SEVEN THIRTY IN THE MORNING, I treat my overworked Jetta to a full tank of gas and scrape about a billion bugs off her windshield and headlights before parking up at the side of the gas station next to the door for their diner.
It isn’t only the cops that confuse me. Should I take whichever seat I fancy, or wait for someone to point me at a table? Maybe the sensible compromise is to go sit at the counter? I’m trying to decide when a girl in a red and white uniform spots my indecision and tip-taps across the floor to me.
If I worked waiting tables, I’d never wear shoes like hers. Cheap, plastic, three inch heels, she’s chubby enough her feet must feel like they’ve died and gone to hell. Her smile seems genuine, though. “Any seat you want, hun. Help yourself. Can I fetch you a coffee?”
“Yes, please. That would be lovely.”
Her smile becomes a grin when she hears my accent. “I guess I should have offered you tea.”
Returning her grin, I shake my head and she laughs. “In that case, I’ll be right over with your coffee and a menu.”
I’ve never had a decent cup of tea in America.
Someone left a copy of USA Today on the table in the corner booth. That’s enough to make my decision for me.
The coffee is far better than I had any right to expect. The waitress watches me drink and smiles when I sigh in appreciation. “We can give you a big gulp cup to go?”
“Big gulp cup?”
“I’d never sleep again.”
“That’s pretty much the idea. Truckers” – she gestures at the bar – “swear by them.”
“Maybe a twenty ounce?”
“Honey, you got a deal.”
“But for now can I get bacon and eggs and a glass of orange juice?”
“How do you want them eggs?”
“No problem. Pancakes?”
“No, thank you. Eggs and bacon will be fine.”
“Are you hungry or on a diet?”
Her laughing eyes and bulky thighs suggest I’d better not suggest I’m dieting. “I’m starving.”
“That’s what we like to hear. Don’t you worry none, I’ll take good care of you.”
Apparently her idea of taking care of me is handing me an invitation to the cardiac ward. My plate is loaded high with eggs and rashers of crispy bacon. I dowse Cholesterol Mountain with lashings of hot sauce and demolish it in double time armed with only a fork. “I won’t need to eat again until tomorrow.”
“Let me get you that twenty ounces and your check.”
She’s pouring my coffee-to-go when the bell chimes and the diner door opens. I look up – it’s a reflex – and almost choke on my last sip of orange juice. It’s the girl from Cadillac Ranch, and she looks like she walked all the way here.
On another day, I’d say hello and ask if she’s OK, or needs any help. But today is not that day, and this is not the time to be trying to make friends. Especially not with a girl whose glare could peel the skin off your back. And not when there’s half a chance she could have been following me.
When she stomps towards the bathroom, I look up and smile. She’s surprised to see me. Or she’s Meryl Streep.
I settle my check and give the waitress an extra fifty. “Most of that’s for you. Thanks for being so kind. But please, use some of it to pay for that girl’s breakfast?” I wave my free hand towards the bathroom door.
“Thanks, hun, you’re welcome. And no problem. That chickee sure does look like she could use a little help. Tell you what, I’ll supersize her too.”