Lunch around here is an adventure.
Itís kind of a funny thing, I guess, but we all go to lunch together, or at least, most of us. The newsroom and advertising department usually.
After the dayís paper is done, when all our work is finished and itís going to press, itís lunchtime. Thatís not necessarily at 12 noon. That could be at 11:30. It could be at 12:30, or 1 p.m. or later. We go to lunch when weíre finished, not a minute sooner.
Let me mention now that what follows is a generalization, and not necessarily the Gospel according to Stouff, nor is it intended to be reflective of every single individual in our group who may or may not have at one time not, for instance, used a napkin even though I said they did. This is a representative column, a history as recalled by the writer.
So weíre finished, and we in the newsroom gather ourselves up and the three of us go stand in the advertising room at which time the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace begins. No, thereís no Beefeaters there and no one is forbidden to show reaction, but the point is the same procedure happens every day at the same time, without fail, without little deviation. Iím not going to do attribution of quotes because itís not important:
"So, whatís for lunch?"
"Whatís so-and-so got?"
We look on the menus posted to the door of the advertising room for the daily lunch specials. Whatever is on the menu for Eatery A makes half of us groan and frown, and whateverís on the menu for Eatery B makes the other half of us groan and frown.
"What about so-and-so?" someone suggests.
Two-thirds of us groan, the other third nods vigorously.
"Well, what about so-and-so?" someone else suggests. One-third groans and clutches their stomachs in pain, the other nods vigorously. This is not a democratic system, so we go to the other place.
Here are the only slight variations to the Changing of the Guard: Someone doesnít have enough money this week to afford Eatery C; someone is observing Lent; someone is dieting; someone is sick of pasta; someone thought the service last time was pathetic; someone thinks they charge too much; someone wants dessert and Eatery C doesnít do dessert; someone hates Chinese; someone hates seafood, and the big winner of all, someone (or a couple of them) canít smoke there.
Then itís off to wherever the majority didnít want to go. When there were just three of us going to lunch I drove in my truck, but now there are four and most times five, and so someone else with an SUV must drive. We have never offered to chip in for gas. I donít know why. Perhaps we newspaper people are just cynical that way, or weíre all just too self-absorbed with our own problems. Regardless, the person who drives never complains, so thereís no sense in worrying about it, we reason. Squeaky wheel gets the grease and all that.
We get to lunch at last. We have been to any of these places a million times. How many places are there to eat in Franklin if you donít do fast food? Not many. Weíve been to them over and over. And over again. So what do we do when we sit down at the table?
We read the menu.
Nope, nothing new has appeared magically since we were there three days ago. Three days later, weíll read the menu again. Makes little sense, does it? If you asked me right now what Eatery D has in seafood selection, I could probably recite the whole thing by heart. But when we sit down, we look at the menu.
The waitresses know us pretty good. They come up and say, "Tea, tea, Diet Coke, root beer," and donít even wait for us to agree or disagree and if one of the "tea" persons is in the mood for, say, Sprite instead, they have to yell and make a scene to get the attention of the rapidly retreating waitress.
God forbid if something is out of place or awry. If we canít get our usual table weíll stand there and half of us pouts to the hostesses and the other half glowers and stares at whoever is at our table until they hurriedly finish their meals, slam back their drinks and make a hasty retreat. Itís our table, bought and paid for, ya folla?
If someone in the group wants a certain item off the menu and the waitress reluctantly Ė because she knows us, you see Ė tells us they are temporarily out of it, youíd swear a capital offense was just committed.
We are set in our ways, we newspaper people, and donít dare rock our boat.
The main course is over, then three of us order coffee while the rest smoke. Unless we went to a no-smoking eatery. Now and then we do that, the smokers will graciously allow us to enjoy a couple cups of coffee. Sometimes we get up and drive to some place that has coffee and allows smoking. We are equal-opportunity diners, you see, but have little tolerance for abdication of our civil rights as smokers and coffee drinkers.
We may also debate dessert. This is often the most tiring part of the whole ordeal. Some of us will consider dessert. Others will complain about our weight and refuse to consider it. Some will complain about our weight, consider it, and dismiss it. Some of us will care not a rip for our weight and order two slices of cheesecake. (That would be me.)
Finally we get our tickets and we are all silent for a moment while we make sure they got it right. If they did, we all march up and pay, leaving tips. If they did not, we make them do it over. If everythingís correct but the ticket is far heftier than we thought it would be, we groan and complain and wish we hadnít ordered dessert. (That would be me.)
Then we all pile into the SUV and go back to work to groan and complain all afternoon about being too full. (That would be me again, but sometimes I have company, and sound like a symphony of seals.)
This does not include Fridays. Fridays only one person from each department has to work in the afternoon, the rest of us can stay as long as we like, and since we just got paid, we can eat as much as we want, too. Those are the days some of us have nice entrees that we shouldnít just because weíre feeling rich. By Wednesday of the following week weíll be standing around the advertising room discussing where weíll go for lunch, and the words "broke" and "cheap" would come from that personís mouth, guaranteed.