An old employee returns to Pizza Ranch to take advantage of the buffet.
I’m waiting to catch a fuck from the kitchen. The service industry is cutthroat and I know the edgy teens behind that swinging door are spewing obscenities and violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with reckless abandon. It’s been three-and-a-half years since I worked at Pizza Ranch and almost two weeks since the president of Pizza Ranch endorsed Donald Trump for president of the United States. According to CBS, the restaurant is “a staple campaign stop,” and yet here I am, scooping cottage cheese onto a plate for the first time since my bitter departure.
Pizza Ranch is known for its buffet, which features an assortment of pizzas, endless fried chicken and, of course, a salad bar that provides customers with the illusion of health. The buffet is $11.55 after tax and you can bet your ass I’m eating enough food to make a profit on my initial investment. This cottage cheese is worth approximately $1.98 on the open market, meaning I’m well on my way. I scoop slowly, still hoping to catch a single fuck! from the kitchen, but no dice. I’m wearing a Supreme trucker hat with “Desert Storm” stylized like the Street Fighter logo, ready to make a mockery of the military industrial complex and a mockery of this buffet.
Truth is, I can’t help myself.
The aisles between buffet lines are especially wide because, even compared to the two-thirds of American adults who are either overweight or obese, there are a lot of fat people here. And the architect of this building expected as much. The décor is trying so hard that it looks like whenever Quentin Tarantino uses the n-word. Murals wallpaper the seating area with white cowboys and white smiles leading covered wagon trains, smallpox blankets surely in tow. I’m not sure if it’s the same mural on every wall or if I’m finally realizing what my Chinese roommate means when he says all white people look the same. Regardless, I want to meet the Michelangelo of this modern day Sistine Chapel.
The atmosphere of worship is furthered by the speakers hidden throughout the restaurant that implore God to sing with me. As anybody who’s anybody knows, this jam is none other than Chris Tomlin’s angelic anthem, “How Great Is Our God.” (Super great in my opinion, Chris.) I navigate the cramped space, granted Faulkish vision and Sandersonian agility by Super Great God, and manage to make it back to my table without spilling. Spilling would be a loss of profit and loss of profit is a loss for my cause. I can’t and don’t and won’t spill.
There’s an eyelash in my cottage cheese and I tell myself it’s mine. The families all around me are eating pizzas handled by ungloved hands anyway. We’re working in concert to ensure that diabetes rates once again triple in the next thirty years. A friendly face carrying a big, stupid grey tub appears not a second after I finish the last bite of my cottage cheese to collect my plate. This, the worst job at Pizza Ranch, is called bussing and is particularly degrading in the way that only a food service job can be.
I feign a quick smile in consideration of this poor soul’s less-than-ideal position. The poor soul’s nametag reads “Cullen” and, in vague recognition of the peculiar name, I look up at the poor soul’s face. We make eye contact and I realize that this is the very Cullen who I worked with in high school at Pizza Ranch and neither of us offer acknowledgement of the other. He was a dick in high school – once pulling a cruel prank on the new girl who then left crying, never to be seen again – and if anything, he’s probably a bigger dick now, but his prior transgressions still didn’t warrant this.
An old coworker’s confirmation via text that Cullen was, indeed, a dick eases my mind though.
If I wanted to be more flattering, I would describe the mass movement of people from the seating area to the buffet lines as a mighty stream. In reality, as the restaurant’s name suggests, the people are cattle and, like cattle, the people are herded to their troughs. Both ahead and behind me in the herd are a dozen or so men over forty, plaid shirts tucked into comically-blue jeans and not one belt matches one shirt. Non-Hispanic Asian children eat considerably less calories from fast food restaurants and, sure enough, there are no non-Hispanic Asian children in the herd. At the buffet I grab a chicken breast, a chicken leg and a plate of mashed potatoes and chicken gravy. It’s the equivalent of ordering a two-piece chicken dinner, which costs $7.49, except I get 24 extra ounces of mashed potatoes. My consumption totals $9.47.
As I pick the last bits of chicken from the breastbones, an employee appears at my table. She’s carrying a pizza and asks how many slices I want. You see, when you buy a buffet, you’re able to request one pizza that they’ll make for you. I requested buffalo chicken pizza because the patriotic synergy between buffalo wings and pizza is only comparable to that between Star Wars and action figures. She offers twelve slices. I request six. The price of a large buffalo chicken pizza is $12.99 and I take $6.50 worth of that, bringing my total to $15.97. Well above the $11.55 charge. I flash my own white smile in celebration.
That one Switchfoot song is playing now and an old woman next to me in line for ice cream shoots me a dirty look after I mutter “Jesus Christ” under my breath. I’m only getting ice cream so that I can use the fun ice cream machine. I eat a couple half-assed bites and grab my jacket and leave. The cause had earned a profit of $4.42.
On my way out, the manager – who appeared to be a very decent woman in her late-20’s – thanks me for my business. Unlike my own manager at Pizza Ranch, she has probably never leveraged her position to make out with high school girls. I tell her that the 48% of the country that thinks fast food is “not too good” needs to try some Pizza Ranch. A guy with a huge head (even larger than my own) holds the door open for me as I exit and he enters. He’s wearing a shirt that reads “S.O.R.R.Y.” in the D.A.R.E. font with “you’re not me” below it.
I’d like to think he appreciates my clever hat as much as I appreciate his clever shirt.