It’s good for a small town guy like me to dine in a place like this.
Wood paneled walls from the 70’s. Fiber board ceiling tiles, slightly water stained from roof leaks of years past. No artwork on the walls, save a calendar or two from a local vendor. Booths along the walls, some patched with a little duct tape, others showing their cracks, wrinkles and age without apology.
Betty the waitress navigates the tables and chairs in between with coffee pot in one hand and water pitcher in the other. Wherever you sit down, there are salt and pepper shakers. Real sugar in a real glass dispenser. And an ashtray. It’s freedom the way it once was. The way my politically incorrect soul believes it should be still. The “no smoking” section is wherever you choose not to light up.
I slide into a booth. The guy across the room greets me. He’s wearing jeans, a white t-shirt and two sleeves of tattoos. “How you doin’?”, I ask.
“How am I doing?” He laughs. “Well, let’s not talk about how. Let’s just say I’m doing it.” He’s busy folding a stack of napkins while keeping up with the various conversations around him.
This is a place where the cook knows that to make a proper ham and cheese omelet you grill the ham first. Betty the waitress calls everyone “Hon”. She keeps my water glass full, my coffee hot and the regulars current on the latest news. “Did you hear about Naomi? She’s all stove up. Heard a noise in her engine and went to check it out. She thought it was the hood latch she was pulling but it was the emergency brake. Truck backed over her hand. She’s got three cracked ribs and a couple broken fingers.”
The man with crutches leaning up against his booth winces at the description. He gets up to leave with his wife. The old timer at the table to my left asks, “What happened to your wheel?”
“Bad sprain in my ankle. Fractured a toe.”
The old timer looks to the wife, “That’s what he gets for trying to kick you. I guess he’ll behave now, won’t he?”
She laughs. “We can only hope.”
My booth has a high back to it. When I look straight ahead all I see is a black felt cowboy hat with cigarette smoke swirling in and out of a stream of sunlight. The voice is large and deep. I imagine a broad shouldered burly guy. A “Black Bart” type. He’s talking with the old timer. In a gravel voice, the old timer laughs, “I’ve had a truck or two try to run away from me before.”
The old timer. He’s got to be looking back on 75 from a considerable distance. His weathered face is the same color as his canvas jacket, save the colorful band of Santa Fe pattern on it. He stirs his coffee and says to Black Bart, “Remember when we’d string up electric fence back on the ranch? I just got everything done and powered up. Must have forgotten to set the brake because that old pickup rolled back and pinned me to that hot wire. Don’t you know I was a scramblin’ hard to get free of that.”
Black Bart laughed loudly. Then coughed loudly. The smoke thinned, then mushroom clouded above his cowboy hat. It’d be a good idea for guys like Bart to quit smoking. Until you realize that tar is the only thing holding their lungs together. Bart reminisces, “One time me and Bud were goin’ to round up some cattle. I was riding that big bay horse. Remember him? Those gates had tricky latches. I got it open and rode through but that gate got away from me and bumped the old bay on the butt. I got a fast ride I wasn’t expecting that day.”
It’s breakfast the way it should be. Omelet. Hash browns. Texas toast. Coffee. They say you should eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch and a pauper at dinner. After this meal I’ll be feeling like royalty all day.
“Here’s your ticket, hon. Thanks for coming in.” Betty’s good wishes are kind and sincere. She turns to let someone else know about Naomi’s cracked ribs.
Much as I’d love to stay and listen to more stories, I’ve got work to do. Leaving to pay, I look to my right. Turns out burly Black Bart is really Sonora Slim. A skinny bow-legged cowboy on his third smoke.
Driving away from the cafe and toward my responsibilities, I remember a line from the movie, “We Bought A Zoo”. At the end of the film, the 14-year old girl asks the zookeeper, “Really quick…if you had to choose…animals or people?” In the pause that follows, they take in the interactions of animals and people around them.
The girl answers her own question with a giggle. “Me, too… people!”
“God must love the common man. He made so many of them.”
– Abraham Lincoln
“God created humankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them.”
– Genesis 1:27
Todd A. Thompson – January 31, 2014