Tag Archives: Salad Bar

The Celestial Salad Bar (Two)

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Albom Riff handed over the cash for the room at the Robin Hood and took his key. It was a real key, a brass key, attached to a yellow piece of plastic shaped like a diamond and with the room number 9 etched into it. “Thanks,” he said to the woman behind the counter, and to number 9 he went.

He sat on the edge of the bed and looked out the window at the cold, gunmetal, western town with its hints of beauty, isolation, mystery, loneliness. Loneliness. He was lonely. But no one knew it. He thought about Hollywood Helen on Wheels at the J-Bob’s restaurant and wondered if he should call her. He dug out the piece of paper with her number and looked at it. Maybe she could help him figure out why his driver’s license claims he’s a resident of Raton, New Mexico. How can that be? he wondered. “I’ve never been here in my whole entire life,” he whispered aloud to himself.

The room phone suddenly rang, and Albom nearly jumped through the ceiling. It was a clanging, obnoxious ring that broke the pure silence catastrophically. He went to pick up the receiver. “Hello?”

“Did you enjoy the salad bar, Mr. Riff?” The voice was deep and slow, like a dangerous cover up.

“Who is this?”

The line went dead. Albom hung the phone back up. He went to the window and peered out. There was a man standing on the edge of the parking lot. He wore a black jacket and sunglasses. He seemed to be staring right at him, Albom felt. He moved to the door and opened it. The mysterious man had disappeared.

 The phone rang again. Albom rushed to answer. “Hello!”

It was the man with the deep voice once again. “What was your favorite item on the salad bar, Mr. Riff?… The iceberg lettuce perhaps? Do you know what happens to icebergs, Mr. Riff?” He didn’t wait for a reply. “They fall apart when the heat is on.”

The line went dead once again.

Albom marched back to the J-Bob’s, a haunting howl from the bottom belly of the city followed him there. He found Hollywood Helen on Wheels at the salad bar, and she was just standing there still as stone and staring.

He took hold of her wrist, and she suddenly came out of whatever hypnotic state she was in and turned to him with a look of fear and surprise. “What are you doing?” Albom asked her.

“I was… I was looking at the salad bar.”


“It’s part of my job,” she answered. “I must make sure the items are well stocked and appear fresh. It’s very important work.”

“There’s something weird about this salad bar,” Albom said, and he pulled her over to an empty booth and they sat down. “What the hell is going on around here?”

Hollywood Helen on Wheels stared at him with a blank expression. “You just couldn’t wait to see me again, could you?” Then the stiffness of her face came undone and she smiled. “Do you want more salad bar?”

“No. I want to know if you’re fucking with me!”


Albom retrieved his wallet from his pants and pulled out his driver’s license. He slapped it down on the table before her. “Why does my driver’s license say I live here in this town?”

She picked it up and looked at it. Her eyes shifted to Albom for just a moment and then back to the license. “Wait. You live here? I thought you were from somewhere else. You sure did make it seem like you were from somewhere else.”

 “Somewhere else,” he mumbled.


“It’s a song… ‘Everyone I love lives somewhere else.’”

“You’re not making any sense.”

“And someone strange called me at my motel. Twice. And there was a man outside in the parking lot. I think someone’s watching me, following me.”

“Why would anyone do that?”

“I don’t know, but I really believe this all has to do with your god damn salad bar. What else do you know?”

“I don’t know anything. Maybe you’re just crazy. Hollywood Helen on Wheels got up out of the booth. “I have work to do,” she said, and she walked off.

Albom Riff leaned back in the booth for just a moment before his eyes were drawn back to the salad bar in the center of the restaurant. It appeared to glow. He heard Tibetan meditative music in his head. Then a voice repeated the word “Iceberg, iceberg, iceberg…”

Albom quickly got up and rushed over to the salad bar. It glowed delicious before him. He snatched up a white plate and began crazily filling it high with iceberg lettuce from the large clear plastic bowl set in a swamp of crushed ice.

