Gino’s was a fast food restaurant chain on the East Coast that started back in the 1960’s. They were the first major chain to feature Kentucky Fried Chicken. During the late 1970’s they started struggling since KFC was starting its own chain. To combat this they installed some of the first salad bars to be seen in fast food joints.

It was here that I got my first taste of Armageddon. First of all, these early salad bars didn’t have sneeze guards, so they were a hotbed of saliva-borne bacteria. But for a germaphobe like me, that wasn’t the worst part. Since it was “all you can eat,” I used to see people scooping huge servings of garbanzo beans, blue cheese dressing and other salad bar favorites right onto their dirty plates. Yeah, back in the 70’s they didn’t realize that you should get a new plate every time you hit the buffet. (Isn’t that how the black plague spread back in the day?)

Not only were people sharing spit and all kinds of germs on these early salad bars, they were insistent on getting their fair share, even if they had to knock you over when they did it. I often saw little old ladies getting bumped out of the way by huge people who had long ago discovered the intoxicating effects of simple carbohydrates. During busy dinner times, it was worth your life to even approach the salad bar.

As someone who would rather eat dirt from my backyard than dip a spoon into food that someone else touched, I was an observer and not a victim at these eating orgies. But remember, this was the beginning of the “all you can eat” craze. Soon after Gino’s started their salad bars, other fast food restaurants followed suit. Wendy’s had a “fixin’s bar” for their baked potatoes. It was usually filthy and often resembled an open sewer from Medieval London. Plus, who goes to a place like Wendy’s to get a baked potato? That’s like hitting up the McDonald’s for broccoli rabe.

After a lot of people were infected by the germs from other people, salad bars and buffets installed sneeze guards and had written instructions about using a clean plate for return trips. But the Armageddon aspect remained. People were still pushing and shoving to make sure they got the last piece of blackened salmon from the buffet. And may I say that getting blackened salmon from an all-you-can-eat buffet is a lot like having heart surgery at a Walgreen’s.

It’s not just these glorified gluttony gatherings that bring out the worst in people. It’s pretty much any event where pushy people can get the best seats. My mind goes back to the tragic deaths of 11 young people at a Who concert in 1979. There were no reserved seats on the floor of the arena. Soccer matches are another example of this “herd mentality” as are other sporting events.

The pushing and shoving that went on after the Titanic struck the iceberg is well documented on print and in film. People suck in big crowds, especially when there is some kind of reward for getting to the front of the line, whether it’s a seat on a lifeboat or the last scoop of macaroni and cheese.

I just experienced this at the Reno Ukulele Festival. It was held at the Nugget Casino in Reno, Nevada. Nice place as hotel/casinos go and I was particularly impressed by how speedy the elevators were. Of course, my first impression of this was in the middle of the day during the week. When we checked out my impression changed dramatically!

We were traveling with our two dogs, Marty, a 31 pound Schnauzer/Blue Heeler mix and Melody, a 17 pound Miniature Schnauzer. I had to walk them several times each day. Both are very nice and calm and really like other people and animals. They are excellent travel companions.

At 8 AM on our last day at the hotel I went to the elevator with both dogs. I waited for over 5 minutes for an elevator to stop and when it did it was full. Apparently everyone was checking out at the same time. While waiting several more minutes for the next elevator, I was joined by an elderly couple with enough luggage for round-the-world trip. We exchanged pleasantries while we waited.

When the next car came, the old lady jumped in front of me and the dogs and said to her husband, “I’ll take this car. You get the next.” Oh no, this old creep was not going to make me wait another several minutes. I jumped onto the car with both dogs and got Marty’s tail out of the way so the door would close. When it did, the alarm went off indicating that the elevator was overloaded.

Hey, I grew up on a farm with a lot of finicky equipment. I learned that when something acts up, usually hitting it hard would get it going. I thumped the elevator door and the alarm stopped. The old line jumper screamed, “You’re gonna kill us all!”

“Relax,” I said. “We’re on the 4th floor. If this baby falls, we won’t even reach terminal velocity when we crash. We’ll probably hit at 20 to 30 miles per hour. You can survive that.” As I finished my rant, we arrived at the ground floor. I got out quickly and took the dogs outside to do their business. (By the way, considering the mine field I had to navigate in the dog walking area, I must have been the only person who picked up after their dog. But that’s another story for another time.)

So what happened to the pushy old lady? I don’t know if it did any good, but when I saw her waiting to check out with her husband, I grabbed a security guard and told him I heard her bragging that they were going to check out with a phony credit card. Don’t know if it inconvenienced them, but it sure made me feel better.

TV Shopping Host and Coach, Musician, Author, Teacher.

One Comment on “Armageddon at the Salad Bar

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