Small potatoes? Try no potatoes

If you've ever lived in a small town, you know there are worse things than traffic and overzealous developers. Try waiting two hours for a cold steak with no potatoes.

In Gwinnett, where choices abound when it comes to shopping, restaurants and the like, service tends to be prompt and employees friendly. After all, they know you can go elsewhere and probably will.

Not so in a small town, where options are limited, service is slow and too often the attitude of the employees is: "If you don't like it, go somewhere else. Oh, wait, there is no place else! BWA-HA-HA-HA!"

Flashback: My wife and I are visiting a small town in a neighboring state. Arriving around dinner time, we scope out the two available non-fast-food restaurants and pick the one that seems most promising. Its marquee flaunts the "Red-eye Special," a filet with loaded mashed potatoes "smothered in red-eye gravy." Sounds good, we think. We'll have two of those.

"I'm sorry," our server informs us. "We're out of red-eye gravy."

"But it's the red-eye special," I protest. She just stares.

"OK," I capitulate. "Can we just have the steak and mashed potatoes, then?"

"Sure," she says and flounces off, I suppose to place our order.

An hour later we've been plied with bread and salad, while every server in the place except our own has stopped by to refill our water glasses. But no steak, no potatoes. We're beginning to think red-eye gravy isn't the only commodity in short supply. Finally, yet another server arrives with our plates, each bearing a solitary filet, sans potatoes.

"Where are our mashed potatoes?" I ask.

"Oh," she says, as if the very thought is a revelation. "I'll go check."

Alone again, we pick at the charred flesh. It becomes obvious, as I sample a sawn-off corner, why we had to wait more than an hour for our steaks: because that's how long freshly broiled meat needs to assume room temperature.

Another 15 minutes pass. I spot our original server, who has apparently been taking a 75-minute smoke break, and wave her over.

"Hi," she says brightly. "Is everything all right?"

"No, it isn't," I say with as much patience as I can still muster. "We never got our potatoes."

"Oh," she says. "Would you like them now?"

"No, we'll be back to pick them up in the morning," I reply. (OK, what I actually said was, "That would be nice.")

Five minutes later, still no potatoes. Our steaks can now be used to treat swelling. We drop five bucks on the table and leave, understanding at last why they call it the "red-eye special" - because it takes all night.

So next time you're cursing traffic on your way to the neighborhood Longhorn, cheer up. At least there's a potato there with your name on it.

Lawrenceville resident Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.