Montgomery, Alabama—my hotel breakfast tastes like reconstituted pulpwood. The biscuits are hockey pucks. But the coffee ain’t bad.
I stand in the food-line behind two teenage boys wearing soccer uniforms. They load their paper plates with enough food to last an entire winter.
They are laughing. Smiling. Youth is a potent drug.
One boy displays his phone to the other. “Did you see THIS video?” he says.
“Oh, DUDE!” says the other. “That’s the BEST.”
“I know, the BEST!”
Also in the dining room with me: more kids who wear uniforms. Twelve-year-olds, thirteen-year-olds, fourteen-year-olds, and their sleep-deprived parents. The kids are sipping dangerous amounts of orange juice and making lots of noise.
One kid listens to music on his phone—for the benefit of the entire dining room. This music sounds like a diesel engine warming up on a January morning.
More kids in uniforms exit the elevator. They walk through the dining room with loud voices, fixing their plates in a frenzy.
The hotel breakfast attendant, Tamika, watches them move through the buffet-line like a pack of caffeinated golden retrievers.
So we can see, at this point, that there are more kids in this article than there were when I started. The lobby is full of them.
But the truth is, I like being around young people. They don’t talk about osteoporosis, gallbladders, goiters, arthritis, or the paramount importance of fiber. To them, everything is wonderful, new, exciting, and “the best.”
I overhear these kids using the word “best” at least fifty times per paragraph.
“Have you tried these eggs?” says one boy. “They’re the BEST.”
“I know, right?” says the other. “But did you try the cheese? It’s the BEST.”
The alleged “cheese” he’s talking about is not the best. It is the kind of industrial cheese that can sit on a counter for six months at room-temperature without turning green. This bowel-locking cheddar has been used on hardened war criminals during interrogation procedures.
But there are no middle territories with children. They are giddy about everything.
On the other side of the dining room is a girl in a soccer uniform who starts dancing to music on her cellphone. Dancing at breakfast.
The dance, Tamika tells me, is called the “Floss.” This dance involves swinging the arms in front of the body, with clenched fists, simultaneously flinging the hips side to side.
Four or five other kids begin dancing the Floss along with the girl. Soon, eleven children are dancing the Floss while I eat my morning fiber.
Laughter ensues. The girl even coaxes her mother off her seat. The mother cannot do the dance, but God bless her, she tries.
Tamika is behind me, watching the kids. “My kids do that stupid dance all the time,” Tamika says. “They’re obsessed with it.”
“I don’t get it,” I say. “Why?”
“Prolly ‘cause it’s fun,” says Tamika, who tosses her rag on the table and shows me how to do the Floss. Tamika is a good dancer.
A girl across the room sees Tamika doing this dance, and gets excited. A few more children are dancing the Floss now. I feel like I am in a science fiction movie.
Breakfast is over, I bid goodbye to Tamika, who is wiping down tables, amused with herself.
When I get into the elevator, I am sipping coffee, smiling. I don’t know why I’m grinning, but I see my face in the mirror. It’s official, I’m smiling.
Kids do this to me. I remember when I was like them once. I was excited about everything. Impulsive. Perpetually happy. Able to eat government cheese and finish the day like a hummingbird.
I was once a boy with too much energy, who never passed up an opportunity to go fishing, or buy a comic book, or hide an exploding cigarette in my uncle’s carton of Marlboro Reds. I don’t know when I changed.
The elevator doors shut behind me. I set my coffee down. I try to remember the moves Tamika showed me.
Let’s see here.
One arm goes like this. The other goes like that. Carry the two. Suddenly, I’m dancing the Floss in the elevator mirror, shaking my money maker like it’s Christmas morning.
The elevator doors open. An elderly couple is looking at me. I stop dancing.
“Going up?” I say.
He shakes his head. The doors close.
It’s going to be a good day, I can feel it. No. Not a good day.