"Just a Pit Stop on the Road"
by Jessica Kuzmier
The restaurant was full when I went in, even though it was two in the afternoon. But that wasn't that strange seeing that this was a McDonald's outside Hot Springs, Arkansas, home of then President Bill Clinton. The restaurant wasn't full of what I would stereotypically call tourists. It wasn't teeming with families consisting of two families, bustling kids, their tables spread with maps and other travel paraphanerlia with accents that sounded nothing like the South. There were no RV's in the parking lot, so the old people in the store most likely from the neighborhood. There were seniors sitting by themselves, and groups of them sitting at tables with newspapers spread in front of them, acting on a conveyor belt of drinking coffee, refilling it, drinking coffee, refilling it. Most of the seniors in groups were men. Of those that were alone, many were women. The lively twangs of the men filled the room, as did the silence of the women sitting alone.
There were kids in jeans and T-shirts slouching on the line in front of me, and more coming in behind me to sandwich me in. The larger groups were boys, and the smaller groups were of girls, again somehow mirroring the spectacle that I saw in the older set of customers, though the girls wore tighter fitting garb than their older sisters. I thought about the stereotype that women had lots of friends while men were more solitary, and how women were more talkative and wordy than men. Maybe they hadn't met any of these people, for when I heard loud talking going nonstop on the line, it came from the boys. The girls whispered among themselves. Then they'd stop, looking around shyly like they were supposed to be more extroverted than they wanted to be. They were like the older people, fifty years in the past. Maybe the good people of Hot Springs hadn't read up on Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus or anyone else that would tell them how women are verbal and men nonverbal. Like the other females, I waited on the line in silence.
My turn came for me to put my order, and a big round man of about thirty-five repeated it, booming into a mike. Behind him, there was a small woman about twenty with skin like cream colored coffee. She wore the token worker's uniform. She the last of an assembly line of prepackaged burgers thrown at her by anonymous hands. To pass the time, she gossiped away about her personal life to no one in particular but the big guy and me. It seemed the big guy had acquired the manager's habit of listening while doing six other things, so he wasn't giving her full attention. So I did.
"Yeah, the next time my husband catches me fooling around, hey's going to beat my ass," she said, looking at me.
"Well, keep out of trouble", the white guy replied, as he tallied the cost of my order in the cash register. "Twelve-eighty, please," he directed at me.
I gave him the change and waited for the order, watching all of the people congregating about me. The big guy belied his girth by constantly moving, taking orders, gathering fries, assembling orders in trays, bags, and paper cups. The cream colored woman began a ticklefest with a darker man in his early twenties working the french fries. I wondered if he was her husband. Or, maybe not.
A roar of voices came behind me, as the boys on line came to some conclusion in a debate that exonerated one half, and dissed the other. The girls that had been on line now had their orders, and were by the napkin sections, orderly getting their condiments before sitting down at a table. The boys' volume went down for a moment at the distraction of the females, before going on to a new topic. The older men filled their coffee, and one of the older women slowly got up with her tray to dispense of the garbage, feeling her way to the dispenser, before she organized her things and left.
Soon I received my food, everything in its proper order, prepared by the expert skills of the big manager. The cream colored girl darted behind the assembly line of burgers while the french fry man followed. The big guy shook his head without really acknowledging me, probably used to customers and chaos without seeing them. "Have a nice day", he called out to me, before he yelled something to the hidden couple. I didn't exactly hear what he said, because I was getting my napkins ready, to go.
As I left, I thought about how I couldn't find the Hot Springs National Park. And that despite that, I was feeling the novelty of being in a new state, of crossing into territory previously unknown to me. Male laughter bid me farewell as I headed out the door. Their voices were silenced by the outdoor noise. Here, the loudest sound was cars rushing past on the highway in front of me. There was a long line idling by the drive-thru. A car pulled away from the window with its order to go to wherever it was going to, and another one pulled in. The trucks were louder than the cars, bearing mostly women drivers. I saw one dart behind her seat, yelling at her children. Suddenly I noticed my stomach growling, and the aroma wafting from the restaurant made me even hungrier. I forgot about all of them as soon as I entered my vehicle so my spouse and I could eat our own meal and move on.