One More Cup Of Coffee
Remember back when they made those diners that looked like the ones you could buy with a Lionel train set. It was part of the Plasticville, USA array of structures and buildings. Well, one night after I rolled into town on a Greyhound bus in northwest Pennsylvania I spied such a place with the red roof and silver walls which looked to be the length of a boxcar. Along the windows there were booths in red patent leather with silver trim around the seats and table edge, while across the aisle there were similar stools bolted to the floor along the length of the restaurant bar. A gap graced the middle of the counter for access behind the counter and the grill, on the right end it wrapped around the end of the establishment with about three more stools. The other end ended at the narrow wall next to the entrance.
I walked into the diner around one in the morning. My bus was late because of some kind of engine malfunction that took a couple of hours to fix or I would have arrived around ten thirty according to the schedule. Any longer of a breakdown and the bus company would have sent a replacement bus we were told. Not for eleven people, I thought.
There was an ambiance to the eatery. Music was in the air; a Leon Russell tune called, Tight Wire. “baby, you’re just too blind to see” The fried onions and a hint of grilled ground beef gave the place a personal touch. I felt comfortable in these surroundings. Let’s see now, I was twenty-seven without a job or a direction in my life. It was nineteen seventy nine and I was in a strange town with about thirty-five bucks to my name.
Except for an older couple in one of the booths along the windows, I was the only breather in the diner. Well, she was behind the counter but hadn’t bothered to turn around yet and greet the new customer. I had the feeling she was checking out my leather jacket and jeans through the mirror in front of her. I walked the better part of the diner to where the counter turns and grabbed the stool at that point. It gave me a better view of the entire establishment.
Like a ballerina doing a pirouette, she turned and asked, “Can I help you?”
“Sure can,” I replied then added, “coffee please.”
She was wearing a blue pinstriped blouse and jeans covered by a white apron which had a few earmarks of earlier dishes that had passed her way. She picked up one of two pots from the industrial Bunn coffee makers they use in restaurants and poured me a cup in the plainest of white porcelain cups that had these little cracks all over it like a time stamp. I could visualize the parade of hands that wrapped their way around the handle throughout the cups’ life.
The tag on her apron read Clair. When she was finished pouring she asked, “Cream or sugar?”
“Cream will do,” I said followed by, “thanks Clair,” when she returned with a stainless steel creamer, cool to the touch.
“Anything else?” She questioned in a tired flat voice as a response to identifying her tag.
“I’ll take two burgers well done with lettuce, tomato and fried onions please.”
She wrote it down on her little pad and subtotaled the order. I watched her brown eyes and they danced between me, the pad and the grill. She pulled a couple patties from the refrigerator and tossed them on the grill then turned to me and asked, “Any fries?”
“No thanks Clair. I’ll pass on the deep fried potatoes.”
“Health nut hey?” She remarked, stepping out of her tired waitress act.
“No, not really. Just don’t feel like them this morning.” I tossed back.
“I don’t think you’ve been in here before,” she questioned as she gave the burgers a turn over.
“You’re right! I just came in on the bus. Lost my job in Toledo, so I’m out and about searching for a career.” I explained. “Never been here before so I thought I’d take a look,” I added, then picked up the newspaper on the counter which looked like several pairs of hands had exercised through the pages. No matter; I was looking for the want ads to see if there were any doors to knock on.
Clair said, “What exactly is the kind of work you are looking for,” as she gave the meat another ride. The patties sizzled on the grill bathed in grease. The onions hissed on another area of the grill. I mention that because she’s the first fast food cook I ever saw degrease the burgers on a couple of paper towels before they were bunned. I thought that was a nice touch and mused if she did that for all her customers.
“Ketchup?” she asked.
“Only when I’m behind,” I replied as I sipped my coffee, kept a straight face and tossed the paper on the counter in anticipation of my burgers.
She walked over with my plate then returned with an array of condiments. Clair stared at me with those piercing eyes. Leaning in she said, “I got it smart ass!”
