Having breakfast at a busy diner is one of life’s pleasures. Taking notes and posting them here is another.
– . – . –
I chose the bar, not the booth. With the glass front to my back, I could see everything through a heavy gold-orange cast from the rising sun behind me.
Sitting elsewhere meant a fight between shadow and car chrome reflections. I’m looking for balance in my life.
. . .
A phone rang. It wasn’t mine. The woman in the booth next to me answered her cell. At first she didn’t say much, then she began telling whoever how hard it is to be without.
She cried at one point over something heard or said. Obviously, she was talking to a loved one’s ghost.
Honestly, I can never be sure. I only overheard half the conversation.
. . .
Diner workers wear name tags with earned nicknames, like “Baby,” “The Party,” “Boom Boom” and “T.J.” I hope they are earned, because an earned nickname brings the familiar to a stranger.
If nicknames are not earned, then I earn the nickname, “Stiff-Armed,” because a fake nickname creates greater emotional distance than a badge with the nickname of,”stay away from me”.
. . .
“Why is he here,” one worker behind the counter asked. She stood inches away from her co-worker’s face.
“Maybe he’s sorry,” she said, looking over the shoulder of the one who posed the question.
“Too late if he is.”
With that, the conversation ended. I looked into the eyes of the girl who said it’s too late. She smiled to hide the answer but I continued to stare. Her smile grew.
“Well, is it,” my raised eyebrows asked. I grinned and winked. She shook her head.
“Men are idiots,” I heard her think.
It never occurred to me to wonder what he had done wrong. It was almost none of my business.
. . .
Diner workers can be truly alone in their work, but only for a moment. They compress time in the midst of chaos. It comes out as a few seconds of peace. That is an invaluable trait if it can be taught.
The experienced ones do it while awaiting your decisions. With one foot in the now, they scribble your choices. The other foot lazily strolls somewhere or some when else without dragging the rest of the body along.
It’s as obvious when they are lost in thought as it is when they mentally find a way back.
I wish I could work alone in a crowd like that.
. . .
The diner’s menu was in indestructible clear plastic. When roaches are extinct, the world will consist of a pile of plastic menus from diners, and maybe spam, if properly sealed.
The breakfast menu was on one side of the plastic, and the lunch/dinner menu was on the other side. These are dual-use. Either side serves as a place mat after ordering.
My menu was stuck to the table, because it and the table had just been uncleaned with a wet rag.
The menu was impossible to pick up without sliding it to the edge of the table and peeling up a corner. The menu was impossible to slide toward the edge of the table.
. . .
I say the menu was uncleaned with a wet rag because it’s the same rag used to wipe up Johnny’s third syrup mishap from table 13.
It was also used to mop up the explosive results of the ketchup packet Sally smashed with her tiny fist along the edge (and slightly under) table 7.
The same rag wiped (or will wipe) the mess from one half of the twins (it’s always the twin on the left) made on the booth seat.
It’s the same rag used on the counter in front of the old man eating alone who puts his dirty utensils next to the clean napkin but never on it.
At least the damp plastic that I can’t lift or flip or scoot feels clean to me. After all, this is a family diner, and the rag has served families since the place opened (but hopefully not since it closed last night).
. . .
That said, how much better does breakfast taste in a place like this? I think it’s the visible manual labor that goes into making it.
There’s the multiple translation from my human language, to short-hand scribble symbols, to secret code diner-speak translatable only by the chef.
It’s seeing my food on a crowed grill, dangerously close to other orders identical to mine but made for strangers.
How much better does it taste after seeing it prepared, plated and carried and placed in front of me?
Much. Very much.
. . .
Pouring syrup on a waffle is like a relationship.
It happens gradually, more slowly than I would like. I pour too much even while watching the pour and controlling the tilt. Suddenly, it becomes too late to pour less.
There’s a sweet spot where the flow stops moving and turns into a long thin brown shimmering blown-glass rod.
Then there it is: the gush, the overflow, the glob. Broken glass on a waffle.
A good relationship is one that allows for the licking of sticky fingers.
A great one will walk with you along the undulating surface of life’s glass-covered waffle.
A greater one will enjoy the role of the sticky licker.
I’m not sure that came out right, but let’s leave that analogy alone and move on…
. . .
The waitress brought the wrong order.
I ate it, then complained that it was not to my liking. Since I had eaten the evidence, my complaint was soft and passive in voice.
Something like, “The meal was not as good as it possibly would have been if that very thing had been ordered by me when my order was taken by you, back when the water was first brought by you, which was acceptable and as-expected.”
“Want a water refill?”
“Please. If it’s not too much trouble.”
“It’s more trouble than I had previously planned.”
“If you want more water, eat the ice.”
“Can I get ice refills in liquid form?”
. . .
At places like this, I like to leave a larger tip than the bill suggests.
The single dollar has come to represent the tip for diner service. As always, I long to skew the average.
I want them to mean it when they ask me to come back.
I want the server to mention the tip to her co-workers, but not too much.
That would be pretentious on her part and excessive on mine.
“Spend it all in one place,” I said. “As long as that place is where you go for your few seconds of peace in the midst of this chaos.”
She called me witty but my humble nature will not allow me to quote her here.
I will here: “You’re witty,” she said.
. . .
Once outside, I glanced back through the front glass, tilting my head around the posters advertising meal specials.
My server was looking at me. I had become her morning hero.
She longs for a day like mine, a day where she does whatever, wherever.
She imagines having my timing skills to ask for coffee at the exact point in the breakfast evolution to get it free.
She imagines taking their first sip of victoriously free coffee just before pulling out, not knowing or caring which direction she explores.
. . .
I opened the car door and waved quickly but distinctly before getting in.
“Cheers,” I said. I gave my free coffee a hearty lift, an air-toast to her service.
After I wiped hot coffee from my wrist, shirt and inside of the car door, I drove away, not knowing or caring which direction I explored, Boom Boom’s morning hero before the lunch crowd.
– . – . –