Cheese hats in Green Bay

“You won’t get a room,” Brenda says, shaking her head. She taps her immaculate red nails on the steering wheel and, for the first time since getting in the cab, her smile wanes. I laugh off her concerns, hoist my backpack out of the footwell and head inside. To my surprise, the engine cuts off. “Honey, I’m gonna wait here, just in case,” she hollers.

At 5”3 and slightly built, I’ve struggled constantly on this trip to keep upright with my pack on. Squeezing through the heavy doors, my entrance to the Green Bay Settle Inn Motel is cumbersome. The lobby is refrigerator cool and eerily empty. A lone TV in the corner plays the weather channel on a loop. I tap the bell and notice through the window that Brenda has reclined her seat. I tap again more urgently. After a couple of minutes a young man appears, carrying half a cheeseburger. He appraises me with bored indifference: “Yes Ma’am?” He places the half-eaten burger on the counter and proceeds to lick mustard clumsily off each finger. I explain I need a room as I have an early flight to catch. There’s a long pause while he chews slowly and shuffles papers. Finally he looks up, incredulous: “The Packers are at home.” He lets the words hang heavy in the air. “Are they a football team?” I ask, innocently. Burger Guy exhales deeply, reaches under the counter and produces a green plastic hat, on top of which is a giant slice of cheese. I shuffle uncomfortably, momentarily lost for words. He gestures towards the television. The enthusiastic weatherman proclaims perfect conditions for football, with the same cheese hat perched jauntily on his head. Aaah, I understand now, this is a big deal. “On a game weekend, all our rooms are reserved exclusively for Packers fans. I’m sorry,” Burger Guy says robotically.

I meet Brenda at the door; she walks past without uttering a word. Sensing my fate is now in her hands, I drop my pack on the grass verge and gaze wistfully across the asphalt jungle. In the lull between traffic, I notice a group of cheese heads gathered in the parking lot of a nearby McDonald’s. Trunks are opened, gallon coolers set up, and the smell of griddled beef fills the air: it’s an impromptu party, at noon on a Friday.

Brenda appears and ushers me back inside. Burger Guy looks defeated: “The rate is $50... but you’ll have to wear this when you’re not in your room,” he adds, nudging the cheese hat towards me. I take it reverently then turn to thank Brenda. She gives me a hug, waves away my tip and leaves in a wake of cheap perfume. From the lobby I watch her speed out onto the freeway. Safely inside my room, I chain the door and vow to sleep with one eye open. These people clearly take their cheese and their football very seriously.

H Oakes

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