Wednesday, February 26, 2014

136. AYCE

"You mean... it's just 6 dollars, and I can eat until I'm full?"


"But. But I don't understand."

"What don't you understand?"

"I don't understand what it means to be full anymore."

I stand with an empty plate in my hand, the underside of my chin glowing red from the reflected light of the heat lamps. The lamps are heating buffet vats of day-old food that nonetheless look like gourmet paradise. None of it is identifiable. It's just lumps of this thing, covered in that sauce, deep-fried in god-knows-what and sprinkled with this whatever-it-is. It's an All You Can Eat Chinese Food Buffet in Pearisburg, Virginia, and it smells like a college student's fridge, if that fridge was filled with all of my hopes and dreams.

I am a vegetarian, which can sometimes make AYCE Buffets a little tricky. As I mentioned earlier, all of the food looks the same. This is not a phenomenon unique to Chinese Food AYCE places, no, not at all. Every single AYCE place I have encountered, regardless of cuisine, has food that all looks exactly the same. You could be holding what looks like a french fry and be convinced it's a fish stick, meanwhile it's actually some bastardized version of a cannoli and you don't figure that out until you bite into it. So as I let my eyes graze hungrily all over the steaming trays of something-or-other, I let myself wonder if it would actually bother me if I accidentally ate some meat.

My stomach growls and I decide immediately that I do not care, and that I will bite-test everything. This is not to say that I take bites of things and put them back. Not even hikers are that unruly. No, to the contrary. I pile my plate high with a dangerously teetering heap of whats-all-this-then, and then wind my way back between the tables to my seat.

One by one, I lift differently shaped globules to my mouth, sinking my teeth into them and savoring the delicious flavor of never-heard-of-it. After a chew, if I figure out that it's meat, I take the rest of that particular food and scrape it unceremoniously across the table onto Grim's plate, whereupon it is immediately devoured. After about 10 minutes of this, I make my way down through the towering plateau of bertie-botts-every-flavor-chicken, I am able to finally decipher what I can actually eat more of.

Now I am ready for my second round. I leave behind the first plate, because AYCE places frown upon the reusing of plates. I grab a second empty plate. I would not want to be a dishwasher at an AYCE restaurant in a trail town. You'd be up until 3 in the morning, sweat pouring off your brow, up to your elbows in endless chinese-food crusted plates and soap, wishing that you were more than just a small town girl, living in a lonely world... specifically, Pearisburg Virginia. And even if you took the midnight train, you'd probably only make it as far as Roanoke, which would be alright I guess.

My eyes alight upon the festival of food, now having a vague understanding of what is available to me, and what will end up putting me in the bathroom for an entire evening. This, as you can imagine, is the trap that all AYCEaters fall into: believing that they are smart enough, clever enough, prepared enough, to be able to select several rounds of food that will not later trap them in a bathroom, screaming: "MISTAKES WERE MADE."

I know that I will make this mistake. And later, as I sit in the bathroom of our motel room, trying to go as fast as I can, while Dumptruck, Whistle and Grim pound on the door, caterwauling and hollering away about how "It's my turn now!" and "We're all in so much paaaaaaaain!" I know that given the choice, we'd do it all over again. Just to be able to eat 4 plates of food in one sitting, to be able to finally feel full, even if it's only for an hour, before it all comes back out again.

Clever Girl


  1. Great, now I have "Food! Glorious Food!" from OLIVER! stuck in my head

    "One moment of knowing that
    Full-up feeling!"

    1. Oh great, now it's stuck in MY head too. CURSES.

  2. I can feel your pain! It took me awhile to get a grip. Until I did, I suffered every time I went to town -- ugh!!!

    1. I wish I could tell you that I have learned how to control myself, but that would be a filthy, filthy lie.