RESTON, Va. - It ain't over until the Lunch Lady sings.
Gooood morning or good afternoon! begins the Lunch Lady, whose Grand Ol' Opryish voice can be heard weekdays on a phone recording hailing from a government cafeteria here in Northern Virginia.
Today the soup of the day will be beef barley. For the "Market Carver," we are going to feature chicken piccata, and for the "Balance Choice Option," linguine, with broccoli, peppers and carrots ...
For lo these five years, the Lunch Lady has been a cult figure around Washington - and way beyond. Her phone number - 703-648-7777 - has made the rounds on the Internet. In U.S. government offices and elsewhere, it is posted in cubicles and on computers.
"Honest to God, I used to leave her number on the voice mail of everyone I knew," says Jo Briscoe, the manager of a leasing business in Washington. Briscoe and her work mates began listening to the Lunch Lady several years ago. "We needed our daily fix."
And from the grill, the "Fresh Grill," we are going to have the fish sandwich. And for the yogurt, we're going to have peach and vanilla ...
Sharon Adldoost, the Lunch Lady, is also a cook in the cafeteria at the U.S. Geological Survey building in Reston. In 1995, during the federal furlough crisis, Adldoost began decorating her recordings with song medleys.
"I like doing it to cheer people up," says Adldoost, 42.
Take her selections from a recent rainy day:
And I hope everyone is having a gorgeous day and this is for everyone [breaking into song]:
"It must be raindrops, so many raindrops, falling from the sky, falling from the sky."
But that's OK. It's been raining for about 10 days now. That's what I heard on the radio. I just feel like going outside like Gene Kelly did and: "Singin' in the rain, just singin' in the rain. What a glorious feeling, you can be happy again ..."
There's a whole menu of reasons for Adldoost's cult popularity. There's her northern Georgia accent, her unnatural enthusiasm for side dishes such as corn and spinach, and the delicious way she touts such staples as the "mmm-mmm good ol' mashed potatoes." (Though the written menu merely describes them as "whipped," the potatoes were mmm-mmm good, we discovered on a visit to the cafeteria.)
Adldoost says her menu line - which she records every weekday morning at 8:30 - receives as many as 75,000 calls every two weeks. Last year, David Letterman's people contacted her in hopes of getting an interview.
"I said, no way," Adldoost says. "I do not like cameras."
She just likes recording menus into answering machines. And
because of her following, she plans to release the first "Lunch Lady" compact disc this summer. "Letterman's band will be my backup, hopefully," she says, hopefully.
Adldoost usually sings whatever "pops in my head," but that can be chancy. Her bosses asked her to stop singing altogether two years ago, when on one recording, she sang the "Barney" song: "I love you, you love me ..."
"I got in trouble," Adldoost says. "They said my singing was too distracting."
But her cult following fought back with phone calls and even flowers in the Lunch Lady's defense. Soon, Adldoost was back pushing the good ol' mashed potatoes and cooking up more music.
"We would listen just because of her repertoire," says Jo Briscoe, one of the happy customers who sent flowers to the Lunch Lady. "She would change from Broadway to pop to country and western to movie jingles."
"But today's recording," Briscoe says of the Lunch Lady's recent rainy-day performance, "has to be my favorite."
And don't get depressed because it's raining, because:
"The sun will come out tomorrow. I bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, the sun will come out tomorrow ..." Yes it will, because ...
Part of the Lunch Lady's greatness is her ability to make effortless transitions between loosely related songs. Note her deft use of "because" to link the "Annie" theme to her next musical selection:
... Because we'll be singing, "Somewhere over the rainbow ..." Guess where? "Way up high, over the rainbow." And don't worry about the rain, OK? Luv ya.
And just when you think the recording must be over, Adldoost slips in one more song - this one borrowed from the old "Mickey Mouse Club" show:
"Now it's time to say goodbye to all my family ..." In your office or business. "L-U-N ..." Talk to you tomorrow. "C-H ... L-A-D-Y." What's that spell?
Talk to you tomorrow. Bye-bye.
Pub Date: 5/24/98