Staff column: International waffle iron Olympics
If you want to watch people do some interesting things, just stay at one of those motels which provides a near full breakfast bar included in the daily fee. That's because people are always up for something they perceive to be "free" and in some ways they take their ownership of supposedly free stuff more seriously than they do of things they directly pay for.
This epithany came to me last week when I attended a conference in Moab and stayed at one of those motels that offer this very thing. Each morning my wife and I would arise, go down to the "hospitality room" and try to secure the breakfast that the motel advertised as an added plus to an individuals stay.
For people watching, the first day was the best because it was during the week and the majority of the people surrounding us were tourists from foreign lands. While sitting there eating I heard languages that ranged from slavic to mediteranean to northern European. Surprisingly, at least to me, there were few oriental tourists. I guess the economy has hit them hard too, while the Europeans are enjoying their triumph of the euro over the dollar right now. Anyway the whole thing had the feel of an international community, somewhat like the Olympics.
But this tale really has little to do with nationality, but with human nature. However it was hard to separate the two by the time the whole thing was over. While the breakfast bar offered everything from fresh fruit to hard boiled eggs, oatmeal to toast, the center of activity was always around the one end of the counter where the waffle irons were located. Three hot irons stood there ready for use. The employee of the motel who was taking care of the bar continually had to go over and show people how to operate the machines. It was also the sloppiest area, which she had to clean the most.
The process of making a waffle was easy. A machine (much like a drink dispenser in any convenience store) dispensed batter into a small cup, the cup was poured into a waiting waffle maker, the lid was closed. With that closure a timer was set to tell the person when their waffle was done.
Some people were very confused by all this. They couldn't figure out how to get the batter out of the machine. Others just couldn't figure out how to get the waffle makers to work.
What became the most interesting was the way people acted about their cooking waffles. Some would get the machines started and hover over them like someone was going to steal their free waffle.
Others would stroll across the room with a cup of coffee, sit down at the farthest table and then not come back to get their waffle until well after it was done, which tied up the machine so other people couldn't use it. Some ran back and forth to the machine 20 times in the three minutes it took to cook their breakfast delight.One woman kept opening the top of it to see it if was done, all the while slowing down the process of cooking her waffle.
At one point, an American couple (at least they sounded like they were) brought a group of German friends or business associates in with them and took over all the machines for about 20 minutes.
That is when international tensions arose. Some Italians were standing behind them and started to complain a little in short staccato comments.
Words were exchanged in true European fashion, but no one slugged each other. That's the American way of doing things. They just made gestures, some of which had obvious meaning, some of which must have been meant for European eyes only. In the middle of this were some eastern Europeans who didn't seem to speak a word of English; interestingly enough they also seemed to be the majority of the hoverers.
As I watched since it turned out to be an international venue, I decided in my mind to award medals, like in the Olympics, to various participants in the activity. One Italian guy got a gold for sure. His ability to express himself with his hands (without touching anyone) was certainly a sterling performance. I think he could make three gestures a second, and was in my mind the Michael Phelps of hand movement. I couldn't even imagine awarding a silver or a bronze. He was just the best.
Then there was this German man who I called the blocker. He should be playing in the NFL; he was able to block two waffle makers at once, allowing his team to get to them before anyone else could, a number of times. He wasn't a large person, he just had the ability to get his body in the way at different angles to deflect most of his country's Euro neighbors. He certainly deserved the gold.
Then there was this British woman who I wanted to award a medal to for her diplomacy. She literally was able to negotiate the use of the three waffle makers for four parties at the same time. You know the British, perfect gentlemen (or gentlewoman in this case). She was about 4 feet tall, yet she was able to handle all the hooligans. No wonder the little island of nation was able to build such a huge empire in the middle of the last millennium.
Finally I have to give a gold to a lady from somewhere in the eastern part of the European continent (based on her language) for the master hoverer. She could stay in place longer than an Apache helicopter waiting behind a hill to shoot up one of Sadam Hussein's tanks. And she was just as quick. As waffles for her group were cooking, she was waiting just beyond the melee between the Germans and Italians, and then as soon as the timer went off she would find a hole, zip in and in a matter of a few short seconds was able to remove the waffle, dump a new cup and batter and put the machine back on cook before any of the western Europeans could react. It was amazing; she was like the Flash.
There probably could have been medals given for other antics that morning, such as the sloppiest person in the room or the crawler (a man dropped his fork and kneeled on the floor to get it while fighting the legs of the GermoItalian waffle monster) but I had to end it somewhere. Sadly no American was awarded a medal, because for a change all of them in the room were smart enough not to get involved in a foreign war.
And most of those, after seeing what was going on, decided to outsource and went down the street to Denny's for breakfast.