Mr. Cope’s Cave: And You Thought Ebola Was Bad


I probably should be freaking out over Ebola today, but I feel there is a more immediate threat to those who live in Southern Idaho. And I will not pussyfoot around the risk and assure you it couldn’t happen here. Rather, I must warn you it could most definitely happen here because it did happen here! Or more specifically, it happened in Twin Falls, and I know… because it happened to me!

Fortunately, there is a simple step you can take to avoid this disturbing threat: Do not, under any circumstances, stop for lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Twin Falls, Idaho, and tell them it is your birthday! 

And now that you know what you must do to escape the fate that befell me, I will walk you through those ominous steps that led inexorably to my unhappy encounter with… ah, the horror of it!… whipped cream!

You may recall, on the weekend before last, I went to Nevada. As it was the gambling we went for, rather than the drive, we picked the most direct route possible from Meridian to the nearest slot machine, which, by our reckoning, is in Jackpot. The “we” other than the “me” was my wife and daughter, my brother-in-law and a couple who lives across the street from us  whom we are lucky enough to call friends.

The whole excuse for going was that my birthday, as well as those of my brother-in-law and daughter, were all coming up soon. It was my daughter’s idea to celebrate the event by going to a place where I could lose a bunch of money in a relatively short span of time.

On the way back, we decided to stop in Twin Falls for breakfast, although by the time we got there, it was noon. And with the churches getting out just as we hit town, every restaurant we passed was either full or filling fast.

I’m not sure why we settled on Mexican, other than it is the one food genre we could all agree on. Plus, the place we chose had a bright, appealing nature to it, inside and out. I ordered something I’d never had before, huevos rancheros, because I still had a lingering itch for breakfast, and also because I didn’t know at the time that refried beans and sunny-side up eggs have no business being on the same plate together.

I ate it all anyway. I was hungry and it was filling, in spite of what it looked like after I made the mistake of breaking the yolks. In fact, I must have been so involved with trying to corral the yellow-brown glop onto the tortillas provided, it totally escaped my attention when my wife pulled our waitress aside and arranged a surprise.

Nor did it dawn on me what was happening after we were all done eating, yet no one was making a move to rise from the table. Everyone was just sitting there, languidly, with their smartphones in hand, as though we didn’t still have 120 miles yet to drive.

And a surprise it was, indeed, when all four waiters and waitresses, plus a bus boy or two, jumped up from behind me, slapped an enormous sombrero on my noggin—a sombrero so vast in brim, it could have doubled as a patio umbrella for all Three Amigos—and started singing some folkish Spanish song about panchitos—or something—after which they broke into “Happy Birthday to Usted.”

All well and good. I was mildly embarrassed, as I always am when I become the center of attention. Not only were my family and friends all snapping off cellphone photos of me in that ridiculous sombrero, but the other patrons seemed to be enjoying the spectacle. And by now, the place was full of people who, I imagined, had worked up a healthy appetite for burritos and tostados and such in the pews of their chosen places of worship.

When the musical portion of the production was over, one of the singers sat a gooey pastry before me—a south-of-the-border version of birthday cake—and our waitress stepped behind me, holding one hand behind her back. She put the other hand on my shoulder and said something in my ear I didn’t catch. But judging by what she did next, it could well have been, “Take this, asshole.”

In that hidden hand was a napkin filled with whipped cream. Cold whipped cream. As her hand came around, I thought for a moment she was simply going to rinse something of my face. What great service, I thought, to have huevos rancheros wiped off your chin by your waitress.

But, no. It was the old pie-in-the-face trick, except with no pie. She was respectful of my glasses, smearing the froth only from my nose down. My family and friends erupted in laughter, along with 40 fellow diners. I jerked to my feet, shocked, with that same expression on my face I would have if my trousers were to suddenly drop to my ankles while delivering a commencement address—which, of course, made everyone laugh even harder. In my bones, I felt those cellphone cameras clicking away.

I could have said nothing, I suppose. And in retrospect, I should have said nothing. But the occasion certainly felt like I should say something, even though the only words that came to mind—and mouth—were “What is wrong with you people in Twin Falls!?”

My, did it get quiet quick.

Alright. What happened to me in Twin wasn’t as bad as Ebola. Nowheres near as bad as Ebola, actually. I was being hyperbolic by even bringing up Ebola to start this off, or using the word in the title. I was simply trying to suck you into my silly—and ultimately dull—little story. (In fact, my first title was “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Home from Jackpot,” but decided even I wouldn’t want to read such a thing.)

So I used “Ebola” in the same way a fisherman puts a shiny lure on his line, or a used car lot puts an inflatable Gumby out next to the entrance. Sorry if I offended, but it’s not my fault so many people are freaking out over Ebola right now.

I also should apologize to the citizens of Twin Falls, who I am certain are fine and decent people, in spite of what they consider funny down there.