Hollywood Helen on Wheels noticed him from afar and called out to him, “Hey! You have to pay for that.”

He swept an annoyed glance toward her. “Oh, I’ll pay for it. I’ll fucking pay for it!”

Heads turned in the restaurant as joyful cowboy music softly played overhead.

Albom topped his lettuce with croutons, sunflower seeds, bacon bits, some shredded cheese, black olives, pieces of hard-boiled egg. He ladled orange French dressing over the top of his little salad mountain and watched it run down the sides like lava flows down the side of a volcano. He set that plate aside and grabbed a clean one and began to fill that with other salad bar items: Tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, oiled mushrooms, a spiral pasta salad, pickled beets, banana peppers, cottage cheese, cling peaches, gelatin with grapes set inside that looked like monster eyeballs, and finally a clumpy potato salad.

He took both plates back to the empty booth and sat down. He waved a hand in the air to catch the attention of Hollywood Helen on Wheels. “Excuse me miss? Could I get some service over here?”

An exasperated Hollywood Helen on Wheels approached the table with attitude. “Just what the hell is your problem, mister?”

“I don’t have any silverware, or a napkin, or anything to drink.”

She glanced at the two heaping plates of salad bar food. “I sure hope you plan on eating all that. Be a god damn shame to waste all that. That’s enough to feed four people. You should be ashamed of yourself. Pure gluttony.”

Albom pointed at her. “Look, I’m telling you. There’s something about that god damn salad bar that isn’t right… And I’m looking into it. There’s also something not right about this whole town and why I’m here. And I’m looking into that, too.”

Hollywood Helen on Wheels scoffed with a chuckle. “What are you… A salad bar detective?”

Albom Riff laughed out loud. “That’s a good one, baby, but you’re not wrong. Now can I please get some silverware and a Coke.”


The Celestial Salad Bar (One)

There was a table in the corner of the room near three windows. Daylight filled the room with a glow. Two of the windows were open and the breeze was as fresh as an Albuquerque night beat. The windows looked out upon a landscape of rolling hills the color of straw. There were no trees or greenery. It looked like the Sahara out there but there was no sand. It was all lost and unknown like how Earth is in the universe.

There was a book on the table and the cover had strange symbols on it. They were not the letters known to man, but shapes of various design. The man in the red jacket sat down in the chair and looked down at the book for a moment. He opened it and inside was a glittering violet keypad of strange numeric symbols. He held his hand over it and thought about what he should press and what might the consequences be. He was suddenly hungry for a salted cucumber wedge. He turned his head and looked out the window at the faux Sahara.

Someone was in the air, and they whispered to him: “You can be whoever you want to be. You can go wherever you want to go.”

“Is this the chamber gate to Heaven?” the man asked the air.

“Press a button and find out,” the voice replied. “Find out. Find out.”

The man in the red jacket pressed the button. The next thing he knew, he was standing at a salad bar built into an old western wagon. The restaurant was quiet, dimly lit. There were only a handful of other people, now tucked away in various corners and crevices talking softly among themselves. They were all older people—older people who liked quiet restaurants with a salad bar built into an old western wagon. There was country music playing at low volume, cowboy ghost songs leaking through the ceiling.

The man in the red jacket looked down at the white plate he was holding. It shined and smelled of bleach. He looked over the selections on the salad bar and he was pleased to see it all appeared fresh and clean. Fresh and clean and even hip like an Albuquerque soap shop on Central Avenue.

A short waitress with a perky smile came near him. “Everything okay, sir?” Her ponytail whipped around like a pony’s tail.

“Yes. Why?”

“You’ve been standing there for a long time.” She laughed. “I guess the selection is a bit overwhelming, huh?”

“Sure. Overwhelming.”

“But then isn’t that life… Always so gosh darn overwhelming.”

“Where am I?” the man asked, his voice putting out an odd tone.

She looked at him as if he were overly strange. “Where are you?”

“Yes. Easy question.”

She took offense, and before walking away, said, “You’re at J-Bob’s in Raton, New Mexico.”

