So on Saturday, after the usual breakfast-nap-trip-to-the-Food King triumvirate of fun, we took Mom's groceries over to her house, did a few chores over there at the site of my upbringing (see my autobiography FRONTIER DAYS: Boy in Buckskin for more details) and then Peggy and I looked forward to our culinary pleasure, my weekly break from dieting, that hebdomadal hedonistic Valhalla, the Old Country Buffet.
As I do with Willis Carrier, the inventor of air conditioning, I revere the Frenchman Jean-Claude Buffet, the first man to realize that the best choice for dinner is EVERY choice. This is, of course, completely fake information. There was no Jean-Claude Buffet, just as, yesterday, there was no Old Country Buffet.
I thought at first it was because we approached Satyr Hill Shopping Center from the west, having just come from Mom's, and maybe the sun was playing tricks on me. At first, I noticed there was no price listed for gasoline at the Texaco right across the parking lot from the OCB, and I figured it was because finally the oil industry had finally achieved a measure of modesty and no longer saw fit to emblazon in the sky just how badly they are ripping off an entire nation -yea, all mankind - for their hi-test. But no, it turned out that they were installing new pumps. I figured,"fine; we'll fill up the car somewhere else after we fill ourselves." But no!
I thought, wow, this is great - there are so many parking spots on the lot! Yeah, buddy, that would be because the Old County Buffet was closed. I mean, shut down for good, Katie bar the door, 126 pages Dear John. Except, the doors weren't barred; they simply had the blinds drawn, and the Dear John letter was an inelegantly phrased Word Document advising that the Old Country Buffet had closed for business at this location, but we were welcome to drive 30 miles to Catonsville to visit their one remaining Baltimore location. I bet they didn't even save that consarned document after they printed out three copies, taped them up and locked the doors.
I reacted as would any fully-realized adult when his dinner has suddenly disappeared. I wept and wailed, and I'm fairly sure there was gnashing of teeth. We wound up going to the Towson Diner, which is quite great in its own way, but unlike buffets, diners have that one little difference. At the Old Country Buffet, it's all you can eat. At the Towson Diner, what they place in front of you is all you can eat. Owing to some sort of oddball policy, you're not allowed to go roam among the huge steaming tureens (I hereby offer that phrase as a band name for any musical aggravation willing to assume it) and giant beef roasts and ribs of the sort favored by Dino Flintstone at the Bedrock Drive-In. And then there was the Taco Bar, the Salad Bar, the Soup Buckets, the Shrimp Boat and the Make-Your-Own-Damn-Dessert area, featuring soft-serve ice cream, carrot cake, oatmeal cookies, incredible peach or cherry "gobblers" and the whole American concept of come on in, sit down and spell, we're just fixin' to eat. You'd see people there every time - the same people, the same groups and families and couples. There was one man who used to read to his wife while they ate, a widower-looking guy going around greeting his friends, a woman who used to get her hair "did" at the same place we used to before our tonsorial expert chose a lifestyle of avid drug consumption, and buses of high-school and college kids, usually on their way back from something thrilling they had done here, just having a little dinner, a little of that and a lot of this, and some fun.
Old Country Buffet, Nos quisnam iam epulor alibi tutus vos! That's Latin for "we who now dine elsewhere salute you!" (I think the Romans are hinting that we should try Quizno's...) But I remember another use of the word "buffet" that we hear on the radio and TV during hurricane season (Jan 1 - Dec 31) around here. "Strong winds buffeted the Caroline Coast today as Hurricane Duane made landfall at 3 AM..." is something we hear all the time, when the electricity is on. In this case, buffet means, well, let's go to Merriam-Webster to see for sure:
- 13th century
1 : to strike sharply especially with the hand : cuff 2 : to strike repeatedly : batter
buffeted the shore> 3 : to drive, force, move, or attack by or as if by repeated blows intransitive verb : to make one's way especially under difficult conditions
(transitive) To strike or blow with a buffet or buffets.
I bow my head once again at the wisdom and foresight of the framers of our language. John Milton, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in their wisdom, knew that our language needed a word for a great place to eat, and how it felt when that place closed down suddenly. I've been buffeted! See you at the diner.