Friday, May 21, 2010

COLUMN: Missouri Pt. 2

If there's one thing in life I hate, it's stereotypes. To make sweeping and unfair generalizations of the innocent shows a shameless insensitivity and brazen disregard towards the uniqueness of human individuality. Quite frankly, to hurtfully stereotype makes this reporter physically ill. Which brings me to my next point:

The citizens of Missouri are, by and very large, fatty-fat obese lardbutted cheeseburgers with legs, who -- were it not for the haunting prospect of an incarcerated lifetime devoid of all-you-can-eat buffets -- would presumably devour their own young.

Okay, okay, maybe I'm being a tad bit harsh. I'm sure there's folks in Missouri who spend hours on treadmills and look like they just stepped out of GQ. Those folks must have been hiding the other weekend when my girlfriend and I took a longer-than-anticipated aimless drive and ended up crossing into the Show-Me State. And if you're wondering what they want to show-us, it's their rolls of fat trying desperately to escape their midriffs. The truth of the matter was unabashedly evident everywhere we went that day: Missouri has porky people aplenty.

This meant that I fit in nicely.

Look, it's no secret that I'm a bit gifted in the midsection myself. I prefer not to be labeled "fat" -- I prefer the term "svelte-challenged." But before you make screams about the pot calling the kettle fat, hear me out. Yes, I'm a chubby guy, but I've at least got the decency to be somewhat ashamed of myself. In Missouri, people wear their extra pounds like badges of flubbery honor. And nowhere was this more perfectly clear than in the town we ended up at: Hannibal.

When we crossed into Missouri on our day of adventure, billboards for Hannibal were everywhere. And it sounds like a great place. It's the home of Mark Twain. The setting for Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. The center of river culture. Surely it must be a mecca of discovery, wonder, and reasonably priced upscale eateries, right?


Hannibal is just another town along the Mississippi. But while we take Blackhawk Road through Black Hawk State Park and past Blackhawk State Bank to get to Black Hawk College, there you take Mark Twain Avenue past Mark Twain's Boyhood Home to get to the Huck Finn Shopping Center. If you think Hannibal's any more rife with culture than the Quad Cities, step right up - I've got a fence you can whitewash.

The one thing Hannibal didn't have was an obvious quaint place to eat, so we settled upon the only sit-down restaurant we could find - an all-you-can-eat buffet chain. I waited in line while my girlfriend hit the restroom. As I stood there, I began to soak up the enormity of the situation, or at least the enormity of my fellow eaters. Everyone in line at the buffet was huge. Every fourth or fifth person was riding one of those mobility scooters, presumably to help their stomachs catch up with their mouths. Everywhere I looked, people were sculpting majestic food mountains on their wee buffet plates. Then a VERY bizarre thing happened.

The patron in front of me had just paid and received his plate and drink. I happened to be looking as he took a sip of his soda and did an honest-to-gosh spittake all over the floor. "SALTY!" he spewed. THAT'S when it got weird.

"Gladys! GLADYS!" screamed the cashier. "There's salt in the Pepsi again!"

AGAIN? Now, I'm no master of commercial culinary equipment, but I thought I had at least a slight grasp as to the workings of your standard soda fountain. Syrup goes in. Water goes in. CO2 goes in. Pepsi comes out. How salt enters the equation is beyond me. Before I could ponder it, the cashier turned to me with an apologetic smile. "Don't worry, honey, we'll get you Pepsi from the other machine." Um, whew.

As I snaked around the line tentatively adding to my plate, the guy in front of me turned abruptly. "You need to wait for fresh rolls to come out. Get 'em fresh and cover 'em with butter. Mmmm!" I followed his advice.

Finally, the line turns towards its main attraction. An over-zealous twenty-something with a chef's hat stood over a grill barking the same phrase at every passerby:


And before anyone could respond, he would deftly fling a piece of fatty steak haphazardly onto their plate. I watched in sheer awe as the gentleman ahead of me in line (the roll guy) took his steak swiftly to the salad bar and covered it in ranch dressing. I returned to my seat as we soaked up the atmosphere (which, if you're wondering, was a mix of body odor, old lady perfume, and stale smoke.)

It was like being trapped inside the embodiment of the deadly sin of gluttony. Everywhere you looked, it was just NOM! NOM! NOM! People chowing down on their food mountains. I thought of the Mr. Creosote skit from Monty Python, where Terry Jones in a fat suit eats an entire table of food before dining on an after-dinner mint and promptly exploding. A funny notion, but had it happened in THIS place, I feared that an employee would race to his remains and start yelling, "HEY, ANYBODY WUNT SUM MEAT?"

And it honestly wasn't just this place, either. Before we left Missouri, we stopped at two other restaurants. At one, their french fries were instead "fancy fries." What makes them fancy, I found out, is a pool of melted butter, a pile of parmesan cheese, and what I'd estimate to be 2-3 full cloves of garlic. The kind of garlic that makes your girlfriend say phrases beginning with, "I love you, BUT..." The kind of garlic that leads your girlfriend to build a protective odor wall between the driver and passenger seats. Not once did I get thanked for warding off vampires.

And at the last place we went to? Instead of french fries, they served "funnel fries" -- funnel cake dough cut into french fry shapes, deep fried, sugar-coated, and served with strawberry syrup. For what it's worth (my permanent health?), they were AMAZING. In fact, Missouri might be fat, but they also know a thing or two about good-tasting food. And everywhere I went, the people were so nice it almost made up for their attempts to smother me to death in cholesterol. Missouri, you're my kinda state.

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