I have already described some of our eventful six months in Kansas City, MO: I was mistaken for a hooker, I stole a cat from a family of sociopathic squatters, and our ice cream man wore nothing but underwear. There are, in fact, really lovely parts of Kansas City (both in Kansas, and Missouri!) but we did not live in one of them.
However, due to my completely delusional sense of optimism, I was determined to make the best of our totally sketchy neighborhood! I used to take long walks around what used to be historic boulevards. There was a formerly grand Victorian mansion that had cages of rabbits with signs that said, and I quote, "Meat 4 Sail". There were dogs chained up guarding piles of scrap metal that absolutely no one intended to steal. There was a former scenic drive along the river bluffs which now served as the go-to spot for buying crack, setting your couch on fire, or both.
I also harbored the insane belief --which had absolutely zero basis in fact!--that we would find great local cuisine in the blighted region of Northeast Kansas City. If I had wanted to find good local food in this neighborhood, I should have stuck with BBQ. But no, I had to go with....Chinese food!
One night while my husband was studying, I drove a few blocks to "All U Can Eat China Buffet" to pick up dinner. It seemed all right when I walked in the door--it was clean, and the few people sitting down eating were all wearing shoes (which was not always the case in restaurants that part of Kansas City and I am not kidding. ) There was a box of donuts and a box of pizza at the end of the buffet, apparently for family members attending the buffet who did not actually like Chinese food. (This was a new one on me, but I would see it again when we moved to North Dakota!)
I got three take-out containers and headed for the buffet. In the first I put two Peking ravioli and two eggrolls. Then I closed the container and reached for a the next one.
As I did this, the woman behind the cash register stared at me in amazement. As I put the first container aside and opened a second one, she came out from behind the register. She pointed to my first take-out container and urged in strongly accented English, "Open that please!"
Startled, I opened my first take-out container and obediently showed her my two Peking ravioli and two egg rolls. The woman laughed, and motioned for me to close it again. Then she indicated that I continue what I was doing. Mystified, I scooped Kung Pao chicken into a second container. When I closed that and reached for a third container for the rice, the woman patted my arm and said, "You stay here!"
Now completely stymied, I stood there, rice scoop in one hand, wondering what the heck was going on. A second later, the woman from the cash register re-emerged from the kitchen with an older Chinese man, who was smiling and wiping his hands on his clean white apron. The woman spoke to him in Chinese, motioned at me, and pointed at my take-out containers. The man nodded at me to open them all up, which I did. He smiled. Then, seeing the confused expression on my face, he started to laugh. He laughed until he had to wipe his eyes.
"You good girl," he said. He motioned at the my three take-out containers. "Everyone who comes in here, they won't take more than one box. They pay by the box--put everything in just one box. They pile it up so high, they can't close it."
The woman was smiling too, and pointed at my boxes.
"THREE boxes!" she exclaimed, "You pay for three boxes!"
The cook shook his head, smiling. He put his arm around my shoulders and gave me a squeeze.
"We have never seen anyone pay for more than one box here," he said, "You good girl."
"Some people come with just fork!" added the woman. "Eat straight from buffet!"
"One box....fork?" I felt like I had walked into the Twilight Zone. "People try to eat right from here....with a fork?"
"No pay!" the woman said gravely, "Just fork. And stay all day! All three meal!"
"Ahhhhhh --my god," I said. They both nodded their heads, and then shook them gravely, as if to say, Now you know what we are dealing with!
I paid for my food in a state of disbelief. The cook said again, "You very nice girl." I think they gave me a discount for not being an unconscionable glutton. I drove home in shock. I kept thinking about what they said about forks. And staying all day!
On the way home and I tossed the Chinese food in a dumpster.
When I walked int the house Abe said, "What about the Chinese food?"
I said, "You can read about it in my blog 19 years from now, but right now would just lose your appetite." (Actually I said, "It was closed.") I think I made spaghetti. And gave up on local cuisine.