Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Interlude at a chain diner

The girlfriend's car had a flat; the second in just a couple of months. It was the rear passenger side wheel. She might have caught a corner wrong or it might just be the car, but a jagged two-inch tear stood out like a stab wound in the black rubber.

It all seemed kind of suspicious to me. The tire had less than 5,000 miles on it, but I hadn't been called out to change the tire, which I was capable of, something I've done far too many times, but to offer comfort and moral support.

Besides, the car was practically new and came with free roadside assistance --why not leave it to the professionals. 

But we had to wait around and she was hungry. I was not, but I offered to walk in from the Shoney's parking lot and buy a hamburger and a drink while she waited for a guy to come and change the tire.

I felt kind of wary of the place. The time before, not that long ago, we'd had dinner there. There had been a mix up, a minor issue of onion rings instead of fries, and I'd kind of been treated like an asshole for not accepting that I'd ordered something I hadn't.

The waitress sort of stomped off when I said, "Hey, I didn't order this."

A few minutes later, another waitress came and collected the onion rings in a bowl, but it was a good, long while before another waitress came back with the missing fries.

We didn't see the lady who took our order again until she swung by with the check and then scurried off.

It was a weird level of hostility for something that shouldn't have been that big of a deal to any of us, but I paid the bill without a fuss, hadn't said anything to the manager at the register, and I'd left a normal tip.

Still, the meal hadn't made me want to go back anytime soon.

I spotted the previous visit's waitress as I crossed the floor from the door to the counter. She looked up at me and, for a second, I thought she recognized me, remembered me somehow, but the place was only half-full at dinner time and just as likely, she was wondering if the hostess would seat me in her section. Each new customer was a few more bucks for the night.

A pair of old women stood at the register; the both of them were easily past the recommended retirement age. The younger of the two had gone gray. The elder dyed her hair black --or I presumed so since she seemed so much older than the other.

It seemed sad to me that two grandmothers would be stuck working the night shift at a Shoney's, but I explained what I needed from the younger of the two. She cheerfully took my order, while the other woman looked on.

The rest was just standing around, waiting for meat to cook and potatoes to fry.

I got a text: the roadside assistance guy was there.

I joked and texted back that she could share her fries with the man, if she wanted. Fries came with the meal. It was an extra.

A scrawny man in his 20s slipped out from the kitchen. He hovered next to the door, grimly, nervously, eyes darting furtively. The man looked looked pasty, but not quite feverish, like he was sweating something unpleasant out.

The old women tried very hard not to act like they weren't watching him.

A couple of moments later, a short woman with flinty eyes came out. She slipped a cigarette in her mouth as she walked past him and he followed her out the door.

The younger of the two old women said, "Now, what was that about?"

A little sharper than she maybe intended, she replied, "What do you think it was about?"

The younger woman sighed and warned,"It's a mistake." 

"Of course, it is," the other woman told her. "I did it, too. Over and over."

The younger woman shook her head.

"Yeah, me, too."

They were quiet until a minute or so later when my order came up: a cheeseburger and fries boxed up in Styrofoam and dropped in a flimsy bag, ready to take to my girlfriend waiting in the parking lot.

"If she wants dessert, you come right back in," the junior of the two told me. "We got some really nice desserts."

I didn't think to even look at the menu.