Cracker Barrel Vignette

| July 3, 2017

Last night, en route to dropping Sequoia off at summer camp, I passed a sign for Cracker Barrel.  Paul and Cracker Barrel and I have a history.  A history that spans over 15 years.

It’s been a while since we’ve visited a Cracker Barrel.  As I continued to drive, I nonchalantly mentioned to Paul that I had an idea for dinner.  I asked if he could guess.  For the next two hours—to camp and on our way home from camp—Paul occasionally guessed, to no avail.

I’ll note one of his guesses: “We are NOT driving up to Philly,” he said, apparently finding it within the realm of possibility that I would add two and a half hours to the trip for a slice of pie.  I suppose I’ll also note that he asked at least three times if I was sure it wasn’t McDonald’s.

I was finding it hilarious that Cracker Barrel was not springing to his mind.  It’s classic Martindale road food.  I’ve even written about it in the past, which I will now share with you.

 

cracker barrel meal

 

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 gazillion Cracker Barrels line our highways and byways, and yet I managed not to notice one until my early 20’s.  Since then, I have visited countless Cracker Barrel log cabins across America and I have two ways of describing the restaurant experience, depending upon whether you are visiting during peak meal time, or in between those hours:

Off-peak hours:  You drive into the parking lot of Cracker Barrel.  The lot is surprisingly populated despite the fact that it is 9:00 p.m., but you are pleased to find a spot near the door.  You smile as you walk past the smooth, white rocking chairs.  You open the door and are greeted by a pleasant array of Americana: nostalgic toys, candies, and Christmas decorations.  You put your name in and are told it’ll just be a few minutes.  You head outside. While rocking in the breeze, you enjoy a carefree game of checkers.  When your name is called, you make your way through the shop and enter the restaurant, sit down at a wooden table topped by an oil lamp, order your chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, and sweet tea, and play a long-forgotten peg-and-wood game until your meal comes.  You savor your extra white gravy and several refills of sweet tea, pay, visit the restroom on the way out, and purchase some nostalgic candy for the trip.  Life is good.

Editor’s Note: That happened to be our experience last night.

Still, there is another kind of Cracker Barrel experience…

Peak hours:  You circle the parking lot slowly, excitement quickly dissipating as you curse the people in front of you.  They are about 130 years old.  You grow more testy as you curse the people behind you, who seem to think you can drive faster, and are now aiming to drive their own vehicle into your back seat.  You want to know why all these people can’t just eat at Long John Silver’s, then you look across the street and see that the dilapidated building has been closed for at least ten years.  You eventually park across at the abandoned Long John Silver’s lot, which is filled with more families buzzing toward the log Cracker Barrel cabin like mosquitoes toward the light, unaware that they are about to be zapped.  You trudge up the porch steps and past the overflowing row of rocking chairs, open the door, and step into masses of women inspecting ceramic pie dishes, holding patriotic sweaters up to their chests, and asking one another which scented candle smells most appropriate for the powder room.  You look back outside at the people sitting in rocking chairs.  They are all men, slumped over in defeat.

You stand in line to put your name in for a table.  The candy wall catches your attention and you stand, eyes aglow, excited to buy some.  Then you realize that the cash register line snakes through the shoppers and the nostalgic toys, all the way to the American flag quilted sweater rack in the back of the store.  You don’t want candy—you want to use the bathroom.  As do 65 other people.  You step outside, where a party whose name has been called is vacating some rockers.  As you sit down on a white rocking chair, you notice a price tag hanging off of it and think, Who the hell is buying a rocking chair on a pitstop?  You don’t play checkers because there is no winner at Cracker Barrel.  Inside, your order takes an hour to fill.  Your peg-and-wood game is missing three pegs, so you just stare at your companions, trying to remember which one of you assholes suggested you stop at Cracker Barrel.  When you leave, you realize that you’ve squandered two hours to eat soggy green beans.  You spend another two hours with everyone in the car denying being the asshole who suggested you stop at Cracker Barrel.

Next road trip:  You see the “Cracker Barrel: 46 miles ahead” billboard and excitedly begin the countdown.  Obviously, you have suffered a brain injury.

cracker barrel rocking chair

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Category: Shits & Giggles, Travel, Uncategorized, US Travel

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

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