Wednesday, August 30, 2006


So today was one of the most stressful days of my life. Steanso knows all about what's going on. The stress is (thankfully) not Jamie health related, but rather housing related. But we knew when we decided to split from AZ that moving would not be free of its obstacles and traps.

Mister Miracle, Leaguers.

So yesterday we realized that the folks we were two signatures away from buying a house from had decided they didn't want us in their house. The why's and what's will always remain a mystery, but as of 10:30 this morning, we had no place to live or drop our stuff at when we got to Austin.

We're now in a race against time trying to find a place to hang our hats when the truck arrives in Austin in mid-September. But we may have already found a place. Jamie is taking point and is heading to Austin this weekend, and with trusty realtor Kerry R. at her side, we may be doing better than ever when we put down our sorry-selves in A-Town once again.


Last night I was exhausted when I got home, and Jamie declared she had a "mystery" destination in mind for dinner. I was very hungry and too tired to really care where we wound up. Jamie isn't usually so mysterious, but unfortunately for her, I was a bit too punchy to be intrigued so I just loaded myself in the car.

Even more unfortunately Jamie had remembered the wrong major street that our mystery destination was supposed to be, so as we wandered around the Gilbert/ 60 intersection, she revealed we were going to Golden Corral.

We all have our little dining quirks. Mine is that I love a good diner, hamburger stand, or anyplace where there's a lunch counter and hot coffee in clear view. Jason refers to this sort of place as being "Marge", a term coined in the 1990's defining tome "Generation X". I especially love independently owned and run diners, but that's a fast dying breed. So I usually settle for a Denny's when i'm out in the burbs.

Jamie has a secret love of the food-trough buffet. She probably won't even really cop to it, but she does enjoy the food-under-a-heat-lamp environs and the ability to be picky as she wants to be and just toss whatever food she selects but doesn't like. Or something. I also am partial to some buffets, mostly out of nostalgia for hanging in line with Grandma at The Bonanza on Sundays after church, and, of course, hitting the Luby's with the blue-hairs. But those places didn't really invite you back to the trough the way Golden Corral welcomes you, extending an open-armed invitation to gorge yourself until your eyes fall out of the sockets.

And so it was that we wound up at the Golden Corral last night after a twenty minute delay of circling the wrong intersection.

It was 7:40 by the time we parked the car and I saw a contingent of retirees hanging out by the front door.

"Oh, crap. The line is out the door!"
"No way."
"Yes!" I pointed. "The freakin' old people are swarming the Golden Corral!"
We got out of the car to check the situation. The old people were, in fact, swarming the front door, but they were fat and sated and just having some chit-chat before they went their separate ways for the evening... free to go home and watch Matlock or whatever.
But the line extended directly to the door, and it curved around a bit inside.
"The people are crazy for the Golden Corral!" Jamie excalimed. "It's 7:40. This isn't even the rush time."
Jamie knows my patience for waiting in lines is short, indeed. Especially for food. Her dream of a meal at the Golden Corral was over. No dessert bar for her, not when we had fifteen other resaurants to go to at the same intersection.
"Where do you want to go?" the dinner question which plagues any couple who has been together more than two weeks.
"I don't care," I sighed. I was really hungry. I'd had only a few minutes for lunch and had a pretty slim lunch between real estate issues and a meeting.
And then, like a beacon in the darkness, Jamie looked across the road and saw "The Old Country Buffet".

There is a law of nature that states that you can place two identical restaurants side-by-side and one will ahve a two-hour wait and one will have immediate seating and a bunch of staff hanging around looking bored. Locally, I often think of "The OG/ Pomodoro Paradox". In our neck of the woods, Olive Garden sits across the street from a fairly decent pasta place "Pasta Pomodoro". The food is similarly priced and probably a little better, and definitely better for you. Olive Garden seats probably four times as many people at once, and usually has an hour wait on weekends. Pasta Pomodoro usually has immediate seating.

Old Country Buffet was mostly empty. At the door I was greeted with multiple card board cut-outs of the not-quite-in-the-cultural-lexicon mascot of the Old Country Buffet, The Old Country Buffet Bee. I think it used to be the Hometown Buffet bee. I'm not sure why Hometown Buffet would change it's name and nothing else, but my mind whirled at the notion of the corporate shenanigans which no doubt took place to merge several similar family buffet-style resturants and keep the identity of the bee intact.

Go, bee.

There's not a lot of screwing around at The Old Country Buffet. There's no menu of specialty meat items for you to select from, or a Luby's-like line to pass through. You hand the dude at the door a surprising $11 a head, and after that: It's Thunderdome.

Oh, and they were playing "Do the Hustle" when we entered, so I started doing The Hustle, but Jamie asked me to stop. I love familiar dance tunes played completely out of context.

There was enough food to feed a battalion on the buffet, both healthy and deeply unhealthy choices. Rather thant describe what was available, I'll just state that it didn't seem like a good place to take a kid who'd recently been diagnosed as diabetic, so I hope nobody was there putting their little diabetic kid through torture.

But I guess the point is that, really, this was exactly the same place (more or less) as Golden Corral, located just across the street, and Old Country Buffet was clearly not going to make a profit this evening. Just in required staff alone to prepare the mountain of chow, I couldn't see how they were keeping the doors from being shuttered if this was their usual take on a weeknight. What is the allure of Golden Corral that Old Country Buffet was clearly lacking to the line of eager diners across the street?

Is the food actually better? Is the music selection more appropriate (this I doubt as my last voyage to Golden Corral in 2001 all the kids at the table behind us stopped mid-meal to listen to Celine Dion's "The Heart Will Go On" after a hushed exclamation of "Titanic!" "Titanic!" "Titanic!" rippled down the table)? Are the chairs more comfy? The lights appropriately dim?

I don't know. I may never know.

The folks at the OCB seemed happy enough, both staff and customer. A family was having a fairly anti-climatic birthday party for one of the women identified as "Mom", but I wasn't sure who she was. All in all, a fairly harmless place.

But God bless you, Old Country Buffet. I have never seen a finer array of fried and carb-heavy goods on display.

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