King's had some of the best sandwiches I'd ever tasted; a chili cheeseburger with onion rings seemed capable of arresting both heart and soul. The only difficulty was, the King's staff and I found each other mutually incomprehensible. Ordering water was particularly difficult; I always had to repeat myself several times, and the farce usually ended in pantomime. I practiced enunciating the word while walking over; I even quizzed friends and tried a local accent--all to no avail.
Now I'm working in downtown Durham again. Times are leaner, and I usually bring my lunch, but King's is still there, and this week I went for old time's sake. I've lived in the area now for the better part of 10 years, and I wasn't worried about ordering anymore (though I brought my own water). I've become fond of and comfortable in the South; a year in rural Person County and a home-grown roommate who has read The Encyclopedia of the South cover to cover will do that to you.
Time has changed me less than I thought, and King's not at all. No eggs after 10, bread or bun, toasted or plain, tomatoes and lettuce versus onions, slaw, and chili--every item I attempted to order was a linguistic and cultural minefield. The clerk was exasperated with my incomprehension and unusual tastes; it took several humiliating minutes to get my order straightened out and to pay. Behind my back I could feel the eyebrow-raised amusement of other lunch-rush customers. I waited nervously for my food; when a bag was finally pushed through the window I grabbed it and began to walk away, eager to escape. An outcry ensued from both staff and customers: I'd taken another man's sandwich. As I sheepishly returned it, the cook appeared in the window next to the squawking clerk, and informed me that if I stuck my hand in there again I'd get a spanking.
The buzz-cut, mustachioed, round-bodied contractor next in line stepped to the counter. "Hon, I just want a lemonade," he said. Understood.