It's more than a little to sad to think how much of my life has been spent sitting in booths in fast food restaurants. Usually by myself, and usually at night. Sitting reading a book, a newspaper or the strange nurtitional information on the paper "placemat" on my tray. Listening to Muzak(Phil Collins, again) and watching people come and go. I am not one of those who drive-thru and then sit in their cars, heater/air conditioner blasting while they try to eat without getting food all over themselves. I know I am too clumsy to pull that off, so I don't even try any more.

I'll eat it here

I watch the counter help, usually teenagers, staring out into space with bovine indifference. I watch the managers, ridiculously serious in their polyester shirts and clip-ons, as they skate around the place. And, of course-the parade:

The young couples - he, carrying the tray, getting twice as much food as he will probably eat, she, gathering up the napkins and straws and trying to find a place to sit that is away from the bathrooms and the geeky workers.

the gangs of kids usually hyper and goofy and wasted and confused. If the former- they spill condiments everywhere and laugh at their reflection in the glass as if they have discovered fire. If the latter, they stare at the menu selection for 10 minutes with their mouths open and say things in monosyllables-fries-shakes-apple*pause* pies *another pause* MAN . More staring.

the old couples he, disapproving of the service and the cleanliness of the place-she, looking around for a place to sit, but deciding instead to just stand around and wait for Ralph-hoping he remembers cream for her coffee He doesn't .

Why do I spend so many hours in these places after I have eaten? What could I learn that I don't already know? After the second or third trip to the counter for a refill (or to the machine for self service) one of the staff will generally give me that "What the heck? Why are you still here?" looks. Do they catch my shrug? If they did, they would know the truth. I don't have any place better to be.

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