If I’m not careful I have been known to work right through the lunch hour sometimes without realizing it. I didn’t have the time to fix my lunch this morning due to hitting the snooze one (or three) too many times, and lingering just a bit longer in the shower than needed (the water just felt so darn good). So here I am, forced to venture out of the office walls if I am to get nourishment. Instead of ordering something to-go I decide I will walk to a restaurant and dine in. My budget is pretty tight at the moment (just $15/week of “fun” money), but thankfully it’s Monday so I have a little more to play with.
For a fast, cheap, and healthy-ish meal, few can compete with Jimmy John’s; just three blocks away (my favorite is the #12 Beach Club on wheat bread, add onions and sprouts). I can see the JJ sign just up ahead, but as I’m crossing the final street something catches my eye. Tucked away I see a sign, “Café.” I’m always up for something new. In drawing closer I notice the name on the sign reads Old Town Café & Catering.
How did I never noticed this was here before?
I enter and am greeted by an open, and mostly empty, small town-feeling diner. Everything has a smooth wood finish/trim – the floors, bar top counter, barstools, tables, etc. The only occupants of the diner are a gentleman seated at the counter (somewhere in between middle-age and senior citizen) and a couple (probably in their mid-thirties) seated at a square table beyond the counter-top. The staff consists of a chef and two waitresses (one older and one younger).
After entering it’s pretty obvious that I’m new to the place. I just stand awkwardly in front of the counter waiting to be either seated or told to seat myself. After about a minute of standing there, the younger waitress asks if I need a menu. “Yes.” Before she can grab one the gentleman seated at the bar hands me one from a metal rack next to him – I say a quick thanks. After another glance around I ask the waitress if I can “have a seat wherever,” and she states I can. I choose a booth and open the menu. There’s more selection than I anticipated; over a dozen sandwich and burger options, as well as several salads and wraps. Before I can decide the older waitress walks over to take my drink order –“Water. And do you have lemon?” (yes they do). I turn my focus back to the menu. After several minutes of deep pondering I choose the “Chef’s Melt” sandwich (tuna or chicken salad, American cheese, and tomato, with a side of chips or fries). I opt for the chicken, ask to switch the cheese to Swiss, and choose fries.
While I wait for my meal, two men enter the establishment (at different times). Each are greeted by name as they enter, and in turn greet those who hail them. They each take a seat at the bar-top counter. The men carry on several conversations with each other and the café staff (it appears casual – mostly of work, weather, and the like). I begin to look around and take in my surroundings. I notice there are several political posters on either side of the door leading outside. On the left, a blaring “the silent majority STANDS WITH TRUMP.” On the right Burnie’s “A FUTURE TO BELIEVE IN” with Hillary’s iconic H → logo directly underneath.
Was the placement [left-right] purposeful or not? Either way it’s funny.
Before I can give it much more though, my food arrives, along with the check which is placed face down underneath the ketchup. My food is better than I thought, nothing spectacular, but still delicious. As I sit enjoying my meal, the chef walks by me holding a salad with grilled chicken. I watch as he takes a seat two booths down from mine and begins to eat.
I suppose he doesn’t expect much business in the next twenty-ish minutes then (or perhaps that’s why he prepared a salad – so he won’t have to worry about it getting cold).
As we both continue work away at our food I am tempted to reach for my phone; but I purposefully flip the screen toward the table to limit distractions and savor the moment.
The man who was here before me places his retired military ball-cap on his head and gets up to leave. He says a few words to the others as he walks out the door. Not long after, both the second gentleman and the younger couple stand up as well. They head to the register where you pay for your meal. As they’re paying a new arrival enters the establishment. Without a word the man stands in line at the register. I then notice the older waitress place a bag containing as styrofoam to-go container next to the counter. He then pays in turn, with hardly a word exchanged, and leaves as quick as he came in.
I wonder how often he comes in? It’s often enough for them to know him and his order without saying a word.*
Soon there is only one man left in the café as the chef finishes up his meal and I stand up. As I head to the register the younger waitress asks if I’m ready to pay “Yeah.” She then tells me I closely resemble someone she knows and then calls over her shoulder to the other woman, “Hey mom, doesn’t she look almost exactly like Ashley?” (a friend of hers who lives in Florida, she explains to me).
So the woman at the register is the daughter, making the older woman and chef likely a husband-wife couple. I guess the café must be a family affair.
I mention that I plan to move to Florida soon, this fall in fact; thinking she might find the connection even more interesting. But, to my surprise there is no real conversation after my remark. As the daughter runs my card (thankfully, because I forgot to check and see they took credit before I ordered), she asks if I would like to add a tip before punching in the final numbers. This catches me off guard, and a situation I have never faced before.
Yes, I was planning to leave a tip; but thought I would write it, not speak it.
Not being good with simple math in my head, with the added pressure of being put on the spot, my mind starts racing. I mumble, “Uh, seven…”(my bill)“…shuu…”(I wiggle my fingers in no particular order)“…Two.”
She replies with a, “Thank you!”
Oh was that a lot? I had considered $2.50. I guess I did good then.
I turn to leave as I’m sent off with, “Have a good day.” “Thanks, you too.”
My final exchange is with the chef, who is hunched over scooping up the last bits of his salad. He looks up with a friendly, almost fatherly, smile. “Thanks, have a good one.” I give him a returned smile accompanied with a deep head nod.
As I head back to the office my watch tells me I took the exact amount of time I should have. I smile thinking about how I spent my precious lunch hour.
That was fun, I think I’ll come back sometime. I’ll have to keep in mind the way they do tips. I might have to just carry a little cash on me so I can leave it myself, or just have the amount in mind before I pay. I wouldn’t mind being a regular who gets called by name when I open the door. But, guess I’d have to reconfigure my budget…
(NOTE ON PHOTO: because my phone makes a conspicuous shutter sound when taking a picture I tried covering the microphone with my finger and took a “practice photo” to test; but, the sound was as loud as ever and drew some attention from the few people in the Café, so I didn’t attempt to actually take a photo of the scene)