room. In most cases, waaaayyyy over 60. Cafeterias seemed to be a haven for old people. I remember looking around the room and thinking, 20 years from now, most of the people here right now will be dead.

One notable memory comes from the Golden Host cafeteria in central Little Rock, where I was having lunch with my grandmother one day in the early 1980s. An energetic old man of about 75 greeted his friends at the next table over, saying, “I’m here to get me some VEGETABLES!” He said it with the same enthusiasm that a 21-year-old frat boy might go to a party and tell his brothers, “I’m here to get some p…” Never mind, but you get the idea. I sat there eating my flavorless salisbury steak thinking, this is what the cool people in their 70s do. They go out to get vegetables. That Who song where Roger Daltrey sang “Hope I die before I get old” came to mind. Roger Daltrey is in his 60s now. I wonder where he eats lunch.

When my uncle and aunt would come to town to visit, my grandmother would always suggest that we go eat at Golden Host or one of the other cafeterias. “That way everyone can get what they want,” she would say.

“Well, yeah, if everyone wants food that has no taste whatsoever, that’s true. But why don’t we go somewhere that has GOOD food instead?” I never won those arguments.

One time around 1986 my uncle and aunt came to visit, and my uncle picked up the check for dinner. My grandmother was horrified that I ordered the fried shrimp, at $3.95 the most expensive item on the menu. I tried explaining to her that you’d be lucky to get out of KFC or Burger King or most fast-food restaurants for less than that, that $3.95 was really a very cheap price for a sit-down dinner. She couldn’t understand. She commented several times through the dinner how much I loved shrimp. I think I had eaten shrimp maybe 3 times in the previous year.

Occasionally old people venture out of the world of the cafeterias to try other dining options. The results are not so good. I remember one time in the mid ’80s I was in line at Taco Bell, behind a woman who appeared to be in her mid ’80s herself. She asked the cashier, “Now, a taco, what comes on that?” I thought to myself, YOU OLD BAT, HOW CAN YOU LIVE EIGHTY PLUS YEARS ON THIS PLANET AND NOT KNOW WHAT A FRICKIN’ TACO IS??? It took the cashier at least three minutes to explain the concept of the “taco” to her. I think she ended up ordering something else. I didn’t see her leave, but I’d be willing to bet that when she did, she drove at least 15 MPH below the posted speed limit.

And that concludes today’s lunchtime post, which was NOT typed while sitting in a cafeteria. Back to the cubicle for 5 more hours of fun. I had actually intended to do a post about cubicle culture today, but the old people topic just popped into my mind and I ran with it.