In the Zemblan tradition of cheap-shotting Central California towns, here's a look at the town of Firebaugh, California. We visited on the way down to LA, because we needed food and gas and sour Skittles. At first, the pit stop looked easy. We'd eat at their fancy sit-down restaurant, The Apricot Tree, get some gas, buy some Sour Skittles for Louise, and be on our way. But things are never that simple when you visit a town of the damned.
First, The Apricot Tree itself. The menu is separated into different sections for entrees, salads, and appetizers. My favorite section was called, "Between the Slices". In case this was unclear to the simple-minded residents of Firebaugh, a note underneath clarified, "That means sandwiches and burgers." Of course, that section also featured "Mama's Chicken Tenders (not a sandwich)".
For me, the highlight of the food selection was the Whatever Platter. Presumably, this is an appetizer assortment for slackers.
"What do you want, Jimmy? Onion rings? Fried zucchini?"
"You eat your mozzarella sticks, and get a haircut, you little punk. And tuck in that flannel shirt!"
Ultimately, we decided that the Apricot Tree would take too long, and we fled the table, guilty about our ill-gotten ice water and fearful of the Apricot Tree's law enforcement connections. This is where our curse began. Due to indecision, poor alternative food options, and an extremely scary road full of potholes and eighteen-wheelers, that we had to cross in order to reach the Taco Bell, our lunch took far longer that the Apricot Tree would have, even with the Whatever Platter.
"Take off those headphones and eat your buffalo wings. I got you ranch dressing, you ungrateful little punk. Why don't you get a job!"
We fled Firebaugh, but somehow, I think we all knew we were fated to return. I imagined we could reverse some of our bad fortune by atoning for our water theft at the Apricot Tree. Waiting for us in the restaurant would be all of our heart's desires: Kir's forgotten shoes, G-Duck's unreadable email, G-Duck's niece (and my future bride) Anya, and for Louise, Mr. George Clooney, who we must have just missed on the WB lot.
It was too late when we got back, and the Apricot Tree had closed. Instead, we stopped at a gas station and mini-mart to collect ourselves and re-supply for the road. The town fascinated us, the town horrified us. We had to know more.
"What do you call this town?", asked G-Duck, and the counter woman told us it was Firebaugh. When he asked what Firebaugh was known for, she told G-Duck it was once a thriving town, "before the plant closed". She went on for a while about the town's woes, and I realized what Firebaugh was really known for was "bringing us down". And for having the only establishment I've seen since the late '90s that sells Pizzeria Pretzel Combos (according to Wikipedia, they're the "official cheese-filled snack of NASCAR).
No one ever busted us for the water, but perhaps the Pizzeria Combos and sour Skittles we ate were punishment enough.