Friday, February 01, 2008
The Old Country Buffet Hostage Crisis
This is our bus driver. We'll call him George. Isaac took this photo of George on the first day of our trip. George is a pretty cool guy -- he gave us a whole day's tour of D.C. for free, just because he loves the city. He did a pretty good job, too, cramming about a week's worth of touring into one day. It's kind of a blur, really... but we all had fun. Until dinner, anyway.
George has a dark side, though -- an addiction. And addiction can make a perfectly normal bus driver do some pretty crazy things. My friends, George is seriously addicted to the Old Country Buffet. All those fried foods, dripping with butter and gravy... all those desserts, lined up underneath the sneezeguard... the little happy "OC Bee" with his yellow, grinning, toddler's face... it all looks so innocent.
On the first day of the trip, we left a little later than expected, so we were running late for our lunch stop. George suggested that we get snacks at a truck stop he knew near Staunton, VA, and then drive on in and get dinner at Manassas because he knew "a really great place to eat." That sounded fine. We took a vote, and everyone agreed to wait for dinner.
When we rolled up in front of the "Old Country Buffet," my first thought was "oh, no. I HATE all you can eat buffets!" But the kids were starving and there was nothing else around so we went. It really wasn't bad. They had a decent salad bar, and the poached salmon on the seafood bar was really pretty good. Not my first choice... but I lived, right? It's all good.
Then, the next day, George took us on our tour. It was pretty awesome, I must say. He has the turbo-tour of D.C. down to a science, and since we just had a day to see the city, it was perfect! We did our tour, and were exhausted by the end of the day and were looking forward to experiencing something really great for dinner. Something local, and a little upscale. Something we couldnt' experience back home.
Once we all got on the bus, George gave us some options for dinner -- Union Station (has a lot of good stuff in a food court underground), a shopping mall (where we ate lunch, and I had some excellent Thai food), or another Old Country Buffet on the outskirts of town. One group on the bus wanted to go to Union Station, but George mentioned that he really didn't want to go there because bus parking would be an issue. Another group suggested we go back to the mall, but then he said we were going the wrong way and it was already late. So off we went to OCB, driving past all the lovely restaurants on King Street in Old Town Alexandria with the really great bus parking.
It was kind of funny at first. There were lots of jokes being throw around about how the bus driver was probably going to drive around and around until we all agreed to go to the OCB. But then the priest who planned the trip took the mic and said, "Guys, I think we're just going to go to the buffet." And then people got pissed!
It took almost an hour to get to the Old Country Buffet!!! It was clearly in a really bad part of town, in a strip mall with pawn shops and advance-check-cashing joints. The kids were starving, and my Mom was getting headachy and dizzy from not eating for hours and hours. Several elderly people on the trip were starting to get sick, and I was really NOT wanting to fill my belly with a bunch of greasy buffet food.
The majority of the people on the bus decided to walk to a Popeye's nearby, but I really didn't want fried anything, so Mom, the kids and I decided to go into the OCB. Once there, we were told that there would be an extra $5 fee added to our bills because we were part of a large group! The lady in front of us said, "forget that!" and hoofed it on over to Popeye's. I had to take Olivia to a restroom -- fast! -- and by the time I came back, the manager had been called to the mat, and agreed to charge us only $2 extra, "because it's Saturday."
By this point, the kids were tired, starving, and the thought of walking all the way to the Popeye's was out of the question, so we relented. The food was awful at this one -- the salad bar was brown and there wasn't any salmon. The bathroom was nasty... it was just really not a good experience.
The kicker came when the manager handed George a voucher -- for a free dinner, I presume. Heck, we would have paid for his din-din had he taken us somewhere we liked! The next day, we made it abundantly clear that we would not be stopping at another OCB -- so he took us to a mall where our choices were Taco Bell, KFC, or some Pizza joint that looked equally unhealthy. My digestive system is only beginning to get over it. (How did I ever survive college?!?) It's been a yogurt-and-salad week!
Lesson learned -- plan meals ahead-of time on bus trips or bring healthy snacks.