Man cannot live by bread alone.
Wanda Clark and Linda Fitchett understand that as well as anybody. Together they operate the county school administration building's cafeteria at Independent Hill where about 150 central office personnel depend on them not only for food each day but for something almost as important -- entertainment.
"A cheeseburger, medium," requested a patron going through the lunch line recently.
"Cheeseburger, on its knees," yelled Fitchett to Clark, translating the order into Independent Hill kitchen parlance.
Because it was Friday, Fitchett, Clark and helper June Davis had dressed in zany costumes, as is their habit on the last workday of each week. Just after New Year's, they dressed as babies, complete with diapers. At Halloween, Fitchett was a clown. On this occasion, all wore loud Bermuda shorts and florid shirts topped with visored caps. Davis stood at the cash register in a pair of vintage red and white saddle oxfords, and Fitchett's socks didn't match.
The women said they had decided on the beach-inspired attire to thumb their noses at the weather. It had been 11 degrees when they arrived at work that morning.
"We dress up most Fridays because it helps cheer people up. They're under a lot of pressure here," Fitchett explained between barking cheeseburger orders in code. A "cheeseburger dead" is well done. "Walking" means rare.
The women are credited by many school officials with helping maintain morale at the administration facility since it opened in an isolated part of the county almost two years ago.
"School people had been in offices in Manassas," explained school food services director Serena Suthers. "They were used to going out to lunch, doing errands. We knew when we opened here, we'd have to provide food, because so much time would be lost if people had to go outside the building."
Until a small pizza restaurant opened recently, the nearest food was eight miles away.
The cafeteria has an $87,000 annual operating budget that is financed through meal charges and kept separate from other school food services, Suthers explained.
Each day, Fitchett offers a hot special for $2.25. Menus usually run toward meat loaf and baked chicken rather than veal cordon bleu. But the meals are tasty and substantial, good for warding off the blues of a cold winter day.
"They must be varied because the same people eat here day in and day out," Suthers said.
The favorites are barbecued chicken, breaded chicken, pork chops, pizza and quiche.
"Even the real men like it," Fitchett said.
Fitchett and Clark obviously relish trading quips and jibes with their customers as they dish up the macaroni and cheese, and the banter is equally enthusiastic on both sides of the hot table.
"They come down here and unload their troubles," Fitchett said. "We're sort of like the bartender" whose customers tell him everything. Fitchett maintains that she listens to it all but makes a conscious effort not to remember too much.
Mostly, the exchange is all in fun. Clark is teased by one patron who says he thought she was Tammy Faye Bakker. She bats her mascara-laden lashes and demurs.
"We have special names for every day," Fitchett said. "Monday is 'drag' day. Wednesday is 'hump' day, 'cause it's in the middle of the week. And everybody knows when it's Friday."
The pace can get pretty frantic in the cafeteria, according to Fitchett, who arrives each morning at 7 to get breakfast going for 50 or so regular patrons.
"This morning we went through about 14 gallons of coffee in an hour and a half," she said. "That's because it's cold outside."
According to Suthers, Fitchett and Clark have just the right temperaments for their jobs. Not only can they manage the kitchen, they're great at dispensing a light touch, defusing the odd complaint with a funny remark.
"We knew when we advertised that working here required a special personality," Suthers said. "Sometimes dealing with adults can be more difficult than dealing with children."