I Had An Emotional Connection With Cracker Barrel
I’m trying to remember anything in my lifetime that’s gotten me out of bed quicker than what happened this morning, but I can’t think of anything. Regardless of if it there has been or not, my ears perked up a little quicker and my eyes got a little less blurry when I woke up to my buddy announcing, “once you guys wake up and shower, we’re going to Cracker Barrel.”
At this current point in my life, I’m between apartments, sleeping on a futon in that same friend’s room, while my roommate, Leo, is on the floor. I do feel a little bad about hogging the futon, but c’est la vie. This friend, let’s call him Josh, is just settling into his new frat house, so there’s a lot of moving parts in the house, and my roommate and I having to crash aren’t making it easier. Needless to say, Josh’s generosity is much appreciated, and if he wanted to go to Cracker Barrel, we were going to go to Cracker Barrel. And you wouldn’t see either of us putting up an argument.
Tired, cranky, a bit hungover, and very, very hungry, I dragged myself out of bed (the futon), proceeded to quickly shower and brush my teeth in a bathroom that was not mine and I felt much like an alien in. I’ll only be staying at this house for a week, so I want to try my best to be a polite guest and be as unnoticeable as possible. As does Leo, so once I was done, he was very quick to follow my lead. I was also thrilled to go to Cracker Barrel, for a couple reasons. 1.) Feeling so uncomfortable in the house filled me with a strong desire to be inside of it for as little amount of time as possible, and 2.) Cracker Barrel is fucking awesome.
Cracker Barrel, to me, seems like a place that everyone really loves, but after they think about it for a little bit, they realize they’ve only been there a few times over the course of their life. Personally, this would be my third time, my second being only a few months ago on the drive home from school for Spring Break. The first time could have been anywhere from ten to fourteen years ago, those years are all pretty muddled together. But I do know I had gone there once. And for some reason, and do not ask me to explain why, I had always associated the old guy on the Cracker Barrel sign with Abraham Lincoln. I really wish I could give you some more depth here, but I can’t. I just wish I knew.
So we drove across town to the Cracker Barrel, which is pretty inconveniently located for being in a college town. Something tells me they would have a lot more business being closer to the downtown area near campus. College kids love to spend stupid amounts of money on delicious breakfast food when they’re hungover. But I don’t own Cracker Barrel, nor do I own any national food chain restaurant. So what do I know? Anyways, we pulled up to the restaurant (slash store?), I nodded out of respect at the old man that I always think is our 16th president, and paused for a moment. I realized how absolutely, devastatingly hungry I was. Dangerously hungry, in fact.
The thing about couch surfing, it displaces you for a while. While I wasn’t actually homeless, thank goodness I had a place to sleep at night, it felt sort of close to it after living in a nice furnished apartment for the extent of the summer (up until now). I had been spending most of my time wandering around campus or hanging out at the library for some free WiFi, because I felt very odd and uncomfortable staying at my friends house while he was away at work. As for food, I was eating out at places I could get a quick meal when I could, and not really anything else other than that. Fortunately for me this morning, Cracker Barrel is probably the closest thing to a home cooked meal without it actually being cooked at home. So I was very excited.
The rocking chairs that line the front porch of (I assume) every Cracker Barrel in America give it a very homey feeling right off the bat. Actually, the fact that Cracker Barrel has a front porch at all is very homey. And the rocking chairs are just an added bonus. As we walked up the porch and towards the entrance, two elderly women were playing a game of chess. Not sure who was winning, but it looked intense. They probably just enjoyed a fantastic meal, but I didn’t want to ask and interrupt their focus.
The three of us were seated and immediately ordered water. Let me paint a picture for you: in the last 24 hours, I had consumed (in this order) one sandwich, one glass of water, four mozzarella sticks, among other drinks that evening (and I believe Josh and Leo were in a very similar situation). So I was already feeling pretty awful. Our waitress asked if we wanted a couple minutes, which we did, and said she would be back soon. When she came back, we had been too distracted playing that game with the golf tees that every table at Cracker Barrel has, so we needed a few more minutes. She seemed pretty annoyed, but I feel like that has to be expected with that terribly addicting golf tee game. It’s frustrating. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you haven’t lived, and your mental toughness clearly has never really been tested.
