My wife Lala spent her summers in the Beehive State so she reminds me that Utah is full of restrictions—state-run liquor stores, 3.2 beer—but we’ve never come across such a heavily policed meal outside the state pen. When we checked in, the lemon-faced woman behind the counter handed me a small slip of paper with my receipt.
“Read that carefully,” she warned.
“Oh, I sure will,” I said, thinking it had a bit of scripture from what my son London calls the “More Man” church.
I have only visited the temple in Salt Lake City once but I learned that attempting brief discussions with missionaries is like trying to buy milk at a hardware store. Oddly, the fortune the front desk clerk slipped me contained nothing about Joseph Smith, the Angel Moroni or those long johns the anointed must wear under their Dockers. Instead, the text said what most fine dining establishments only dare to think: We needed to be prompt, kids under 12 were not allowed near the serving area, incomplete parties would not be seated and that under no circumstances would food be allowed in the same room where one slept. But we are in Green River, not Paris or New York, and this is the kind of eating situation flabby-bottomed bikers frequent, not epicureans with palates as sensitive as litmus paper.
Our weary foursome started to drift into the dining room, which, with its few tables in such a narrow space, seemed more like a large hallway. A tall man dressed in chain-hotel casual brushed by us to the border where the carpet of the foyer ended and the tile of the consuming corridor began.
“I missed the velvet rope,” I said to Lala who shrugged. We all took two giant steps back where speech is permitted.
“Welcome to breakfast.” The man’s curt accent smelled like trouble whether your waffles hail from Belgium or Eggo. He then rattled off the omelets the chef could whip up in a nearby janitorial closet.
“Sounds great,” I said, trying to be chirpy for the sake of the children’s precious emotional safety.
“Remember: no taking food to go. And please, no one under 12 near the buffet. We do not have the staffing for that.”
I have been to many hotels that have these sorts of deals and most of the time it looks like Willy Wonka’s Special Ed Lab with oozing waffle batter, overflowing juice glasses and bagels burning on mini-conveyer belts. In Green River, it was clear that those kind of shenanigans simply wouldn’t do. Lala quickly shuffled London to a table near a plastic potted plant while Poppy and I perused the assortment of juices housed in a machine the size of an iron lung.
“The warden’s eyeballing us,” Lala said, referring to our motel maître’d.
“But we’ve had no major infractions, officer.” I poked a sweaty croissant to see if it was bugged. After seating another party, Snooty McSnootass swooped by and said, “Sir, no children near the food area.” I checked and saw London happily spreading cream cheese a safe distance from those dangerous Danishes.
“It’s Poppy,” I said when I returned to the table with strips of bacon you could see through. “She looks below the minimum age required by this franchise’s standard practices.”
“But I am 12!” she shouted with more vigor than a frat boy being escorted out of a strip club on his 21st birthday.
Lala patted her on the back. “You need to start carrying your ID.”
“We live in dangerous times,” I said and stuffed an apple in my pocket.
Robert Wilder’s latest book is Tales from the Teacher’s Lounge. His column, “Daddy Needs a Drink” appears the first Wednesday of the month.