Illustration by: Jack Unruh

I am not sure when I became a grouchy old man, a crotchety relic. I just know I am.

If you ask me how I am doing, I will respond, "Fine...but it's early." It may not be my fault, completely. Part of it is age. I used to go in the drugstore and buy a Hershey's bar and a yo-yo. Now, I go in the drugstore and buy drugs. You are unlikely to skip down the sidewalk clutching a three-month supply of metformin and a quart bottle of amlodipine. And reading glasses. I am always losing my reading glasses.

The rest of it we will blame on the hotel breakfast buffet, the nightmarish 21st-century phenomenon dishonestly referred to as a "hot bar." I think that is where I turned the corner from optimist and went stumbling off down the path to miserable old geezer. I believe, somewhere between the desiccated bacon and scrambled eggs so awful there is no known word, I just lost hope.

Maybe it would be easier if I were not a Southerner, who grew up on breakfasts that made waking up a joy. There were soft scrambled eggs with crumbled sausage, thick slab bacon, soft biscuits, milk gravy, sliced tomatoes, fresh cantaloupe. My mother, my aunts, even my uncles made it an art. In lean times, they turned fried bologna and biscuits with water gravy into a delicacy.

But that is a million miles from the canned heat of an expense-account hotel.

I travel a bit. My people, who have no interest in leaving northern Calhoun County unless it slides into a sinkhole, do not believe that is glamorous. They have traveled enough to know that, beyond the county line, pork sausage links are slowly petrifying inside a stainless steel coffin under a chemical fire.

Still, I love to meet the people who read my work. I bear the sadist airlines. I man up to the 5:30 a.m. talk shows. I once followed a dog that barked Christmas carols. I followed the guy who lost over 200 pounds eating SUBWAY sandwiches. Think about it.

But when I retire, it will be because I cannot stare down one more watery vat of unseasoned grits, one more begrimed hotel toaster. If I wanted to make my own toast, I'd stay at home, not stand here in line with America's future business leaders, a still-half-drunk wedding party, and an entire family reunion to use a toaster that shorted out in 1983.

Worst of all, though, is the abomination of the hotel biscuit. There is not enough congealing gravy in this world to cover the nastiness of a crunchy biscuit.

Fancy restaurants are no haven. At a four-star hotel, I had scrambled eggs that could have been used as packing material. At a bed-and-breakfast, I asked for bacon and eggs and got a strip of blackened bacon and a hockey-puck egg. . .and nothing else. This, in the South.

I guess we get what we settle for. I am always told I can order off the menu. The last time I did, they scooped it out of the buffet. I made my disgusted old man's face at them, but they are young and immune.

At least, soon, I can get the disgruntled, embittered old geezer discount.

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