The 5-Second Rule

We never saw Ron Howard or Cindy Williams there, but we went mostly for lunch.

I just had lunch at a diner–one that is a local institution. It’s been in business longer than I’ve been. I remember eating there on special occasions. Then, it was a drive-in diner. Perky “Car-Hop” Gals would come to the driver’s window, pass in a one-sided dog-eared menu and wait for us to make our not-very-complicated order, which always included a side of “fries.” She would trot to and from car window to diner window, where orders were placed orders, food was picked up, and trays filled with empty paper sploshed with ketchup and/or mustard were wisked away.

It took a special kind of gal to be a Car-Hop Gal. She had to be perky, precise, and pink.

My sisters and I would make a game of seeing if we could identify our order each time “our” Car-Hop Gal picked up a loaded tray. When our tray was “the tray,” Mom rolled her window up just enough to catch the hooks attached to the bottom of the tray. Our meal hung outside our car window and Mom was in charge of making we all got what we ordered. The tray came with real salt and pepper shakers and plastic squirt bottles: yellow for mustard and red for ketchup. They were always magically full when they arrived.

Like me, this gastronomic institution changed over time. Gone are the Car-Hop Gals and the simple menus. They are a “sit-down” restaurant now, but still have counter-stool-seating in a nod to the old days. Waitresses don’t wear uniforms and vary in age, shape, and appearance. They serve spaghetti. Imagine eating that in your car…

Well, Dear, they wouldn't have put spaghetti on the drive-in diner menu if they thought this would happen.

While waiting for my veggie burger and sweet potato fries–yeah, I know, they really have changed–I saw something that gave me pause the creeps. A young, pretty waitress was taking a burger platter from the cook’s holding shelf and placing it onto her serving tray, which was on a counter behind her. She was working quickly. The burger slide off the platter and onto the floor. She didn’t see it fly off the platter; she only saw a burger platter without a burger. Confused, she started looking around. Then she looked down.

Uh. On the floor with the lettuce, tomato and bun. Right next to the grimy footprints...

Then she picked up the burger, put it together (since the lettuce and other fixin’s apparently went flying as well), and placed it back on the original platter. She then stood waiting for the rest of the order.

La, de, da, de, da. I'm just waiting for the rest of my order to arrive. Seems to be taking a while. Aren't I cute?

She wasn’t our waitress; but our waitress was bringing our food seconds after this happened. I told her what I saw. I wasn’t interested in a Reality TV-type show-down between waitresses or customers and waitresses or any combination thereof. I just didn’t want some innocent customer eating a burger who didn’t also order a side of dirt.

Our waitress was, shall I say, "seasoned," and believed in serving food from the grill, not the floor.

Our waitress confronted Health-Code-Violation-Girl and told us the burger was replaced. I wanted to believe her.

Too late. My faith in the home-grown American Diner is shaken. As Phil was paying the bill, I noticed something dripping on my head. I looked up. An ancient in-the-ceiling air conditioner was leaking. What’s next? Legionnaire’s Disease?

Now I was more than shaken, I was downright alarmed!

I’ll be dining at home until I’m sure I’m not a walking biohazard.

NOTE: I’ll be traveling this week–good timing, huh? I should have internet access. But if you don’t hear anything from me until next weekend, either the hotel lied to me or I came down with a case of Legionnaire’s Disease. Wish me luck in either case!

I hope to see you in just a little while. But, trust me, you never know...

~ by Lorna's Voice on August 21, 2011.

35 Responses to “The 5-Second Rule”

  1. The more I hear, the more incentive I have to make meals at home–and I am not one who loves a culinary challenge (remember the lettuce sandwiches). Ignorance is bliss, but may land you in the hospital!

    No ill effects from Sunday lunch–thanks for asking!

  2. Steak ‘n Shake was a very popular “car-hop gal” kind of diner when I was growing up. But now no more gals just sit down eating. I’m sure we have survived all kinds of horrible things that have occurred to our food back behind restaurant kitchen doors! I shudder to think.

    I once worked at a private school and one of the teachers there said her father was a restaurant inspection guy when she was growing up and she said her family NEVER went out to eat! That ought to give you a clue. 😦

    I hope your health is holding steady!

  3. You’re right. Attitude is the key in so many aspects of life.

  4. I had the honor of working mess-duty while I was in the Marines. Oh the stories I could tell you. I think they should interview people and only select those that have a positive attitude who understand quality and customer service. Negative people usually do not provide good quality and customer service. I think the only positive person in the chow hall was our Lieutenant and we never saw him.

    Semper Fi and good eats

  5. You are SO right! This is an example of a person making a very bad decision in the heat of the moment. It just makes me wonder how often this kind of thing (or worse) occurs.

  6. Hey, I chalk it up to bureaucracy. I got to spend two days with my guy–and we get to do it all over again next week!

  7. What’s that about?! That’s not right. Hopefully it all works out for you guys!

  8. What a great post! At first I thought it was about a Drive-In movie theatre, lol, I love going to those things! I worked at a McDonald’s before Europe, and I’ll be going back there for a bit after, and heck, if something falls on the floor (even when it’s already wrapped) we throw it out and bring a new one up. I’ve wasted a few sleeves of cups because they’ve fallen on the floor due to questionable plastic packaging….but better in the garbage than someone getting sick. A lawsuit is WAY more expensive than a sleeve of cups.

