Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Eat Fast & Step On It

“Look! A Bug!” The young boy leaps from his seat at the cramped breakfast room off the lobby of a Red Roof Inn along Interstate 75 in Kentucky. About eight years old, the kid crouches to examine the insect. “Uh, I don’t know what it is,” he announces in a voice loud enough to alert the half-dozen diners who spoon generic cereal from plastic bowls and sip orangeade from foam cups. “But it’s dead.”

Set up in an alcove between the front desk and an indoor swimming pool, the fluorescent-lighted breakfast area retains an odor of chlorine combined with the cigarette smoke that wafts from nearby guest rooms. In addition to the cereal and artificial juice, the limited offerings, placed haphazardly on a short length of counter, include white bread for toasting, packaged donut sticks, coffee, and powdered creamer. It’s all included in the price of a room--$69.99 on this summer weekend for a standard, double bedded accommodation with low-wattage light bulbs, thin towels, and threadbare sheets.

“Tommy, quiet down,” the boy’s mother scolds through squinted eyes, “these people don’t want to hear that.” Whether or not they want to hear it, everyone knows by now.

A retired couple dressed in crisp tee shirts and unblemished New Balance sneakers, and seated at the tiny table adjacent to mine, watches as the boy spies the bug. The woman arches her highlighted eyebrows and pouts her lips, an expression more appropriate for rodent infestation. Then she rests an elbow on the table and arcs a hand, like a visor, across her forehead to block out the scene. The husband stirs a packet of artificial sweetener into his coffee while chuckling at the boy’s antics.

By now, Tommy is rushing toward the counter. “I need a cup. I’ve got to catch this guy,” he blurts. Unfazed by the other diners, the boy grabs a foam cup from a stack beside the coffee pot and sprints back to the dead bug. Meanwhile, I peer over my coffee and glazed donut stick, expecting to spot a king-sized roach on the tiled floor. But when I stand and lean forward for a better look, I realize the breakfast room intruder is merely a beetle.

The mother rises from her chair and approaches her son, leaving some corn flakes and milk at her place setting. “OK, we’re going. Tommy, get away from there.” She grasps the lad’s hand and leads him away from the bug. “Doggone it,” she mutters, “I didn’t even have my coffee.” Clutching his mother’s hand, Tommy skips down the hall, the empty foam cup still in his grip.

The retired woman at the next table turns to her husband. She sighs and rolls her eyes, seemingly exhausted by this trivial ordeal. I stifle a laugh wondering how she'd react if that beetle had taken up residence on her pillow.

from 2002

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