The King's Inn and He's Kind of a Creeper

I feel compelled to follow up my blog on being a waitress at Howard Johnson’s with a post on being a cook at King’s Inn, in Lowellville. If there is a shit job that is worse than being a waitress next to an interstate highway, it’s being a cook in the middle of Western Pennsylvania.

I feel comfortable in writing about King’s Inn because:

a. Most of the people I worked with there and who will be mentioned below have most certainly died of alcohol poisoning, some kind of cancer, or scurvy, since they drank all three meals a day, smoked cigarettes even in their sleep, and had oodles of unprotected sex.

b. The place burned to the ground a couple of years ago, taking with it anything that could contradict my version of the place. Although, I’d like to point out that I don’t make up anything on this blog.

I got the job there the summer after my senior year of high school, a summer I had not planned to work at all, since I had sacrificed being in the school musical and other senior year antics because I worked at Al Tell’s Pharmacy my senior year. I figured since I had saved up all that money, I could chill out that summer and start college well rested.

But about a week into the summer, I started to have second thoughts. All my friends had jobs. My boyfriend joined the Navy. Were people trying to tell me something? It was time for me to go to work, even if it was just for something to do.

My friend Terry told me about King’s Inn, which was about a 20-minute drive from my house, literally on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania. King’s Inn was famous for its fish dinners on Fridays. The fish was haddock and you could get it broiled if you were crazy. If not, you would get it deep-fried. It was served with French fries (or baked or mashed if you were ridiculous), a lemon wedge, and a sprig of parsley. There may have been some coleslaw involved.

It was super delicious. I’m not kidding, I don’t think I’ve had as good a fried fish dinner before or since.

The place also was a motel, specializing in people having affairs, making the restaurant a good place to get a bite to eat before you got down to business. There was also a bar, which was open until 2:30 a.m. (as per Ohio regulation at that time and probably still), but it opened at 7 a.m., even before the restaurant opened.

Terry had worked there as a cook and probably felt guilty that he was blowing that pop stand, so he talked me into applying for a cook’s job. I don’t think there was an interview. The manager was Gary, who was hugely obese and who lived in the apartment above the bar/restaurant. He was so large that he really didn’t go anywhere. I do not believe he had a driver’s license or could fit into a car. Someone told me that I shouldn’t feel bad about Gary not leaving King’s Inn proper; he had prostitutes brought in. Oh, okay.

Gary told me he gained weight by just being in a kitchen all the time. There was a lot of grease in there and he claims that it could get into your body by just being in the same room.

I first worked the dinner shift, which was OK except for Friday nights, when the entire states of Ohio and Pennsylvania would come in for the fish dinners. It was crazy, how much fish we would fry. Someone’s job was just to go to the refrigerator and roll out huge pallets of fish and take them over to the cook who was putting them in the fryer, which was the size of a hot tub.

When I first got scheduled for the early morning shift, Gary had had way too much to drink the night before and he slept in and wasn’t there to train me on how to cook eggs for the guys in the bar, who actually were there at 7:01 a.m. wanting their beer and egg breakfasts.

I panicked and went upstairs and banged on Gary’s apartment door a couple of times, to no avail. The bar maid took pity on me and came back to the kitchen and helped me make some eggs. I had finished with about six orders when Gary finally came stumbling in and raised holy hell because I hadn’t used the non-stick egg frying pans right.

We weren’t allowed to use any utensils on the non-stick egg frying pans. So after he yelled at me until I almost cried, he then showed me how to flip eggs using just the pan and my limber wrists. It took me about two dozen eggs, but in the end I was able to flip eggs over, without breaking them, and without using a spatula. It’s a talent I still possess. If you come to my house, I will flip you an over-easy egg and you can thank Gary for it.

My coworkers at King’s Inn were great, but since I had just graduated from high school and was a relatively naïve Hubbard girl, I was exposed to people with sordid pasts and weird physical and mental situations.

The cooks who worked with me were:

Phyllis, a lady who had had her nose half bitten off by her best friend’s dog years before. You could see the chomp mark on her nose and the deep indentations 360 degrees around the circumference of her nose, that the dog left. She only had a few teeth, too. The thing I remember about Phyllis is that she blew up a microwave once by putting a potato in there without first forking it.

Sheila, who was my age but who was married with three little kids. Her husband had recently stabbed someone to death in a bar and was in prison serving a life term. Sheila was poorer than dirt. Phyllis used to give Sheila whole roast beefs and whole hams to take home almost every night. (Not a lot of inventory quality control there.) We all brought our old clothes in for Sheila to have.

The three Weber brothers. They were early pioneers in job sharing. I think their mom got them a couple of collective jobs at King’s Inn and she would just send in one of them to do a shift. You never knew which one was coming in. The schedule would just say Weber. This guaranteed that their shifts never went unfilled because of illness or doctor appointments. There was always another Weber to fill in.

Eventually, Gary – who was really a nice guy as it turns out, despite the prostitutes and his obsession over the non-stick pans – left for less greasy pastures. Peg, the bar manager, took over the restaurant, bar and hotel kitandkaboodle and the place was never really the same. It was run like a real business.

The summer I worked at King’s Inn I spent most of my spare time there too, in the bar, drinking with the other employees. The waitresses were mostly quasi-young, quasi-single girls. I don’t think anyone had any kids or many responsibilities. None of us acted like it. The place could really suck you in, I’m telling you, as we all saw what happened with fat Gary. Sometimes I would just go home with one of the waitresses named Sherry (there were two of them and they were best friends) or I would find myself at one of the Sherrys’ houses and we would just fall asleep. Before you knew it, it was time to start flipping eggs again and it would start all over.

I was only 18, so I guess that was as good a time as any to live in the seedy underbelly of Western Pennsylvania.

My friend Barb, who sends me stacks of Hubbard newspapers every few months (and whose butt I will wipe in heaven for eternity, to repay this kindness) included a Vindicator story when King’s Inn burned down. It was really sad. So many memories, gone.

I scanned the photos of the smoking embers to see if I could see that non-stick pan. If it ended up scratched, it wasn’t me.
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