The “Boy’s Weekend” had been a disappointment.
A wrong turn took us 10 miles out of our way before we backtracked; the next stop would have been Duluth.
We paid $12 to park the car next to a sign warning us to remove our valuables.
The Twins lost to the Royals, for crying out loud.
We got lost twice trying to find the motel, then did a complicated round of “Rock Paper Scissors” that I lost (or won), leaving me sleeping on the floor while the other guys shared two beds with questionable mattresses.
I woke up with a sore back, wishing I’d stayed home.
Little did I know that a whole new delicious world was about to open up to me.
“Hey, there’s a restaurant across the street,” one of the guys said, pulling back the curtains.
A neon sign added a reddish tint to a murky, overcast morning:
“All you can eat” was implied, and it was all the encouragement we needed.
“Five?” the hostess asked, doing a quick headcount.
“Right this way,” she said, leading us past serving tables that held a mind-boggling selection of food – one table with nothing but salad, if you like that kind of thing … waffles AND pancakes … four kinds of bacon!
The farther we walked and the more we saw, the louder we got. People were starting to stare.
But at the dessert table we all stopped talking. It must have been four acres of sweets, and right in the middle of it …
“Enjoy,” the hostess said, gesturing at a table in a corner. She walked away, and one of the guys hooked a thumb at the desserts. “Did you see that?”
I had apparently just fallen off the turnip truck.
“What is that?” I asked; it looked like brown goo dripping out of the Stanley Cup.
“You get out much, Dan?”
Well, we used to go to Rochester sometimes when I was a kid.
“That,” my buddy said, almost reverently, “is a chocolate fountain.”
The words hung in the air for a moment. Then, like it was choreographed, my friends jumped up and headed for the dessert table. I followed them, even though I was hungry for meatloaf.
We spent the next hour filling new plates faster than the staff could remove the old ones … marshmallows, strawberries, pretzel sticks, graham crackers, bananas, Rice Krispie bars, all swimming in a warm sauce that tasted like melted Hershey bar. The nutritional value was zero; the enjoyment value was off the chart.
“How are your meals … gentlemen?”
He was wearing a plastic tag that read “Manager” and said “gentlemen” as if he doubted its accuracy.
“Really good,” my pal mumbled around a chocolate-covered doughnut hole.
The manager sighed and moved on to another table; we waddled out of the restaurant and headed for home.
The next day I stopped at the supermarket and bought a big can of chocolate sauce. A few seconds in the microwave, with a bowl of marshmallows and pretzel sticks for dipping, and it was almost like being back in the city.
And I didn’t even have to pay for parking.
Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.