Jack and I came out of our vaccinated cocoons at Christmas to do a few fun things. After visiting friends, we organized a journey on the Great Smoky Mountains Scenic Railroad, four hours round trip, private dining table, masks.
The night before, we stayed in a charming little motel of brand name out just between Bryson City and Cherokee. I got in a swim before the pool filled with small humans, so all was well. Jack and I spent a pleasant evening catching up on A French Village, which we’ve been enjoying through the holidays, and went to bed early.
Or tried to. The sounds of little humans and their celebrating families around us made clear we were in a family-friendly hotel. No worries, just use the earplugs and be happy for humanity.
The next morning I arose at my usual 6:30ish and went to the lobby for coffee. The desk was closed, something somewhat unusual in a motel; the signs plastered all over the plastic sneeze guard defending why it was closed and what guests could do about it were oddly charming.
A guy in a band shirt and a musician’s fedora–looking very much like a young John Hirt–emerged from the employee door in the small kitchen area. The coffee was ready, he said, but there were no cups.
He smiled apologetically. “I don’t know where nothing is. I’m just helping out until they can get somebody. Nobody can get anybody right now.”
I smiled apologetically back. “It must be hard these days. No worries; I think there were cups in our room.” On return I asked if he’d mind if I sat in the breakfast area and typed on my computer, if I’d be in his way. “Lord no, ma’am, let me put those chairs down for you. I’m just new, don’t know what to do.”
“You’re doing great and I’m sure the motel is glad to have you.”
I didn’t ask if he were happy that the motel gig was supplementing wherever he played acoustic guitar, and electric base.
Ten minutes later he had out the cereal, the bagels, and the jelly. He had unlocked the refrigerator that held yogurt and cream cheese (which had a note on it saying items inside were to be consumed only at breakfast). With a polite tip of his hat to me (an old-fashioned courtesy I found lovely beyond words) and what can only be described as a smile of relieved satisfaction on his face, he locked the staff door and headed off.
I surveyed the four jars of cereal, the coffee pots lined up in rows, and watched the first group of kids hit the breakfast area to discover what I’d been wondering about since he left.
There was no milk out.
The maids began arriving, all of them with beautiful west Jamaican accents. They may be a family unit; they are very kind women. Right after them came the next round of mom-and-kids. The first mom gave her kids toast and went back to their room. The second mom demanded the maids find milk for her children. The maids gave polite smiles and their English suddenly got very bad. When the Mother of Karens left in frustration, they turned and winked at me.
The third group went in search of someone. Young John of the Black Fedora was dealing with leaks in three places. “Milk” didn’t seem to register as quickly as “water.” When it finally did, you could see the look of disbelief on his face. He did not mumble “kids today”; he didn’t need to; his facial expression did it for him.
Apparently he hadn’t forgotten it. There wasn’t any. I have never seen a man deliver news so fast and vacate the premises. He is tall and has long legs. And he had “employees only” doors behind which he could retreat.
It’s a mad, mad, crazy world. I’m sitting in a motel lobby about to go on a pleasure excursion, watching parents cope with kids whose various responses to the Great Milk Crisis reflect a lot of different parenting styles. Some of them snuck quietly outside and got coolers which they trundled past envious others. Some of them shrugged and made toast. Two (parents) demanded to know why the motel didn’t have milk and how fast could they get it.
It feels like sitting in a microcosm of America. All hail the future, kids. Figure it out.