Like Shooting Crackers in a Barrel

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When we were in college, my wife-to-be and I practically lived at our local Cracker Barrel. It bordered on addiction.  It may or may not have something to do with some massive weight gain during my college years, but I’m not one to point fingers, or jump to conclusions, or state the obvious.

It was a sad day when they shut it down – we both went through the DT’s.  We didn’t have one where we lived – it was a minimum two-hour round trip to eat at the closest one. Needless to say we haven’t partaken…partook?…partookened in the lardy loveliness that resides on the Cracker Barrel menu. And, like most things, you need to take a step back to really see things clearly – which is exactly what happened tonight, when we returned to the infamous Barrel o’ Crackers.

I remember one episode of That 70’s Show where the main characters thought they came up with the best ideas when they were in their weed smoking circle in the basement so they decided to record their next session so they could have a record of all the brilliant brainstorms they had and when they listened to the recording the next day when they were completely sober they heard a mash-up of the most incoherent rambling they could imagine.

This is how I picture Cracker Barrel coming into existence.  A bunch of stoners sitting around with a mega case of the munchies and they start bouncing ideas off each other.

“Hey man…you know…you know what would be cool, man…fried chicken…and mashed potatoes…and Beanie Babies…and a buttload of rocking chairs…”

“Yeah man, why can’t you buy Beanie Babies and rocking chairs at a restaurant?  Then you could sit on the rocking chair and play checkers with your Beanie Baby!”

“No way, dude, I’d be too stoned to see those little checkers…”

“Naw, man, not the little ones, our restaurant would have those big-ass checkers that are the size of your head!”

“Yeah, man!”

And there you have it!  The birth of Cracker Barrel!  Where else can you go and have a whole friend chicken, fried potatoes, an assortment of other fried vegetables, and apples…fried, of course (I didn’t even know you could fry an apple!)…and then while you pay your bill you can do all of your Christmas shopping for people who you marginally like.

We pulled into the parking lot, our car dwarfed by the huge sign beckoning to everyone from the highways traveling in every direction.  We walk toward the front door and pass by dozens of rocking chairs and it strikes me, how many people do you know who buy rocking chairs from Cracker Barrel?  It must be a hot seller – there are literally dozens of them.  I want to know the sales statistics – has the world’s leading rocking chair exporter been breading my chicken strips all these years without me knowing it?!!

We make our way to the hostess station and I nearly knock over a ceramic frog in a straw hat fishing in a birdbath.  We leave our names with the hostess and begin to browse the store while we wait for our table to be ready.  There is nowhere else in the world where you can stretch your arms out, spin around, and touch large scented jar candles, Confederate flag trucker hats, rubber band guns, greeting cards, singing animal heads, prayer beads, fart putty, ambiance music CDs, and a DVD full of classic Andy Griffith episodes.  If you mixed Alice in Wonderland with pure grain alcohol, you’d come up with the Cracker Barrel gift shop.

Then the quirky kitschiness doesn’t end when it comes time for your meal because you are seated underneath the most unsettling decor imaginable.  All sorts of old tools, signs, pictures, and various whatnot from days gone by are tacked on the walls.  I believe that whenever a new Cracker Barrel opens, an Amish family somewhere nearby gets robbed. Poor Jedediah Yoder goes out to his barn and finds it completely emptied out.

“Elizabeth!  We’ve been robbed!  The curséd English must have opened another Cracker Barrel!”

“Oh, Jedediah, we might as well pack up the children and move on because that will ruin our rocking chair business as well!”

***I apologize to any Amish people who are reading my blog***

And if your appetite isn’t set off by having an axe and sickle hanging over your head, the photos on the wall might do the trick:

These are the kinds of photographs that steal your soul if you stare at them too long. They’re from the days when families dressed up dead relatives like they are still alive and pose with them and you never really know which ones they were because NO ONE smiled in those pictures!  Think about that the next time you’re munching on your okra!

Once we finished our meal, I went to pay (after I bought my younger son a beanie baby and my older son a couple packs of squishy zombies…no joke) and my Cracker Barrel experience ended the only way that it could – I was asked by our cashier if I would be interested in buying a 5-pound box of Jelly Bellies.

Not gonna lie…I thought about it longer than I should have.

“Always remember you are absolutely unique.  Just like everyone else.” ~ Margaret Mead

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