Tuesday is my day of rest. Before you start wondering whether I’ve joined some sort of religious sect where the divine creator declared the second day instead of the seventh day of the week to be holy, fear not, I’m still Methodist. Tuesday is just the day that comes after Monday (ordering day), which follows the weekend (two days of baking before the sun comes up and making coffee until the sun is on the homestretch of going down), which follows Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (more of the same).
Every Tuesday around 2 pm, before I go to the library to read a week’s worth of New York Times’, I drive to a small diner in a different town. Upon entering the front door, a no-nonsense, thin, tall waitress who banters proficiently with the regulars at the counter, takes one look at me and starts making my chocolate malt. Usually, before I’m even settled into the corner booth, a chef’s salad sans mushrooms has appeared before me with an extra cup of ranch dressing: my standard order.
I am both a regular and an unknown at this diner. I’m fairly certain they have no idea I own my own cafe a few miles away, but that may not be the case, as today when I sat down at the counter and ordered coffee, Ms. No-Nonsense came to a full stop. Full. Stop. I am pretty sure this is not the kind of woman who ever stops moving. And anyone who’s ever been to a busy diner knows waitresses are usually overwhelmed and underpaid. The more tables they can turn in an hour, the greater the chance their kids get new shoes in time for the start of school.
“Coffee??” she said incredulously. “Well that is just absurd.” She walked away. I started wondering if my anonymous gig was up. But she reappeared with my coffee, and asked if I was changing my regular order, too. “Nope,” I said. “Still the same salad, no mushrooms, extra ranch.” Moments later, my salad appeared, along with a refill. We both went back to our normal routine of rolling our eyes at the portly, elderly male customers walking behind the counter. I used to figure these guys had to be the owners, because who else goes behind the counter of a diner? But after a few visits, I figured out these men were just too fat, too old, and too stiff to navigate the chairs and tables of the dining room, and the space behind the counter was wider for them to get through to go to the bathroom. Which they frequented, often.
After my salad, I decided to order a piece of pie. I figured I’d already upset the usual pattern, and I’d been sitting across from the pie cabinet for 30 minutes, with nothing to do but try and decipher what flavors were underneath which home-made crusts. I caught Ms. No-Nonsense’s eye, and asked her which pie I should order. She blinked at me twice. I took this as an invitation to ask her which one she might recommend. “I don’t eat pie,” she responded. Helpful. So I ordered the one with most fanciful name, where I’m pretty sure none of the fruits were actually from the forest, but the crust alone was worth it. Flaky, buttery and super fattening. Oh yeah, baby.
One of the reasons I enjoy frequenting this diner, is that by 3 pm, the only people left are the regulars who have nowhere else to be. So they talk with the waitresses, who talk with the cooks, and by the time you leave, you’re pretty much caught up on all the week’s gossip. The waitresses are all Democrats. The regulars are all Republicans. The regulars like to tease the waitresses and the waitresses tell them to shut up. They all talk about Sharon, who lives just outside of town and her no-good juvenile delinquent kids. I wouldn’t know Sharon if I met her on the street, but I probably know more about her living situation than her relatives. That’s the beauty of being both a regular but an unknown: I listen to the conversations, follow along, and just pretend I’m reading my magazine.
At about 3:15 pm, I give up on ever getting a check and wander to the check-out station, where I tell the cashier what I ordered and pay in cash. Today, when I announced I’d had coffee and pie instead of a chocolate malt, the cashier looked at me in confusion. I literally had to talk her into taking my money for these different items and reassure her it would be alright. “See you next week!” she said with a smile. I looked back, only to see Ms. No-Nonsense waiting for a portly, elderly man to get out of her way behind the counter so she could deliver a plate of steaming mashed potatoes and gravy to a table by the door. We rolled our eyes in unison and smiled.