FAYETTEVILLE, NC–Tensions continued to run high throughout area resident Martin Hilbert's car Sunday, as the search for a local Shoney's restaurant intensified despite little to no sign of progress.
Roaming the streets of Fayetteville in a '92 Mercury Sable station wagon, the search team–made up of three middle-aged couples looking for a quick bite to eat following an afternoon Kenny G concert at the Cumberland County Amphitheater–has reported fatigue, frustration, and flagging morale. Still, the searchers say they will not rest until the Shoney's, or a comparably priced family-dining establishment, is found.
"I'm almost positive there's a Shoney's somewhere on Cedar Creek Road," said search-team leader Hilbert, 44, husband of fellow searcher and passenger-side occupant Mary Hilbert. "I remember going there one time for coffee with my brother Tom, after our cousin Janice's wedding reception."
Approximately 40 minutes later, Hilbert delivered a disappointing update to his passengers. "I was sure we'd find it someplace over by the entrance to I-95," he said, "but there wasn't anything there but that huge industrial park, so we must've been on the wrong track."
"I think our best bet now is to try and maybe head north for a few blocks," Hilbert added. "It could've been Seaver Road I was thinking of. Seaver and Cedar kind of sound the same."
The searchers, whose discomfort is compounded by the fact that all three couples are crammed into one car, since Ken and Ellen opted not to drive their own car, are not expected to find the restaurant any time soon.
"We've been up and down Morganton Road, all the way to Cross Creek Mall and back," said search-party member Lynette Schloegel from her scrunched-up position in the backseat, visibly anxious as she gripped the purse on her lap. "Some of us are beginning to suspect that perhaps, for all our best intentions to locate this Shoney's and get some much-needed food and shelter, this may be a lost cause."
Despite such doubts, local authorities consulted by the search team at a Sapona Road SuperAmeriGas are confident that the elusive Shoney's cannot be far off.
"Oh, you mean the Shoney's over by 301, sort of where the old Farm & Fleet used to be? Right by, uh, that big-plastic-cow-sign-what-have-you? Sure, I been there plenty of times," said Ed Taylor, second-shift clerk at the SuperAmeriGas and local directions authority. "I can get you there. Or, at least, close enough to be in the ballpark. Let me draw you a map on this napkin."
Search efforts have been further complicated by dissent among leading Fayetteville-area direction-givers, some of whom do not support the Taylor napkin-map plan.
"You don't want to listen to those SuperAmeriGas guys; they never know what they're talking about," said staunch head-left-at-the-next-light advocate Grant Gordy. "What you wanna do is just head left at the next light. But watch real careful, because the road forks right after that, and you need to make sure you stay headed north on Old Wilmington Road, or you'll end up right back over by the funeral home again."
As the hours tick by with no end in sight, many within the car are beginning to fear the worst.
"I don't want to give up hope," said Paulette Klaas, who, along with husband Hank, has been with the search effort from the beginning. "But sometimes, in my weakest moments, I have to admit that I don't know if I'll ever see Shoney's open-faced-turkey and mashed-potato platter again."
"Kenny G was so inspirational, and it really seemed like there was magic in the air tonight," Klaas continued. "But then something like this happens. I tell you, this prolonged suffering is more than a person can take. I like the Hilberts and the Schloegels just fine, but after this ordeal, the next time those folks want to socialize, Hank and I just may opt for Pictionary Night at the Underwoods instead."
Hilbert, however, remains unbowed. "That Shoney's is out there, somewhere, with friendly service and quality food at a reasonable price, and, dammit, we're going to find it," he said. "We've got to. Even in this, our darkest hour, we must not give up."
If the missing Shoney's cannot be located within the next 72 hours, Fayetteville Police Department operating procedure stipulates that the search will have to be called off and the Shoney's officially declared dead.