The best $2-an-hour fried chicken Baptist happy hour Sunday lunch in these here parts

Listen to Jim:

or read on…

“Hmm…this is…superb!” I say to Liz, who is sitting across the table from me at Cracker Barrel, digging into her Sunday lunch veggie plate.

I’m referring to the crunchy, heavily breaded and deep-fried boneless chicken part that just disappeared into my mouth. It’s been a long time since I’ve tasted chicken that seems fresh and moist and crumbly all at the same moment. It’s as if someone just prepared it from an old family recipe. Is the Fast Food industry losing its touch and getting better?

I offer Liz a piece and she agrees with me. This is good stuff.

The restaurant crowd is loud and boisterous and mostly obese, but I’m happy to sacrifice peace and quiet and unattractive scenery for food that tastes like my aunts used to make in the old days.

We’ve fogotten that just-past-churchtime is the busiest time of the week, and the Cracker Barrel staff is more focused on processing incoming customers than sharing pleasantries and anecdotes. I try to break the ice anyhow: “This looks like Baptist Happy Hour here,” I say to the pale waitress with a smile, hoping she’ll smile back at my little attempt at humor. She thinks I mean that this is a peaceful period, so she comes back with, “This is the worst time of the week, and I’m not even supposed to be working this shift.” She strains a smile and goes about handling several tables at once.

Later, she offers more insight into her life. “I’ve been working for three hours today for just $22 in tips. These people don’t know we (the waiters) are paid $2 an hour and have to earn the rest from customers.” Turns out she’s desperate for money. “I broke my tooth and it really hurts—it’ll cost me $500 to get it fixed.”

As we finish up, the harried waitress buses the next table, picking up a $3 tip from a $50 tab. She grumbles to the busboy, who is sympathetic and tries to help.

Birmingham is not known as a town of big tippers. We’ve not gotten the 20% memo that much of the rest of the nation has received. They must not know our zip code.

I’m thinking I’ll give her a 50% tip as a gesture of understanding. Liz adds another $5. We leave, knowing we haven’t solved the $500 dental bill problem, but we are slighly proud of the fact that we listened to the server, as opposed to haughtily making small demands as if we’re the upper crust and everybody else is the Help. I see people doing that a lot in restaurants these days.

“Two dollars an hour?” I quip to Liz as we head home. “Is this a great country or what?”

There oughtta be a law






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