Old Home Café: The Next Generation

By Edward Floden, based on characters and situations created by William D. Fries, Jr.

Episode XXIV: Fast Food, Part Three

(Originally published in The Legend-News of 2003 September 15.)

Harry Parsons adjusted the latch on a sausage bin, then straightened up and flung his arms wide. “Ta-da!” he exclaimed. “The Auto-Dog!”

The gleaming, stainless steel Auto-Dog stood in the middle of the Old Home Café’s dining room, emitting a low hum. To make room for the machine, four tables had been moved to the far side of the room where they were now blocking the booths. Fortunately, the customer count was low and no one complained. In fact, those present in the room were staring at the Auto-Dog, wondering if it was to be used for good or for evil.

Avis had taken a break from her job at the bank across the street. She was sitting at Booth One with Jon; both were examining the Auto-Dog before them.

“You want to buy this?” asked Avis.

“Maybe. But not until I’ve tested it,” said Jon. “This is the first time that I’ve seen it. Harry showed me some pictures last week, but a good demonstration is what I need.”

Harry’s one-hundred-watt smile illuminated the room. Obviously, he was proud of his invention. Months of design and manufacturing, weeks of travelling across the country looking for customers, and now he felt that the Auto-Dog’s big break was about to happen. “Shall I fire her up, Mr. Bach?” he prompted.

Jon shrugged. “Sure, why not? Let’s she what she can do.”

A few minutes earlier, Harry had loaded a couple of the sausage bins and bun bins, primed the condiment dispensers, and lit the fire on the propane burner. The Auto-Dog was prepped. Now he stood in front of the touch-screen order panel and entered his desires, tapping on each of the clearly-labeled buttons. “One hot dog, on a poppy-seed bun, with onion, relish, yellow mustard, tomato, and a sprinkle of celery salt,” he said, as the buttons beeped with their feedback. “And then, go!” he cried, pressing the large green ‘Go!’ button.

The Auto-Dog continued its humming, which now rose to a higher pitch. From the bun bins on the far left, a poppy-seed hot dog bun dropped onto the central conveyor. The Auto-Dog hummed more loudly. The conveyor moved forward, stopping beneath the sausage module, where the bun was spread open and a well-steamed Vienna hot dog was lowered into it. The Auto-Dog hummed even more loudly, and Harry gave the machine a sharp whack! on the side. “Just breaking it in,” he said.

A second later, the bun and dog where transported to the condiment module: mustard squirted onto the dog, but a little too forcefully, splattering Harry. “A small adjustment,” he commented. The Auto-Dog hummed louder still.

Then the relish and onion nozzles traversed the bun, laying down a thin carpet of well-chopped pickles and onions. The Auto-Dog hummed even louder, and Harry gave it another whack! on the side. He smiled with chagrin.

Two thin slices of tomato were laid atop the developing hot dog as it continued its journey through the garden. And with nary a pause, a coup de grace of celery salt finished the sandwich, which proceeded to move towards the end of the conveyor where it would slide onto a waiting tray for a waiting customer. And the Auto-Dog hummed as loudly as it had ever hummed, and Harry gave the Auto-Dog still another whack! on the side.

The witnesses to the completion of this trial, who were Jon, Avis, Harry, eleven customers and Larry the cook, all agree on what happened next. Their descriptions are consistent, despite an apparent violation of the laws of physics regarding mass, velocity, and gravity. Suffice to say that the incident was memorable.

As Harry gave his final whack! to the Auto-Dog, the now-annoying hum ceased, replaced by a squeal that Larry said bore a resemblance to “a pig backing into the wrong end of a rusty nail”. The conveyor, which until that moment had been moving at a sedate 10 centimeters per second — that’s about 4 inches per second, for you non-metric readers — suddenly accelerated, and 200 grams — 7 ounces — of hot dog, bun, mustard, relish, onion, tomato and celery salt was propelled at a much higher rate of speed towards its final destination.

The hot dog did not slide onto the tray at the end of the conveyor; no, it travelled over the tray, in a low arc that was reminiscent of a shoulder-launched rocket targeting a ground-level tank. Yeah, that hot dog flew off the conveyor and flew through the air with the greatest of ease, until its journey was rudely interrupted by the side window of the Old Home Café. And as the hot dog sandwich was not aerodynamically designed for flight, it began to tumble as it flew, impacting the window condiment-side forward. The hot dog itself slipped from the bun, drawing a green-and-yellow trail of relish and mustard down the inside of the window, while the bun tenaciously stuck to the window right below the ‘M’ of the painted ‘Old Home Café’ letters on the window. The hot dog struck the bottom ledge of the window and flopped onto the top of the table of Booth 8. The bun resolutely adhered to the window for at least ten seconds before it fell backwards onto the napkin dispenser. The tomato slices remained stuck to the window.

The stunned witnesses slowly recovered from the event. The customers buzzed about it, Jon and Avis stared at each other, bewildered, and Harry Pastor flipped the power switch on the Auto-Dog. He looked sheepish.

“There seem to be a few bugs in the system,” said Harry.

Next: Boogie oogie oogie

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