by David Peterson

“You want fries with that? It comes with fries you know.”

“Did I ask for fries?”

“Uh, no. I’m just sayin’ that if you order the pattymelt that it comes with fries”

“I don’t want fries.”

“I still gotta charge ya for ‘em”

“Fine”

With military precision my pattymelt arrived about ten minutes later and she still brought the fries.

“I really don’t want these.” I said pointing to my plate.

“Well the thing is, I gotta charge you for ‘em,” gum snapping as she spoke, so I went ahead and put ‘em on the plate….”

The waitress droned on, I wasn’t surprised though. It had been like this during the entire tour. The van, driven usually by me, would pull into some podunk town, find the worst possible diner and then, zombie like, we four wannabe rockstars would pile out and slouch into the first available naugahyde booth. We had been doing this same routine for about four weeks when I first noticed the pattern. It got to the point where no matter what I ordered, it tasted the same.

Like donuts. Our frontman, Danny said that this was the mark of a fine diner.

Danny had a cast iron stomach and could talk about the most disgusting things imaginable while eating. Once, in a diner in Jersey I saw him kill a cockroach that was making a beeline for his omelet without missing a bite. “Hey, I didn’t order this,” he said while scraping the carcass from the formica table. Then, while still chewing his last bite, he ordered, “hey sister, lemme have a hunk of that pie will ya?”

This was life for us at the time. We took ourselves very seriously and were unified in the notion that at any moment a major label A&R guy would appear at one of our ill-attended shows and make us the stars we thought we were entitled to be. We were living in the crease of society and were able to make enough dough to cover the essentials; beer, cigarettes and guitar strings. The songs were good, or at least our girlfriends thought so, and we really clicked on stage as long as nothing went wrong. Things usually went wrong. There was a long list of things that could go wrong.

Anything that happened at night in a club, any problem that may have arisen while we were on stage was always talked about while we were eating. Strange, but I don’t remember ever sleeping while we were on the road, though I’m sure that I must have.

Once in a diner in El Paso, Texas I sat, staring, bleary eyed and hungover at two grease pools that were allegedly eggs. Though it was clearly a breakfast choice the waitress had still uttered those magic words, much to my chagrin. “Uh, honey, you want fries with that?” She was going too far. I felt the tension mount as the band got ready for another long castigation from me on the sins of french fries. I was too tired to let this one have it. I meekly muttered, “no.”

This place was too much, even for Danny. We all sat there unsure of what to do.

I was sure of one thing, there was no way that I was eating what was in front of me. We all just sat there not saying a word. The smell from these alleged food products was giving me a tremendous headache when all of a sudden, John Locke, our drummer, blurted out “I AM NOT EATING THIS!!” no one even looked up at the normally quiet John Locke. He said this in every other stop that we made. Truth was he only ate about once a week. I would not have believed this fact but I lived with this man in very close quarters for an extended amount of time and I like to think I know what his habits were. John Locke was a first class beer drunk. He would usually start drinking as soon as we got to the club. Before that, if he was awake, he would drink coffee and smoke cigarettes in the back of the van. He rarely said more than three words at a time. The only response he got was from Danny. “Good, can I have the rest of your….whatever that is?”

Danny could never admit that a place actually had inedible food. If the sign outside said restaurant’ that meant that whatever they served you inside was fit to eat. John Locke looked at Danny and then contradicted himself by saying

“Nope, I not quite done yet.” He remembered that no matter who ate the food in front of him that he would end up paying for it. Grimly he picked up a fork and started in on his order.

There was actually a space of three full days on the tour where I managed to trick the conspiracy of waitresses. I had taken to eating only pancakes.

Pancakes. I was amazed that it had taken so long for me to figure this out. No one ever ate fries with pancakes. Then one day in Spearfish, South Dakota, I met my match. We decided to eat before retiring for the night rather than in the morning. I ordered pancakes and eggs as it was the special of the day. The waitress was a chubby biker type. She was only thinly disguised by the official polyester waitress uniform. I knew right away that my happiness would be brief…. She actually leered as she said it. It was as if she had been waiting all night, I couldn’t believe my bad luck. Lenny, our guitar player, muttered, “Shit, here we go again.” I immediately started in on my usual diatribe…

“Who the hell eats french fries with pancakes?” I complained.

“Listen, you little shit, I’m not gonna take in crap from you tonight you understand?”

I was slightly shocked but no less determined.

“Did I ask for fries?”

Danny and Lenny tried to get me to stop but it was too late, I was on a roll.

“I don’t give a damn what you asked for you little punk.” She was raising her voice now.

I knew I had her even though I was scared.

“You gotta care, you’re the waitress and if you didn’t, you wouldn’t have asked”

She sighed. She was down but not out. I didn’t figure on what she said next though.

“If you’re still in town when I get off I am gonna kick you skinny little ass.

Do you understand me?”

I sat there blinking, bare arms sticking to naugahyde. I had no response.

My mates had abandoned me in my struggle against french fries. They were all doubled over laughing. I wasn’t laughing. I knew she meant it. She had dealt with those like me before. I was beaten and I knew it.

I sat there staring at the fries on my plate. It was a conspiracy. They were all out to get me. The only recourse I still had was not to eat them.

Unfortunately that really wasn’t the point though. The fact that they had to be there at all really burned me. I was so dejected that I volunteered to drive the van through the night rather than stay one unnecessary second in this godforsaken hell-hole in the badlands of South Dakota. We were playing Fargo the next night and by comparative standards the food would be fit for Kings.

Danny walked alongside me as we made our way through the expansive gravel parking lot, the gravel crunched beneath our boots. “I knew she was trouble,” he said. I was silent, he was right. “Cheer up man, the sun’ll come up in Fargo tomorrow and you’ll be able to get even with all of ‘em then. Might want to think about ordering cereal though — just to be on the safe side.”

All in all it was the food that I remember most. I have since moved from the crease of society into the quick. I am older, I drive a station wagon and have a respectable job. But every now and then during the heat of summer I pick a direction at random and hit the highway. The feel of the wind in my face, and the sound of radial tires whining on the asphalt is exhilarating……and sometimes, if I try really hard, I can almost catch the not-so-subtle scent of fried bacon and boiled coffee….and if I press the illusion just a little bit farther, I can hear the rustle of a polyester waitress uniform and am always startled when the amalgamation of all the waitresses in all the dirty cafes utters that beautiful, succinct aside, “honey, you want fries with that?

…comes with fries you know.”