Sketch and impression from a morning 8/8/11

There was always some bastard who had to send something back.  It didn’t really seem to matter what; the silverware was not clean, a steak under or over cooked, a sauce not just right.  Where did they think they were?  It was all a show for whomever the jerk was with.  Somehow trying to show his (it was usually a he) refined taste, when all it really proved was what an insensitive asshole he was.

She breathed deeply of her cigarette ration for the morning.  It was a beautiful day, just before it got too hot.  Sitting out back not far from the garbage didn’t seem so bad today.  She knew she should quit.  It wasn’t just the uneasy feeling of being a social reject (the exponential decrease in places where smokers could partake of their addiction was part of that feeling), she knew it would kill her and she wanted to stop.  But it was her only vice besides the occasional sweet and swearing.

The sounds of the restaurant china and voices made a pleasant background noise.  She stubbed the cigarette out and tossed it into the garbage bin.  She smoothed her apron and walked back inside.  It was a busy Monday morning, and all the FIBS (Fucking Illinois Bastards) were eating early before they hit the road.  It was like this with the summer crowd; moving to the lakes, the campgrounds, the restaurants in hordes and then disappearing.  In the winter it was a smaller bunch, no less transient, of bobble- (the men) and bubble- (the women) heads.  The locals called them this due to the constant wearing of helmets even when not on snowmobiles.

“I thought the sausage tasted like shit today too”, Erin called across the coffee station to Mary.  Mary nodded, took a long drink of water, then balanced a full tray of plates as she walked away from the pass towards tables.

Surveying the crowd she could see the regulars at the big round table (all men) having their morning coffee klatch.  The rest were the tourists, many with gaudy tee shirts and hats stamped “Eagle River” in various fonts.  As a child, she had seen the same junk shops that sold the shirts come and go.  The main drag was a four-block strip of the usual crap, and always had been.  But two fudge shops, really?  She wondered what made fudge a particularly tourist food.  Fudge and taffy.  Everywhere she had ever gone that was a tourist trap had fudge and taffy.  She shook her head.  The tackiness and gullibility of tourists never ceased to amaze her.  Perhaps there was a comfort in knowing that no matter how different the place, there would always be something the same.  Sort of like the RV’ers who counted on the constant string of Walmarts and McDonalds as they inched their ways across a map.  The morning crew took great pleasure in comparing the ridiculous names on the RV’s that came and went.  Interloper (no kidding did in-laws buy these?), Cougar (what RV looks like a cougar?  Maybe the middle aged women who drove them thought it was funny), and dozens more.

She put on her brightest smile, trying to hide any trace of sarcasm.  She took another order of potato pancakes (the cooks managed to turn them out in the worst possible way, but they were the last restaurant in town that served them) and bratwurst.  She usually made little bets in her head about what customers would order just by looking at the people.  She had been at this so long, she was rarely ever wrong.  She was just glad they had taken the cheese curds off the menu.  Every shop in town (even the tire dealer!) carried them in a cooler.  They did not need them here.

Folks assumed she was a local, and she was.  Sort of.  She had spent the big middle part of her life in Santa Fe, and only just returned.  Divorced, the graphic design business she and her husband had shared gone bust (most companies did their own printing work now with all the computer programs available) and trying to raise a part Indian child had just worn her out so she came home.  The schools here were better, and there seemed to be less trouble George could get into than in Santa Fe.  And there were Indians up here.  Half the cooks were Latin, the other half from some tribe with a casino.  Getting George to feel good about his heritage without becoming militant was the problem.  She sighed.  He was a smart boy, but she was never quite sure what he needed, or that she could help him.  Maybe that was just the way it was with teenagers.  She was sure her own mother had felt that way about her.  Mama had a way with George, she could make him laugh.  That was good.  Sometimes the skip in generation helped.

She put all her orders through the pass and checked the coffee pots.  She grabbed one and gave refills to the loners sitting at the counter.

It worked like a well-oiled machine, this morning crew.  When afternoon came, there was a slow down that left them all at an idle.  The evening could be unpredictable, depending on the weather and whatever week in August it happened to be.  Afternoons were a good time to clean, organize, refill, and breathe.

She would leave at three, go home and kick off her shoes.  She might go to the Remorseless Inn, sit by the lake and have a beer.  Maybe Eileen would be up for an evening at the lake.  If not, she would surely be alone in the middle of the college students, families, and retirees.  Men up here were mostly taken, and comfortably numb in marriages that allowed them to behave exactly as they had when they were eighteen.  The only difference was what time of year they were active.  Play ran the gamut from ice fishing and snowmobiles to lies about the size of the muskie that got away and speed boating; that and a generous amount of alcohol thrown in.

For now there was a steady stream of customers flowing through the door needing breakfast.  Raise an eyebrow at the length of a pair of shorts (or lack there of), share a grin at the comb-over on table nine, bus the china and refill the cups.  Grab the errant plate of wheat toast and drop it off as you glide by to take an order from table ten.  There must be a waitress in every café in every tourist town from Bellingham to Savannah taking orders this morning, she thought.  Good luck to them and every Griswold they serve, and hope the heat breaks soon.

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