Assignment 2 – Five Forks Cafe

If you drive down Jamestown Road, then take a left on 199, and a right on John Tyler Highway (Route 5), you’ll stumble upon one of the countless strip malls in the Williamsburg area. I had never ventured out there before because I do not have a car on Williamsburg. I decided to take the aforementioned route to this particular place because I was in search of a Williamsburg legend that I had heard about, but never experienced: Five Forks Café.

The location of the restaurant is relatively small and requires a car to travel there. It is just ten minutes off of campus, but it feels like it takes much longer to get there. As my friends and I drove down Jamestown Road, I felt the comforting presence of the College releasing its grasp. We passed identical intersections that brought together wide, paved roads from all over the city.

Upon arriving to the junction between John Tyler Highway and Ironbound Road, we faced our first hurdle: parking. Apparently we were not the only Williamsburg residents whose first thoughts were, “Let’s go to Five Forks” when we woke up that morning. Upon parking about fifty feet away from the building, we encountered an intimidating line.

While in line, I had the opportunity to examine the building. It is unassuming, simple, and it stands alone. The walls are half brick and half tinted windows. The room is flat, white, and proudly displays the words “Five Forks Café” in a retro, silver font that reminded me of an airstream.

After we sat down our compact, wooden booth, I looked at the crowd. What I came to find is that this space is an intersection between the College and the permanent residents of Williamsburg. However, it seemed as if all of the people I knew and recognized were on one side of the restaurant – to the left – as compared to the Williamsburg residents who sat on the right.

I did not feel uncomfortable or unsafe, but I did feel out of place. As I sat with one of my friends who is an international student, I asked him, “Doesn’t this make you feel like you’re in America?” Five Forks Café is the type of setting where political commercials for conservative, America-loving candidates are filmed. I imagine Norman Rockwell would love to paint this place. No non-sense American patriarchs would prefer to dine here – and so would Ron Swanson from the television show Parks and Recreation. These characteristics are generally what I saw in the crowd and the employees: homegrown,

Unfortunately, that is not how I would characterize myself. My exchange with the waitress regarding my breakfast order emphasizes the distinction nicely.

“And what will you have, my dear?”

“Can I please have two poached eggs with whole wheat toast and fruit?”

“We don’t poach eggs here, honey.”

“Oh, okay. Then can I please have … um… can you please come back to me?”

“Sure.”

One minute passed.

“Okay, can I please have two eggs over medium. I’d like them not too runny, but runny enough.”

“And you still want the toast and the fruit? Any hash browns? They’re really good.”

“Um, okay. I’ll have whole wheat toast and hash browns, please.”

“Great.”

Just like that, the waitress changed my original, pretentious and healthy order to something more classic. Classic yet unhealthy.

Despite their mild manipulation, the women who worked at Five Forks were fantastic. It appeared as if most of them had worked there for over fifteen years. There was a sense of comradery around them when they would chitchat between serving tables. At the table next to me, I heard the waitress joke with a student about her hangover. While I watched the women pace back and forth to the kitchen with huge plates of primarily egg dishes, I felt as if I was watching a bunch of mothers feeding their large, hungry families.

When my food arrived, I devoured it quickly. Somehow, even though it was one of the plainest breakfasts I had ever eaten, it was one of the most delicious. My friends and I exchanged pieces of pancakes for hash browns and omelets for grits in order to fully experience Five Fork’s offerings. When the waitress returned to pick up our clean plates, she asked me:

“Now wasn’t that better than poached eggs?”

“Yes,” I said. “Thank you for the recommendation.”

She dropped off the check, which was handwritten in unintelligible handwriting, and instructed us to pay by the door. We sat for a bit to discuss our incredibly satisfying meal and then trudged over to the cash register to pay for our breakfast.

As we headed back to Williamsburg, I felt the realities of schoolwork, tests, and social obligations creeping back into my head. Although escaping the grip of the College can be daunting at first, it is actually very rewarding. I am sure many students who have ventured off campus can identify with this. Reminding yourself that there is a real world past the two roads that confine our campus is reassuring.

 


About

The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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