It’s 11 a.m. on a Sunday — standing room only at the Hagerstown Cracker Barrel’s Old Country Store.
Church has let out, and all those other sinners who spent Saturday night with their lips wrapped around a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 have scraped themselves off their kitchen floors and driven their Ford F150s to the best goddamned American breakfast on both sides of the Rocky Mountains.
Whenever there’s a Cracker Barrel, there’s always a Waffle House nearby — to catch the people who can’t stand to wait any longer. Waffle Houses are like those little fish who swim next to sharks, picking off the free scraps after the sharks attack a whale.
On this Sunday, like most Sundays, Cracker Barrel’s rustic rocking chairs are all occupied, which means if you don’t want to eat at Waffle House, you’re going to have to spending time waiting in the Old Country Store, with its piles of useless yet oddly alluring crap.
The first time you walk past all this random junk you think, “No way am I buying an Official Frog Trouble Jaw Harp,” and “I don’t even know what a puck of Menthol Camphor is,” but they lurk in the back of your mind the whole time you eat breakfast, and when you go back to pay the bill you think, “Well, that Handcrafted Wax Pottery Vessel was marked down to $22.49, and who could pass up a deal like that?”
But right now, there’s still a 30-minute wait between these folks and their breakfast, and they’re getting restless. You can almost hear the blood sugar levels dropping in the Old Country Store. At this very moment, the Hagerstown Cracker Barrel deploys its secret weapon.
She stands up straight, not one of her white hairs out of place, smiling gently. Then, she speaks, in that soft voice your grandmother used when she set dessert on the table.
She is holding a tray covered in little paper cups, each one with a piece of … Nestle Crunch Bar.
Nestle fucking Crunch Bar.
Each cup has one cube of a Nestle Crunch Giant Size Candy Bar — the ones you see at Sam’s Club and think ‘who buys that,’ and then when you get to your car you look down and notice one in your cart, and look around to make sure no one is watching as you shove it in your trunk.
It takes a moment to appreciate what Cracker Barrel is doing here. You can imagine the conversation between the manager and the store employee.
“People are starting to get restless out there, sir, and the rocking chairs are full,” the employee says.
“Give them free samples,” the manager replies.
“Of what, sir? Hot cinnamon jawbreakers? Pecan log?”
“Not today. Mutiny is in the air. Open the secret weapon.”
“But sir, the calories … we have a moral obligation –”
“DAMN THE CALORIES, THIS IS AMERICA, OBEY ME”
So there she stood, every Sunday, as people wrapped their hairy, meaty fingers around her delicate paper cups, watching their eyes roll back in their heads as they leaned back and dumped chunks of Crunch Bar down their throats, knowing that if someone accidentally bumped into her, causing the free samples to fly into the air, it would be the same as throwing a handful of $1 bills into the market square of a third world country — pure mayhem, a fight to the death.
“Free samples,” she said again, her voice almost a whisper.
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