She reached down and pulled a couple of napkins from under the counter and put them next to my plate. The couple at the booth began to stir like they were ready to leave so Clair walked over to them with the coffee pot and asked if they wanted their cups topped off. They declined and wanted the bill. She floated back and forth between the register and the booth then returned about halfway between me and the opening in the counter all the while I dug into my meal. In a few minutes the couple made good with the bill at the register and proceeded out the door. When the old man passed the booth they had been sitting in. He dropped some money on the table for the waitress.
It was just the two of us at two- twenty in the morning. I looked out the window at the full moon and felt invigorated by its magnitude. There was a peculiarity about me as if I was possessed by the magic of the orb. I was totally lost in it for a moment and thought about the millions who have looked upon it before me and my generation.
I turned back to the counter and she had moved closer to the end where I was sitting. I explained that I was looking for forty hours anywhere to start then I’d assess and move up the ladder, if possible.
“Do you know the wolf mates for life?” I asked.
“Yeah, I heard that before and there’s something else too but I can’t remember what it was…dolphins, maybe,” she shared then looked me in the eyes again and said, “Why? Are you some kind of wolf?” chuckling at me.
“I can hold my own,” I told her.
“Yeah, I bet!” and she laughed as she bent down and got some more creamer out of a cooler below the counter. After she placed it on the counter she walked back over to me and said, “More coffee?” as she grabbed the pot.
“Please,” I said with a quarter to three in the morning smile.
I’m not sure what it was but Clair, the waitress, was becoming increasingly impatient as she moved up and down the counter walkway. As if there was something heavy on her mind she became fidgety. She started ringing her sweaty hands after a time, like a junky needing a fix. I was surprised at the change in her. In twenty minutes time she had gone from this dream I was about to ask out to a somewhat haggard individual.
Finally she walked up to me and said, “Listen…I don’t even know your name.”
“It’s Travis. You never asked.” I muttered half hurt.
“Travis…I need to step out for awhile. Do you mind watching the place for me? I won’t be too long,” she told me as she moved toward the door like she was going to a fire.
All I can come up with is, “Are you sure?”
She screamed without looking over her shoulder, “I’ll be right back I told you!”
The door shut automatically behind her and I was left to an eerie silence with the exception of the coffeemaker spewing some unintelligible remarks. There was pause between songs on the radio she had on behind the counter. A commercial finally broke in for an ambulance chasing lawyer firm that wanted to help you stick it to whomever had wronged you. They gave a list of assorted topics followed by those jingle singers with the number to call. After all of that, Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf began to play over the airwaves.
I thought to myself, One more cup of coffee then I’m hitting the street whether she returns or not. I’ll lock the door on the way out.
I heard a commotion as I topped my cup off and peered out the window but saw nothing. It sounded like someone had fallen over the garbage cans in the alley around the corner. All went back to silence after that. The radio crackled a bit like bad reception while The Doobie Brothers sang Clear As The Driven Snow.
I heard the door and saw a guy in his early forties come through it. Just as he sat down on one of the stools at the other end from where I was perched, the window exploded inward as this enormous red eyed werewolf went straight for the new patron. There was blood instantaneously everywhere. I sat there frozen in time unable to move. The guy’s head was half off at the neck and his body flailed on the floor. I was to out of it to even piss my pants.
I’m dead, I thought as the creature looked my way briefly with those piercing eyes, paused a moment then exited out the same hole it had made in the windows. I wasn’t sure whether to leave or stay. After several minutes I walked over the body and left the diner trying to avoid the blood on the floor. The cops would be looking for witnesses and I wasn’t about to get caught up into what had happened. I’d end up the bad guy or the nut. I passed the bus station figuring the police would look there and kept heading south eventually finding a motel to check into.
Sleep was something that did not come easy and I dreamed the werewolf was after me for leaving without tipping. The next morning when I peeled off the covers I decided Erie, Pennsylvania had little to offer but restless nights. Catching another bus south, I sat in the seat staring off into space when the guy across the aisle asked, “Paper?”
I accepted and opened the want ad page as my eyes locked into an ad for a dog catcher. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I mumble aloud as my neighbor across the aisle said, “What?”
“Oh…nothing really…just singing…sorry.”