The man in the red jacket was Albom Riff and he sat alone at a square table eating a pile of salad in the center of a mostly empty and dimly lit J-Bob’s restaurant in Raton, New Mexico.

The short waitress with the ponytail came to the table with a refill of lemon-lime soda and the check. “You can just pay that up front when you’re done,” she said coldly. “I hope you have a nice rest of your day.”

“Wait,” Albom said. “Where exactly is Raton, New Mexico?”

The waitress held out her left palm and made a straight motion with her right pointer finger across it. “This line here is the southern border of Colorado… We’re right here, just below it on the other side and at the bottom of the pass. How’s that for GPS with a personal touch.”

“Thanks… What’s your name?”

“I never said. And get this… My nametag fell off in the bathroom earlier and went straight into the turlet. I wasn’t about to fish it out.So, I guess you could say I could tell you any name I wanted to, and you’d have to believe me.”

“Maybe. But you could be anybody you want to be,” Albom egged her on. “Don’t care what I think.”

“Well, in that case. Just call me Hollywood Helen on Wheels.” She laughed at her own cleverness.

“Okay, Hollywood Helen on Wheels… Maybe we can go grab a drink later?”

“Oh my… Someone hittin’ on their waitress. How very original.”

“I’m just saying. I never heard of Raton, New Mexico so there can’t be too much to do. I’m sure you get bored and lonely.”

“How do you know I’m not married?”

“I don’t see a ring.”

“Maybe it fell off.”

“Maybe you ain’t married.”

She let the volley end by allowing the ball of playful flirting to go out of bounds. She scribbled something on her order pad, tore off the sheet and handed it to him. “Just in case I change my mind later.”

“You might get thirsty, right?”

“Thirsty… Right.”

Albom walked down a bleak road heading south. A few cars stretched by like motorized taffy on his left on their way to where the interstate connects back up. There was a sad looking strip mall on the other side of the road. They had a Walmart, of course. There was some trash dancing in the wind. He felt stoned and wondered if J-Bob’s had slipped some high-grade legal Colorado weed in on the salad bar. The taste of pickled beets and macaroni salad lingered in his mouth. He fed himself a cigarette.

The land around Albom Riff was somewhat flat, like a floor at the bottom of a cliff. There were a few yellow humps of pinon-dotted hills, green clusters of pine, streaks of red rock, dark and dormant volcanic cones rising in the distance. Behind him the infamous Raton Pass lurched upward into Colorado and that’s where the land grew teeth, and the teeth were called mountains, and some of the teeth were capped with snow.

The city itself seemed old and bent and dusty. He came upon an antique roadside motel called the Robin Hood. It looked like a white metal complex of loneliness against the landscape. There were a few playful arrows and stripes of yellow, green, and red in the motif. There was a gravely lot. There were closed doors with numbers, curtains drawn. A handful of road-weary cars were spaced out in the parking lot.

He went into the lobby and there was an older woman standing behind the counter and she was staring into an aquarium and every three or four seconds she let out a loud chuckle. She paid him not attention until he tapped the little silver bell. She jumped. “Oh, Jesus!” she hollered. “My apologies, sir. I was in a silly little ol’ meditative state. What can I do fer ya?”

“I’d like a single room if you have one.”

“All right then,” she said. She had a whacked-out face, skin stretched, pocked, a few missing teeth, a tangle of gray hair atop her head. She tried to make small talk as she hunted and pecked on a computer keyboard. “Where ya from?”

“I just came from the salad bar at J-Bob’s.”

She stopped what she was doing and turned to look at him. “The salad bar at J-Bob’s?”

“That’s right. It was pretty good.”

“Oh… Do you have a driver’s license, hon?”

Albom retrieved it from his wallet and put it down on the counter.

She snatched it up and looked it over. “I didn’t realize you were a local.”

He snatched it back and looked it over: Albom Riff, 114 Red Cliff Drive, Raton, NM 87740. “Neither did I,” he said.

“Sir?… You still want a room?”