An unremarkable story of BBQ and missed opportunities

A short story inspired by a text message from R. Keith Hatchell.

“This place is nicer than I remember it being,” I said to the lobby manager at the Best Western that now towered over Milledge Avenue. “Taller, too.”

The manager, Patricia, was all-too-excited to talk about the renovations that had occurred over the last six months. The main building had grown from two stories to four, and with the expansion came luxurious appointments that suggested this could soon be a Best Western Plus.

Blue, padded, mid-century modern accent chairs. Desks with USB charging stations. A 55-inch LCD-TV reminded me that a continental breakfast — with hot items — would be served from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Work has taken me to Athens, Georgia, a few times before, but so much had changed in the seven months I had been gone. For one, my Best Western hotel room on the fourth floor featured a king-sized bed with five pillows on it.

You can always judge how nice a hotel is by how many pillows are on the beds. The Ritz-Carlton in White Plains, New York had seven pillows. The Hampton Inn in Florence, South Carolina had four. The Days Inn in Decatur, Alabama somehow had three.

Don’t stay at the Days Inn in Decatur, Alabama.

I sat on the new bed in this new room on the new floor of the Best Western, my cell phone charging on the adapter that was built into the bedside lamp. I began to ponder just what the hot continental breakfast may contain.

Am I going to get free bacon?

Is the sausage going to be in links or patties? 

Are home fries better than hash browns? 

Those questions were for the next morning. But the question of what was for dinner was growing in urgency.

I unplugged my phone from the lamp and Googled “BBQ near me.” This was a Wednesday evening, after all, and two full days of installing cable waited on the other side of a good night’s sleep on a bed with five pillows. I needed a meal of real sustenance. I needed BBQ.

My good luck continued. Saucehouse BBQ and Bar was just a two-minute walk away. I put on my gray Newbies and grabbed my Atlanta Braves baseball cap on the way out the door.

A squeeze bottle short

I walked into a mostly empty room that was all bar.

“You looking for the barbecue?” said a brunette with just a hint of a Southern accent from behind bar. Kate, according to her name tag.

“I guess I’m looking for both,” I replied with a bit more Southern accent than usual.

“Barbecue is next door,” Kate interjected. “I can get you a menu.”

I took a seat at the bar that still smelled a bit of pine — or was it cedar? — and then remembered I don’t know anything about trees. I like them though.

“What’s good here?” I asked Kate.

“Everything,” she replied.

Everything. What a worthless answer.

I opted for the pulled pork with sides of baked beans and macaroni and cheese, which surely counted as vegetables here at the Saucehouse. I asked Kate what beers were on draft.

This was a Miller High Life bar. Perfect.

Kate poured the beer with a bit too much head and then disappeared for a smoke break. Maybe it was a dinner break. Whatever the break was, it showed no signs of ending.

Ten minutes passed. Twenty. Thirty. The Braves played their way to a two-run lead in the three innings Kate had been gone for. The three frat guys on the other side of the bar had no interest in looping me into their conversation about the Georgia Football spring game.

By the time Kate returned 34 minutes later with my pork plate, the High Life was a memory.

The barbecue was pretty solid. I couldn’t figure out a good sauce, so I went with the Saucehouse House Sauce. I wanted to try the spicy sauce, but the bar squeeze bottle was already empty.

I didn’t even ask.