  9. You’d be surprised. I was pretty hungry. 😉 Actually, my stomach was flip-flopping. But so was my mind–thinking about how I could turn what I saw into a funny post. I’m incorrigible!

  10. No respiratory distress yet, so I’m pretty sure you’re right–I’m safe. But I’m not going back in that place.

  11. My writing-rascal isn’t daunted by the shock of seeing humans behaving badly. I was mortified, but my next thought was, “this would make a great post!”

  12. I like that rule. And then there’s the 1 hour rule–try to find the number of the local food safety inspector and give her/him a call.

  13. No respiratory distress so far, only gastronomic jitters when I see a restaurant. The trip was a “false start.” I’m home now and we’re going to try it again next week…Ah, life!

  14. Yuck, yuck, triple yuck. Is anyone safe from anyone or anything? Has anyone ever been? Howard Hughes had it right… ;(

  15. Funny story. I was accompanying Phil (my guy) on his business trip. The trip got pushed back a week but no one told him until we arrived at our destination (an 8 hour car ride). So I’m back home now. We’re going to try it again next week. We’re considering this a road construction “recon” mission!

  16. Casual work in restaurants/cafes London, Europe and Oz taught me a thing or two – you spoke-up, made a difference, GoLorna! cheers catchul8r molly

  17. The more you know, the more you wish you didn’t–at least that’s true for me!

  18. I couldn’t agree more. I’m sure some dirt is WAY better than other dirt! I was disgusted and won’t be going back.

  19. Once again, your comment made me chuckle.

    My trip was cut short and rescheduled for next week. Phil’s (my guy’s) company rescheduled his business trip without telling him. The last two days have been 18 hours of car riding.

    Hope your vacation is going well!

  20. I’m sorry (oops!) to have ruined your modern-day drive-in dining experience. Let’s hope that the threat of a random food inspector visit keeps most places on the up and up. But all we can do is hope…

    BTW, we drove for 8 hours only to find out that Phil’s (my guy’s) company rescheduled his business trip and didn’t tell him. We’re trying it again next week. It’s been a long 2 days in a car!

  21. Yes, I just happened to be looking up at the right time. Makes me wonder what other stuff goes on behind the counters of this and other dining establishments…

  22. Couldn’t agree with you more. That’s why I had to tell our waitress. I never cease to be amazed at human behavior.

  23. That waitress needs to be banned from working at all restaurants. How’d she like it if she ate a dirt burger.

  24. You can hardly believe that would happen. Glad you spotted it

  25. WOW … I think – “a side of dirt” is the quote for the week. I loved that line, too. It is always scary for me to eat out. I worry about the things you mentioned. I always use “Germ X ” hand sanitizer after I look at the menu. I would fall out of my booth if I saw food drop to the floor.
    UGH … UGH …. UGH …!!!!
    Oh … we have a fast food establishment here called “Sonic”. They still have gals & guys on roller skates that bring the food to your car. I USED to love going there until I read this. Who knows what goes on in there. UGH …!!! Thank Lorna … I think???
    Toodles, Izzy

    P.S. Have a GREAT time traveling … relax and smell the roses. ~~~~ : – )

  26. Having worked as a short order cook in a fast food snack bar, I’d say the food prep counter and cooking area are marginally better than the floor – maybe. Thank goodness for our resilient digestive tracts. Home cookin’, so much better anyway, except for maybe you don’t have folks cooking for you, serving you, and cleaning up after you’re done. Hmmm might need to rethink that.

    Enjoy your holiday! I know I am. Just peeking in and making drive-by comments on everyone’s blogs without feeling the need to write anything myself…

  27. This post was very good for my diet. Even though Granny said, “We all gotta eat a peck o dirt before we die”, I’d prefer to pick my dirt. Not order it off the menu.

  28. ‘a side of dirt’ was the high point in the post for me

    after watching Food Inc., I lost whatever little appetite I had for speedy food

    having done Microbiology in college, I know I am not missing much by avoiding eating outside

  29. Hope you enjoy your break

  30. I worked in the college dorm cafeteria (Work Study) when I was at New Mexico Highlands University in the early 70s. The things I witnessed in food preparation would make the rebuild of the hamburger from the floor seem minor. Seriously, I could never eat in the cafeteria after working there and all I did was run the dishwasher.

  31. Let’s hope Legionnaire’s stays far away from you! Enjoy your week away and watch out for those slipped from sight burgers!!

  32. Had I seen that burger incident, I would have invoked the 30 second rule. That is, cancel my order, put on my coat and walked out within 30 seconds.

  33. Hahahahahahaha A side of dirt!!! Oh my. So funny you are but I do have concerns similar to yours about eating out. Even in the finest of establishments, we rely on the people. Shudder. Well, off to make my own dinner now that I’ve already had my daily side of dirt, ooops, I mean Lorna, LOL. Back to read you soon 🙂

  34. That was creepy and wrong on so many levels, to try serving that burger.

    But. I’m pretty sure you didn’t catch enough liquids for a future diagnosis, so we look forward to catching up with you. 🙂

  35. Ewww. I don;t think I could have eaten after seeing that…

Silence can be just what the doctor ordered. You know I'm a doctor, right?

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