KNOXVILLE, TENNESEE -- Just had a somewhat disquieting and ominous experience at the Iron Skillet restaurant at +/- Exit 360 off of I-40, just west of Knoxville. I was, admittedly, tired, hungry, a bit irritable, and still somewhat hung over from the night before -- but probably half the people at Iron Skillet at any given time are suffering from at least two of those conditions, so presumably it was not just me.
In any event, I was driving west on I-40, en route from Maryland to Texas after finishing up fieldwork for my latest book in the former state. It was a little after 10 p.m. and I had just got done meeting with an author who is doing work for my Skirmisher Publishing LLC and was looking for a place to spend the night and get a bite to eat. When I saw the roadside sign for the Iron Skillet, which noted it was "open 24 hours," it sound like just the right thing.
I exited and drove over to the restaurant was, which was affiliated with a Petro travel plaza. I seated myself, as per the sign at the entrance, and pretty quickly my waitress, an older white woman, came over, gave me a menu, and asked what I wanted to drink. I told her just water while I was deciding what I was going to eat.
After a few minutes, she came back and I ordered the chicken-fried steak and eggs and a cup of coffee. She asked me how I wanted my eggs, etc., started to turn away, and then, almost as an afterthought, asked me what kind of toast I wanted. I asked if they had rye toast.
"Rye toast?" she said, turning to look me full in the face for the first time and the pausing momentarily. "Yes, we have rye toast."
Alright, so call me paranoid and exahusted, but the first thing that struck me is, "Oh my God, she thinks I'm Jewish because I ordered rye toast!" Now I certainly do not consider there is any shame in being taken for Jewish, and it actually happens to me fairly frequently. But there is a certain horror associated with being picked out as a member of a particular group, especially when one is tired, alone, and in a part of the country that -- fairly or unfairly -- is not necessarily known for its love of minorities.
And things did not improve after that. I waited and waited for my coffee, and after about 10 minutes ask for it again. Amid profuse apologies, my waitress went and got it.
I then waited, and waited, and waited for my food. At some point, I heard my waitress yacking in the kitchen and in the midst of it heard her yell the words "rye toast!" and every five or 10 minutes or so whe would shamble past and tell me my food was coming. This was, keep in mind, near 11 p.m., the restaurant was by no means full, and it appeared to be fully staffed.
After nearly half an hour, my food finally arrived, couched in apologies and along with a couple of moderately scorched pieces of rye toast which the waitress offered to replace if they were "too dark" for me. Not wanting to do anything to prolong the experience or draw any special attention, I said they were fine and started eating ... and discovered the eggs weren't hot. The chicken-fried steak definitely was -- and did not seem to be a chicken-fried pork loin, which I was afraid they might give me just to sabotage whatever attempts at keeping kosher they might have thought I was making -- and the hash browns were midway in temperature between the other two items. I don't even want to go into how eggs not being hot is one of my pet peeves, because lots of people like them hot, and if there is one thing a place called Iron Skillet should be expected to get right, it is eggs.
There are a handful of other things associated with my dinner I could bitch about, but won't bother; it's 1 a.m., I am not any less tired than I was before, and I am now riding a case of heartburn on top of everything else. My odyssey continues in the morning and I should probably turn in.