Main | Friday, October 27, 2006

Diner Life

Portland, 730am

I'm sitting alone at a window table in a diner near the wharf. Through the windows I can see the top of a row of fishing boats, rocking slightly in their berths. Every bit of signage I can see has a lobster or a moose or a lighthouse on it. I can hear the wind whistling slightly around the cracks in the front door, except for the times when the cook makes noise with his pots. Commericial Street, with its cluster of galleries, souvenir shops, and brew pubs, is hours away from opening for the day.

Pedestrian traffic outside is light and I'm one of only five customers in the restaurant. We're all men. We are all eating alone. The vinyl in my booth is cracked and peeling and I am happy as this feels like an authentic New England experience, at least if what all those years of television have taught me are true. I imagine that at any moment Dolores Claiborne might schlump past the windows, carrying a load of laundry.

My server is an old young woman. I say that because while her face is unlined by years, her carriage seems burdened by worry. She is pleasant enough, if distant. Twice, I see her pause while clearing a table to stare motionless out the window for a moment. She picks up a departing customer's newspaper and shuffles through it for an advertising supplement, folding it and tucking it into her apron. The man whom I presume to be the manager seats another solitary man next to me and calls my waitress to join him behind the partition, out of my view. She looks at him and frowns, tosses the rag she was using to wipe the tables onto a chair, then moves slowly around the partition.

"What did I do now?"

"I need you to work tonight. Carol just called in sick."

"No way. I worked 11 hours on Tuesday and I only made $40 fucking dollars. And I had to give $20 to the babysitter for keeping Alice after school."

"No way? That's your answer? I thought you wanted more hours."

"I do, Jeff, but I need weekend hours, when it's busy, not these bullshit weekday breakfast shifts. $40 for 11 hours on Tuesday. Tell me you'd want that."

The manager pauses for a long moment, then says, "Alright. If you can't, you can't. I'm just trying to cover all the shifts here and give the team players the schedules they deserve."

My waitress comes back out and removes my empty plate without a word. She moves it over to the side station and again I see her pause and stare into the distance. I leave her a nice tip and take my check to the register. The manager is handing me my change when the waitress walks up. I turn to put on my coat and put my hand on the door. As I push out into the wind, I hear her.

"Jeff, I'll work tonight."

comments powered by Disqus