OK, so anyways, we finally ordered. I went back and forth for a little bit on what I was going to get, but I decided on keeping it simple. I went with “Momma’s Pancake Breakfast,” with a side of scrambled eggs and bacon, and biscuits for the table. Very boring, I know, but sometimes you need that. While we waited for our food, and while slamming down our waters, I looked around at the internal decor. The Cracker Barrel atmosphere was, I think, designed to remind you of eating a meal at your grandparents’ house. It’s like an antique store just vomited all over the walls. Lots of random objects from the 1930’s (that’s a guess), like old signs, small bikes, plates, and dead animals. Weird, but strangely comforting. This prompted a table discussion about how expensive a mounted animal would be for our new apartment, just because that would be interesting. After a little research, small mounted fish cost $200, so it was destined to be a pipe dream.
Eventually, our food came, and oh my goodness, Momma came through. Maybe it was because I was so hungry, or maybe it was actually just that good, but I first took a bite of a biscuit and actually laughed out loud. It was so perfect. The biscuit was light, fluffy, not that crusty around the edges, it was literally the perfect biscuit. I stopped chewing just to savor how the dough melted on my tongue. I had forgotten that food could taste this good. I moved on to the pancakes, which I covered in Cracker Barrel’s signature maple syrup (which we also stole a small bottle of. Sorry, Cracker Barrel). Again, perfect. They were warm, almost gooey, and the syrup melted into the pancakes so that every bite was abound with maple-y goodness. I went back and forth from bites of biscuit, pancake, eggs, and bacon, then I decided to concentrate on the eggs. They were good. They were very good. Not sure if I connected with them as distinctly as I did with the pancakes and the biscuits, but goddamn, the chicken who previously owned those eggs had to be a friggin’ champion. In something. I can’t really think of what a chicken would be in competition for, but it’s the best at whatever it is. I was eating some potential champion chicks. And I didn’t even feel bad about it.
I had been living on my own for almost a year, not including breaks from school obviously. But I had been fending for myself in the food department, eating crappy dining hall food, cheap-ish meals, and fast food when I needed some. And especially this summer, with a lack of dining halls, I had a pretty consistent and limited menu to choose from. Furthermore, I had eaten more pizza than I could imagine, thanks to my job. So this beautiful breakfast meal had been a revelation. All the food was warm, in both senses. Halfway through the meal, I could feel a lump forming in my throat. Not from eating so much so quickly, but because my eyes started glistening with the earliest formations of tears. This food did truly love me. I believed it then and I believe it now. I’ll be damned if I don’t go to my grave still believing it.
We finished our meal, and I did not let a single tear fall from my face, because it’s food, and that would be weird. Or would it? A truly great meal is one of the few things that could totally turn a day around. I can’t even imagine what my life would be like right now at this very moment if I hadn’t been able to eat that meal. So in a way, crying tears of happiness would be the only appropriate reaction to what I consumed this morning.
On the way out, we decided to pause for a bit in the rocking chairs. The two old women had left, one of them finally able to vanquish the other, so, aspiring to be like my heroes, I challenged Josh to a game of checkers. He accepted, but quickly warned me that he last played the game a long time ago, if ever before at all. I couldn’t remember the last time I had played either, but it didn’t matter. I smoked him. He took one, maybe two, of my pieces over the course of the whole game. He really didn’t stand a chance. Wow, I was feelin’ it. It was probably the eggs.
I think I gained 45 years sitting in those rocking chairs. I felt as thought I was sitting on my own porch, somewhere out in the countryside, watching my life slowly unfold before me. I just felt like I was an old man. An old, content man, who really just wanted to eat his breakfast and listen to the ball game on the radio. It was actually a great feeling. I sat back and did what I think all old people are contractually obligated to do: think about the glory days. So I started to think. Oh, what did I think about, you ask? Those pancakes. And the bacon. And the eggs. And the biscuit. Oh, that biscuit.