Inspired by true events. An account of four weary travelers on their journey from Southern to Northern California up the I-5 corridor and their stop at a diner somewhere along the Grapevine.
Upon entering the dining area, we were greeted with blank stares and the unsettling sensation that we were interrupting something. A secret meeting, perhaps. Maybe they didn’t get the raise they were promised. Something was awry. More employees, outfitted in white shirts and green aprons, stood around in odd corners and crevices than there were people sitting at tables eating.
The lunch hour had passed long ago, but these employees looked put out and at a loss as to why we were there. They appeared to be guarding, on watch. Like gargoyles set in stone, they stood frozen, although I saw their eyes twitch back and forth between them, a coded language muffled waiting for a cue.
“Four, dining in?” A woman in her late twenties, too thin to be attractive, lunged forward from the ranks.
Tabitha, it said on her name tag, assumed the post as our hostess, prompting us out of our belabored reverie. Our stomachs were growling. We needed sustenance. We followed her to a red, padded booth.
“Paul will be your server.” She slapped menus on the table and was gone before we could ask for water.
We breathed a collective sigh of relief as we scanned the menus with delightful approval. They were lots of possibilities here. There was every kind of sandwich, hot or cold, most with a roasted garlic sauce. I suppose it may have something to do with the agriculture in the area. Otherwise, salads, pizzas, burgers of many varieties, steak and potatoes, and a full breakfast menu available all day. Even the pickiest of eaters could indulge here.
It didn’t take long to make our decisions and we spent the next ten minutes playing what was labeled as an “I.Q. Game.” I’m sure you know the one. The objective is to move the pegs across the board in any direction, except diagonally, removing each piece as you jump over it, in an attempt to narrow it down to one piece on the board. It helped pass the time initially, but our patience waned as we noticed only four tables with patrons, and an assembly of workers milling about. A couple of workers sat in a booth in the far corner fighting sleep and drinking coffee.
Finally, our server Paul made an entrance. He was short and stocky and his face reminded me of clown, only without the makeup. He had a bulbous nose, and two rosy cheeks, and protruding lips that sagged as though he had a permanent frown on his face. To complement his sad demeanor, he spoke nary a word.
Was he a mute performing in a fun house of mirrors sideshow? You must admit this is an odd trait for a waiter. Perhaps, he didn’t care about his tip. He merely nodded and scribbled every detail on his notepad.
First my mother Betty, “I’ll have the chicken sandwich plate with the small salad. But no onions on the sandwich, please.” It came with carmelized onions, which we all thought would taste wrong.
A nod from Paul to my sister Kristi. “I’d like the pepperoni pizza, but without the roasted garlic sauce. Just the normal sauce. Does it come with tomato sauce?” Paul nods twice. That must mean yes.
Now for my son Alex, “A hamburger, with french fries, everything on it except mustard and onions.”
A nod to me, “For me, the ham and cheese sandwich melt with french fries. No mayonnaise. Actually, just the ham and cheese. Nothing else on the sandwich.”
Paul turned abruptly and left in silence.
Kristi turned to me, “Susan, do you think he got it all? ”
“It wouldn’t have hurt to repeat it. Maybe he lost his voice. He seemed to understand it. I mean he wrote it all down.”
Cars in the adjacent fast food parking lot were emptying out. A bell rang a few times as people left, bringing in a waft of fresh cow manure. I hope it wouldn’t take much longer. We needed to get back on the road after all.
To be continued…
Dear Reader: There will be two more parts to this story. I hope you will join me for the remainder. Thanks for reading.