There are continental breakfasts and then there are continental breakfasts. I speak as a veteran traveler who has had her share of instant oatmeal, green bananas, recycled rolls, and English muffins that require four trips through the toaster to pick up even a slight tint of brown.
Then, totally unexpectedly, there are free breakfasts in a class by themselves, like one at the Fairfield Inn in Fort Wayne, Ind. Well, it's not really free when you have paid $70 for a night's lodging, but that's the way people like to figure.
But, at the Fort Wayne Fairfield, the quality breakfast had less to do with the contents of the menu spread out over two counters and more to do with a sweet woman with white curly hair and impeccably dressed in navy slacks and matching top.
I knew immediately that this was not an ordinary breakfast bar experience. Billie King met me at the coffee urn about two minutes after I had entered the room. "Good morning, how are you this morning?" she asked with a definite sincerity.
I responded in a soft-spoken whisper that I really wasn't feeling well and that I had a strange pain in my stomach. The second that I felt like a real jerk for having confided to a stranger, Mrs. King, concern showing in her face, asked a couple of questions, then suggested that I go to an emergency room. Such sympathy was all that the stomachache required, and by the time I learned what made the grandmotherly hostess tick, I was hale and hearty and ready for a bowl of cornflakes.
Obviously I am not the only person Mrs. King has shown kindness to. In May she received the hospitality award for the entire Marriott chain in Indiana. To say it was the biggest thing that has happened to the 84-year-old woman is an understatement. She is as proud of the honor, which was presented by the governor of Indiana, as she is dedicated to the job of breakfast room hostess she has had for 21/2 years. There's nary a crumb when she's on duty from 5:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. five days a week.
A towel to wipe the tables is part of her uniform and it is used a lot, because, according to her, there are often wall-to-wall customers and messes are made as quickly as the food disappears. If a customer oversleeps and arrives in the breakfast room after the food has been put away, she babies them by asking what they would like and bringing it from the storeroom. No wonder return customers ask for her and that she receives cards and letters from friends that she has made.
"Honey, I try to make each and everyone feel special," she said.
Mrs. King had been a resident of Fort Wayne for many years and did factory work for 22 years. But her name tag has West Liberty, Ky., on it because that's her hometown.
When I grow up I want to work just like Mrs. King does, with a purpose and happily. She says she can't stand to sit around and watch TV either. "I have to be where there are people," she said.
And why was I in Indiana? To become a sports fan.
For a few years now I have thought I should be more interested in sports - really, how can we avoid it - and follow a team so that I could jump into conversations when necessary with some degree of knowledge. I decided on basketball as the sport and the Indianapolis Pacers as the team I would follow, especially after they made it into the NBA finals. I didn't get to watch the Pacers play, but I did spend an afternoon in downtown Indianapolis to watch them practice. I was awestruck by the Conesco Fieldhouse, the Pacers' $183 million home, which whets the appetite for the sports complex that's coming in downtown Toledo. I don't care that they lost to the Lakers, I think I picked a winning team.