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All You Can Eat

Dan Silber
All You Can Eat, by Gerald Singer
A Buffalo NY Story

Buffalo, New York is also called the Queen City. What this means is that Buffalo takes second place to New York City, the undisputed King of the Empire State. Buffalo has always had an inferiority complex about this detail, and in the 1960s the citizens of the Queen City seemed to enjoy taking out their feelings of low self esteem on the "think they're better than everyone else, commie, pinko, atheist" university students from "New Yawk", or so it appeared to me in the fall of 1964 when I attended the State University of New York at Buffalo.

The students at the university, many of whom survived on a limited budget, were constantly on the lookout for cheap places to eat. When my friend, Danny, discovered that the local Howard Johnson's was offering an attractively- priced special, he rounded up three of his cronies, all students from the Greater New York area, to join him in this unique dining experience. The sign outside the Howard Johnson's proudly announced "All the Spaghetti You Can Eat".

The four young men entered the restaurant and were seated at their table. They all ordered the "Spaghetti Special". Four plates of spaghetti were soon brought out of the kitchen along with small salads and slices of Italian bread. Danny and company made short work of the meal and, still hungry, they ordered the next helping.

This time they waited a little longer and when the spaghetti arrived, it was not the large portion served on a dinner plate as before, but a much smaller serving, placed quite unattractively on a pie plate without the accompaniment of salad or bread. The diners began to suspect that the proclaimed "All The Spaghetti That You Can Eat" was not all that it was cracked up to be.

After making short work of the second serving, an order was promptly placed for a third helping. The waitress answered their request with a terse "One moment please". She walked over to a man with a jacket and tie who was standing near the kitchen. Some words were exchanged and she returned to the table. "I'm sorry" she said, "but you can't have any more spaghetti."

Danny came from the Bronx near Yankee Stadium. He went to the High School of Music and Arts, and was interested in music and politics. He was the freshman class president, and in the fall of 1964 he was on the student senate and was running for president of the student body.

Danny had a keen, but extremely naive, sense of fair play. He believed in the democratic system, the United States Constitution, and the American ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He saw America, even with its flaws, as the champion of those ideals.

Hating to see injustices of any kind, he was ready to stand up for his rights, and the rights of others, and at that moment he was ready to stand up for his and his companions' unalienable right - to eat more spaghetti.

"That's impossible." Danny replied to the waitress, "The sign plainly says 'all the spaghetti you can eat' and we can eat more, and we want more - spaghetti!"

"I'm sorry," said the waitress, "you can't have anymore - and here's your bill."

"Then I demand to speak to the manager," countered Danny.

The waitress walked away toward the suit-and-tie man who then came over to speak to the indignant college students.

"Can I help you?" he said.

Danny explained the situation to the manager. "We ordered the spaghetti special which plainly says, both on the menu and on the sign outside, 'All the spaghetti you can eat' and we would like to eat some more please."

"I'm sorry," said the manager, "but you can't have any more."

"What?" sputtered Danny, "But the sign says..."

"Within reason," said the manager, "all the spaghetti you can eat, within reason".

Danny snapped back, "The sign doesn't say within reason it says all the..."

"That will be enough", interrupted the manager, "please pay your bill and leave."

"Pay the bill; pay the bill!" We're not paying the bill, and we're not leaving until we get our spaghetti" said Danny defiantly.

"Pay the bill and get out or I'm calling the police" the manager threatened.

"Good, call the police," Danny replied smugly, "you are guilty of false advertising and we're prepared to file a complaint against you and your establishment."

"Pay the bill and get out!" repeated the exasperated manager; "I'm warning you I'll call the police!"

"Go ahead," said Danny, "I would love to talk to them."

The manager walked angrily away and called the police.

About fifteen minutes later a Buffalo Police Department squad car pulled in front of the Howard Johnson's and two officers swaggered inside. They walked right past the college students and proceeded to the back of the restaurant where they began a conversation with the manager. They then proceeded to the table where Danny and his friends were sitting.

"I'm really glad to see you, officers." said Danny, who was the official spokesperson for the group, "We're the victims of false advertising! As you see the sign there plainly says..."

With that the burly cop reached over, grabbed the 120-pound Danny by the neck, pulled him out of his chair, threw him to the floor and handcuffed him.

"You're all under arrest!" the officer proclaimed, "Get up!" he said to the others, and they too were handcuffed.

"But officers" Danny pleaded, "we're the victims here, not the criminals. The sign says 'all the spaghetti you can eat!"

"I thought I told you to shut the hell up!" the policeman shouted while giving Danny a kick in the buttocks for added emphasis.

The students were taken to the station where they were processed and booked.

Danny, however, knew his rights as well as any American brought up watching movies and television. He knew that he had the right to make one phone call, and he had the right to talk to a lawyer.

"I demand my right to make one phone call, and I demand my right to talk to a lawyer!" said Danny.

"Shut up!" said the officer.

Danny, the troublemaker, was separated from his friends and put in his own cell; one far away enough that the officers on duty could more easily ignore his cries of "I demand my right to make one phone call, and I demand my right to talk to a lawyer!"

Danny was not to be put off so easily. He knew his rights, and he knew what to do when there was blatant disregard for due process of law and obvious abuse of power.

This situation called for a protest demonstration!

The police had thrown Danny into his cell without thoroughly searching him. This oversight left Danny with the means for his protest demonstration. Danny was still in possession of a book of matches - which he used to set the bed sheets on fire.

This act of defiance did earn Danny the right to see a lawyer; something he needed more than ever now, as the police had charged him with just about every crime that they could think of. He also earned the right to stay in jail after his companions were released without bail and allowed to go home.

Some weeks, and a good deal of legal fees later, the charges against Danny and friends were dismissed with the stipulation that Danny pay back the city of Buffalo for the sheets that he had destroyed. Howard Johnson's was apparently allowed to continue their policy of "all the spaghetti you can eat - within reason."