In the past couple of years, I’ve cruised through the town of Breezewood, Pennsylvania a handful of times. Not because I was seeking it out, but just… because. If you’re riding along Route 30, it just happens. One minute you’re buzzing through nothing much and then whammo! You’re smack in the middle of a kaleidoscope of chain restaurants, hotels and gas stations.
Breeeeeeeeeezewood. There is something so lovely about the name. I imagine walking through waist-high grass wearing a floppy straw hat, with the wind tumbling the ends of my hair in Breezewood. The sun would gently kiss your golden tanned shoulders in Breezewood. You can twirl and twirl and fall down laughing under a bright blue sky in Breezewood. In truth, you’re more likely to have to scrape off the hot gum you stepped in, on the edge of the curb, in Breezewood.
As a northeastern suburbanite, the presence of so many chain establishments isn’t in and of itself strange. It’s more the juxtaposition of traveling along the bucolic rolling hills of Route 30 into an entire town that is essentially a highway rest area that is a shock to the system. Then there is the matter that Breezewood, as crazy as it sounds, is the onramp between I-70 and the PA Turnpike.
On my way home from West Virginia, I found myself at both the proverbial and actual crossroads in Breezewood. I’d already logged 300+ miles in the saddle for the day. And since it was near dinner time, I was faced with a dilemma: do I continue home, knocking out another 300+ miles on the slab -or- just pack it in for the night and continue on the following morning? Something about the Bonneville helps me find my take it easy vibe and so I opted to stay in franchise-heaven.
Every motorcyclist who passes through town must ask if they can park beneath front door canopy of the Holiday Inn Express. While checking in, the girl at the desk made sure to include that I needed to park my motorcycle in an actual parking space in the stream of instructions that she recited by rote. I’m not even sure she took a single breath as the words flowed forth and she pointed to the direction of the elevator.
After getting settled and having a shower, I decided to set off on foot to grab some dinner. The nearest restaurant was a place called Bob Evans. I’d seen the name scrawled in cheerful white letters many times on highway attraction signs so I figured – what the hell.
Not knowing what to expect I was surprised to find that I had to run the gauntlet of impulse purchasing before finding the person who would seat me for dinner. If you told me that their retail maze lost three elderly ladies to starvation each week, I wouldn’t be surprised.
I am writing this from a makeshift shelter that I fashioned out of tea towels with wine grapes embroidered on them.
Things here at the Bob Evans gift shop aren’t looking good. Somehow I got separated from the group. One minute we were looking at miniature license plates and monogrammed umbrellas and the next thing I know I was wandering alone in a vast sea of Intercourse and Blue Ball shot glasses.
My dear, I fear the worst. Go on without me.
Needless to say, the front of the restaurant was a store full of useless, folksy junk. The upside, of course, is that if I ever find myself in the market for a t-shirt that says “You are the bacon to my eggs,” or a jelly for any occasion, well, now I know where to go. Though at my age, my eggs just want to be left the hell alone.
What I’ve come to realize is that I really don’t like chain “diner” food. Cracker Barrel, Denny’s, Bob Evans, Waffle House… they all have a loyal following but the appeal is lost on me. Their food is meh, at best. Some towny diner’s omelet will always be better but how much of that better-ness can be attributed to the ambiance, I can’t say. I suppose like my penchant for Holiday Inn Express, people find comfort in knowing what they’re in for each time.
When the host made his way to the podium to seat me, he grabbed a single menu out of the stack and said with pitying flair that arced up to a squeak on the end, “just onnnne?” Indeed, Chip, it’s just me, a party of one at a Bob Evans in Breezewood, Pennsylvania at 8 pm on Wednesday. Maybe I should start saying No, party of two and then motion to an imaginary friend.
As a solo diner, you get to be a fly on the wall. As you sit in your silence the conversations that go on around you find their way to your ears. Because you aren’t focused on anyone across the table from you, your eyes are free to roam around the room and take in things that are overlooked when you have company.
When traveling, I like to bring my notebook to dinner. While unwinding from the day’s constant motion I try to record whatever I can remember. I find it therapeutic.
Have I ever told you that I have a deluded fantasy life? In it, I am far more interesting and important than I am in my real life. I like to pretend that everyone notices me writing and that they’re dying to know what I’m writing about. There are two stock fantasy people who write in my notebook at dinner – the novelist and my go to: the food critic. I don’t even know why that idea appeals to me. It’s ridiculous, really, especially considering the places I find myself dining. The Moons Over My Hammy had a slightly smoky flavor with a smooth finish.
When the waitress sauntered over to take my order, she said, “is it just you tonight, honey?” (what is it with these people?)
As I ate and scribbled, I watched the goings on of the restaurant. At the table closest to me was a couple in their late 60s, maybe early 70s. Throughout their whole meal, I didn’t see them exchange a single word. Not. One. And while it could be that they’ve elevated in their relationship to be able to enjoy a comfortable silence together, I projected my own feelings on what I saw. It was like two people sleepwalking. And at that moment, I realized though I was alone, I was not lonely.