On the Town: A Requiem to All You Can or Can’t Eat

Some of our funniest memories of when the boys were very young happened at the Golden Corral. We would alternate between the two all-you-can-eat-buffets in town, thinking they might forget us… Well, they are both closed now. It’s hard to believe this is a 13-year-old memory, for it seems like yesterday–or “yesternight” as both boys would say.  Anyway, RIP Golden Corral, and thank you for the memories…

* * *

It’s Sunday night, family night. It is the one night that remains predictable in an ever-changing household. It is our time to gather, recharge, renew, review the old week and prepare for the new one ahead. On this one fall evening, we decide to take our ritual on the road, get out on the town and visit a local family restaurant, the Golden Corral. It’s a spontaneous choice that brings up another spontaneous choice a few weeks back, when, after dinner, we decided to head to a quaint neighboring town for some ice cream. We envisioned a pleasant family stroll through the town center, ice cream cones in hand, smiling faces exploring new places.

Every store, including the ice cream shop, was closed.

This alights previous visits to the Golden Corral. I seem to recall someone getting sick…. But, there is an amazing resiliency and hopefulness to the human mind. Despite historical data that would lead one to dismiss any possibility of a positive outcome, there is the little voice that says, this time it will be different.

Young Evan is the wild card on these adventures. And sometimes he’s just wild. It’s a numbers thing, a game of chance:

Four: Evan is a whisper past his fourth birthday; and when we tell him where we are going this evening for dinner, true to form, he says he doesn’t want to go. All this despite his antics the previous week when he begged us to go to the Golden Corral. We tell him we are going anyway.

Three: The number of trips to the buffet to find something, despite the plethora of choices, that Evan will eat. It turns out that his plate is filled with what he would eat at home: grapes and macaroni and cheese.

Two: The number of other parties that see us at our table and decide to try to find a seat in a different section.

One:  The number of bites of food I get before Evan loses focus on dinner and the requests start.

Zero: The number of times I’ve eaten dinner without a trip to the restroom with Evan. This I don’t understand—speaking in evolutionary terms. I haven’t done a lot of research on this, but in graduate school I learned of the “food stare.” Check it out the next time you are in a public eatery. As the server brings the food and places it before the patron, the food stare kicks in. All eyes gaze upon the meal. The mafia knew this and always planned their hits as the meal arrived—a perfect distraction. But with Evan, the arrival of the food means a jaunt to the restroom. It makes no sense for the tribe: leave food, hot and yummy. It seems a recipe for sabotage, a quick exit from the gene pool.

On this occasion it happens not once, but twice. The first time we make the trip all the way across the restaurant and I remember that the last time we were here I said we should sit by the rest rooms so that our food doesn’t get cold. I wonder what else I forgot. The first trip is just a ploy, which he punctuates with, “I tried but I’m not ready.”

Fine. We return to our table and I get a bit of lukewarm chicken down before Evan has that look. Once again we trek across the restaurant, dodging customers and servers. This is more precarious than it sounds since Evan rarely walks a straight line and I often have my hand atop his head, steering him with just the right pressure. He veers in the direction of his gaze, and I can tell he’s looking for someone to engage. Or perhaps, he’s just trying to distract me.

We enter the restroom for the second time, and for Evan it’s all brand new. With Evan, it’s all about the whole, the experience. Wherever he goes, he notices everything. His head swivels as he takes it all in. Each experience has an aesthetic scorecard as well as a practical application. Once we are inside the restroom, Evan comments on the colors, the mirror, the floor; he counts the urinals and notices their height—two high and one low. “Oh, this one is just right for me,” he says; but then he decides on a stall. This means that it is highly likely my dinner will be cold when we get back.

Evan takes a seat and serenely looks around. I’m standing outside the stall pretending to be patient. My stomach growls, and Evan asks if I would like to come in and close the door. “Sure,” I say. He smiles.

It’s hard not to adore Evan when he is this way, so social and pleasant. He offers the finer points of the stall, its color and size, the lock on the door. He wonders if someone with a key could get in from the outside, then mentions that he’s small enough to crawl beneath the door. He asks if I could fit underneath and looks at me as if I should try. Then he notices the writing that’s carved into the taupe enamel, random words and expressions here and there. True to his preschool training he recites the letters, A…S…S… and says, “Hmm. I wonder what that spells.”

I try to distract him before he reads some of the other comments.

Later, back at the table I gaze into my wife’s eyes. We have the same thought, and I offer, “Isn’t this relaxing?”

She laughs.

Evan shares how much he loves Golden Corral. Despite the all-you-can-eat buffet, he has not eaten a thing. Then I remember he never eats anything here. What else have I forgotten?

On this night, we stop at the lake by our house. The lake is another constant in our family life. Here we see the sunsets, the moon rising, the stars glowing to life. We watch the reflections on the water, the ripples that form as we engage in our rock-skipping contests.  We race up and down the rise along the water’s edge.

We all take one last look at the lake and turn to head home. Evan skips along. It’s a skill he’s just mastered and he’s really got it down now. Out of the blue, he stops and says, “I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?”

Melanie and I look at each other and laugh.

“A big bowl of broccoli,” I say.

Evan reminds me he doesn’t like broccoli. So I ask him to show me how he skips. He obliges as I try to remember what else I’ve forgotten.


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About Dr. John Panepinto

Direction. Execution. Evolution. Each day can be an expression of living with purpose and focusing on what matters most. My sites share this theme of vision, living in our most important roles and responsibilities from imagination and creativity in a simple, practical way. I am committed to educating and serving, founded in principles of development, that people can use and practice in their every day lives.