March 8, 2015

Post 6: Hash Browns + the Restaurant Industry.

It's just a Denny's diner adjacent to the local Sandman Hotel. I'm too tired to find much inspiration in its generic front with its grey stones and a combination of tungsten and fluorescent lights waiting inside. I push the door open and obey the sign telling me to wait to be seated. It pricks me to wait. It's late; I want to satisfy my craving for hash browns and go home. So I fidget and grab a slip of paper from the bowl labeled "Wifi Password". 

"Hello, table for how many?"
"Um, just the one," I say biting my tongue and grabbing a Coffee News issue.

It didn't really suit my mood. I was drained, tired from twelve consecutive hours of interacting,
seeking solace in solitude. When she motions me to a table in the middle of the only section of the diner with people in it, I eye the quiet corner by the window far away from the noise and plop into my seat in defeat. How much trouble would I be giving her if I asked to sit over there? I know the diner is divided into sections for the waiters, and there seems to be only one section currently active—this one, right here in the middle. I've already sat down, and at this point all I want to do is take a nap on the cold seat.

"Can I start you off with anything to drink?"
"Some tea, please."
"What kind?"

Just anything, just something warm in a mug as soon as possible...

"What do you have?"
"We have chamomile...peppermint....lemon..."
"I'll have the lemon, thank you."

She's gone before I can place the rest of my order. But I don't really need to look through the menu. Please, come back!

It's a stupor—drunk off a week's worth of constant movement. It clouds my mind and leaves me in a haze out of which I cannot seem to quite find a way. It does give me drive and focus to get what I want, though. At this particular moment, that objective is hash browns. 

"Here you go," she says setting in front of me a kettle of water, a tea sachet, and a mug with the words 'Wake up and smell the coffee...and the pancakes, the bacon, the sausage, and the eggs' in a sunny yellow printed on its side.

"Thank you."

I pour and ridicule myself for paying a box of tea's worth on one sachet. One sugar packet, a few mixes, and it's still too sour. A second packet of sugar? Too much trouble.

"What can I get you?"
"Just hash browns, actually."
"So,  just a side of hash browns?"
"Yes, please."

If she's doing any judging, she conceals it well. We're not far away from a university; I imagine she's seen her fair share of random dinner requests. Speaking of university, the table across from me has a group I'm assuming hail from there. We're about the same age, but they're buoyant, chatty, and far too loud.

"I hate this song," says one of the three boys sitting across from a laughing brunette and another boy. 
I wasn't paying attention to the music, focused only on the one too many conversations going on around me, but his statement grabs my attention and flings it to the song. Carly Rae Jepson's "I Really Like You" is playing. The chorus begins, and he takes advantage of it.

"I really really really really really really hate this song," he sings along. The brunette laughs again. 
The people at the booth in front of me leave. The two men at the booth beside mine laugh at some hysterical joke, and the university kids place their order. 

I skim the menu one more time, do a quick social media sweep, sip my tea, respond to messages, skim the Coffee News and try to not fall asleep. 

"Here you go," she places a shiny flattened mound of shredded potatoes in front of me.
"Thank you," I smile. 

I pour ketchup on the side of the plate and dig in.

I can hear the guys in the kitchen conversing in relaxed camaraderie. Dishes are being washed, tables being swiped, and the last couple of orders being filled. One of the waiters comes into the diner with a loaded platter. He begins placing the orders on the table of the university students. The men to the table beside me request their bill, and another family waits to be seated.

It reminds me of one of the games the Kid and I used to play years ago. The games simulated restaurant or food trucks. They always exasperated me and gave me new appreciation and respect for the work of those in the restaurant industry.

I take a last sip from my mug, make sure I'm not forgetting anything, ask for my bill, and walk over to the exit. I tip, pay, and say goodnight.

It filled my craving, but nothing more. But I don't think it was because it was a Denny's diner, but because I evidently haven't learned enough about the restaurant industry. No, scratch that, I haven't learned enough about loving people. I came away empty because I was too focused on my own tiredness. I didn't give a thought to whether or not someone else in that diner was tired. I don't remember the waitress' name, or what she looked like, and that has bothered me. So, it's a new goal. Next time it won't be enough to smile or say 'thank you'. Next time it'll be about making an effort to mean it.

February 24, 2015

Post 5: Takeout for Dinner.

The OPEN sign on the window flashes, and the wind chimes jingle softly as I push the door open. There's no one at the counter, no one at the booths. I am the only one daring to approach the threshold of a restaurant so close to closing time. I'm going home from work; this is the only place yet open on the street, and after hours of pouring energy into my lessons, the solitude is welcome company.

The gold trimmed curtains and the vivid carpet are lush, and my eyes are engaged by gorgeous colors each weaving into the other, blending, connected by their earthly tones—subtle shades of green, gold, brown, and red forming intricate and not so subtle patterns. It couldn't have suited my moods more perfectly. 

A woman emerges from the kitchen. 

"May I help you?"
"Yes, I'm just wondering, what would your vegetarian options be?"
"To go or dine in?"
"To go, please."

She hands me a paper menu and opens it to a rather full page.

"These are all of our vegetarian options."

She is middle aged, shorter than I am by quite a few inches. Her black curly hair frizzy likely due to the heat from the kitchen. She wears no apron, though. She is front of house. As I browse the menu she goes behind the booth.

"I'll take number 48—the okra." 
"Do you want naan?"
"Um, sure. How much is the naan?"
"Garlic naan or regular naan? Regular naan $1.50, garlic naan $1.99."
"I'll take the garlic naan."

I pay, and she comes out of the booth.

"Ten, fifteen minutes. You come back or wait here?" 
"I'll wait here if that's ok?" 

She nods and disappears into the kitchen.

"One okra and garlic naan."

The distant music with its calm distinct piano beats and smooth recorder whistles, makes my body involuntarily swing in response to its rhythm. The plaster of Paris fa├žades of the counter were worn, as I imagine many are. Plaster of Paris is not a sensible material for building, yet it is irresistible for ornamentation. Statues of gods and goddesses glance at me from every corner in their unseeing and placid looks, as if caught between expressions so that their looks are void of messages. They just are—a pause. Elephants are lined up on different shelves, and a Buddha displays his wide grin. Cherubs have been frozen in time as they string their harps and gape at me.

The salad bar has been emptied, only the derelict ice cubes remain melting, swishing to the corners of the tubs. The bar has closed, yet the bottles taunt me. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and look away.

A soft roar and flash catches my eye. The kitchen door provides a glimpse of the preparations beyond the "Employees Only" sign. A man is flipping something over open flames. "He's frying my food," I realize. Newspapers and yellow pages are shuffled on a nearby shelf, and a Zeppelin poster graces the wall behind me. Plastic flowers dangle from the ceiling. Tungsten lights increase the ambience—their soft glows reaching the necessary parts of the restaurant, while giving plenty of nooks and crannies their shadowed privacy. The counters and tables are clean, void of greasy smudges that make me nauseated. I like it here. I want to come here again.

Soon she scurries from the kitchen carrying my order, and hands the paper bag within a plastic bag to me with a smile.

"Thank you. Bye!" 

The wind chimes jingle as I let the door close itself and walk out into the clear night. The moon is bright, the silhouette of the mountains and pine trees stamped in the horizon, and the smell of garlic naan intoxicating and dizzying by my side. It couldn't have suited my moods more perfectly—New Passage to India.
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