Scenes from the Hagerstown Cracker Barrel Part III: Justified

By Sam Sessa

I know a guy who, in one cross-country road trip, dined and dashed at almost a dozen Cracker Barrels.

He and his buddy would order the same thing every time, tip the waitress, get the check and walk out through the Old Country Store without paying. Sometimes they even ordered food to go. He was young, broke and it was easy. But how could he keep doing it, time after time, without feeling guilty? It’s simple: After a while, he found a way to justify it.

Americans are especially good at justifying excess. You know that feeling: You drank the whole six pack even though it was supposed to last a week but it was a really hard day at work — or maybe just a harder-than-usual day, and you were thirsty.

Right after we justify, we get defensive.

So what if they were Heavy Seas Loose Cannons with an ABV of 7.25 percent, almost 50 percent more than the average can of beer, getting you that much drunker, and due to the higher calorie count, fatter. You were just supporting local beer, and who is your wife to tell you when you’ve had too much? You made it up the stairs to bed and even took off your pants before climbing in next to her and snoring all night because you’re a man and that’s what men do.

Last time I was at the Hagerstown Cracker Barrel, I walked past a table near ours where a middle-aged woman was about to explode on her companion, a middle-aged man. You could see her eyes light up as she turned the corner from justified to defensive. Her lower lip, which usually hung open by about a half inch, twisted into a sour frown rage, giving the table next to her a clear view of her buttery yellow lower teeth.

“I am having OPEN HEART SURGERY,” she said, in one of those hushed-but-not-hushed voices, when you whisper something really loud because you secretly want others to hear.

How dare this man, who sat across the table from her now, deny her the right to have the Cracker Barrel Country Boy Breakfast®, with Country Ham, Pork Chops or Steak grilled to order, Three Eggs cooked to order served with Fried Apples, Hashbrown Casserole, Grits, Sawmill Gravy and Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits along with real Butter and the best Preserves, Jam n’ Apple Butter available.

What if she died on the operating table? This could be her last meal!

The man shot her a look, as if to say, “It’s Sunday morning, and your surgery isn’t ’till Wednesday.” But this argument was over before it began, like so many others before it — honey you don’t need three scoops of crushed Reese’s Cups on your FroYo, honey ordering a diet coke with your bucket of extra-butter movie theater popcorn won’t help, honey the fat and sugar from all of these waffles is collecting on your waistline but also in places you can’t see, like your veins and your heart, wrapping around your arteries like a big old jungle snake.

All the while, he watched her body swell until the doctor said she was gonna up and die unless they cut her open and replace pieces of her heart with pieces from a pig’s heart. Yeah, that sounded about right, he thought.

But he knew not to say anything. There was only room for one mouth at that table.

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