I learned this as we pulled up to the Mercantile after the short drive over from Bartlesville. When I spotted the line snaking around the building, I was thankful to have eaten the mediocre hotel omelette. It was just past 10am and already the wait to be seated was two-and-half-hours long.
"Oh, honey, people frequently line up at 5am," said Linda*, the tall, sturdy woman stationed at the large, wood-framed glass door leading into the Merc, when I expressed surprise about the wait. Linda -- a gravelly voiced former oil worker with shoulder-length jet black hair who asked me to keep her real name private and jokingly demanded that I credit her as the Mercantile's "door greeter, concierge, docent, historian, storyteller, and bouncer" -- directed food traffic while fielding endless customer questions, and prodded new and departing diners through the door using two phrases: "You can go on in, folks" and "You can come out, folks." While dutifully taking a photo of a mother-and-daughter duo, she said, "I came out of retirement for this job, but I didn't expect to be this busy. The waits are usually around three hours, but between Christmas and New Year that number got as high as six hours."