I thought I’d come into the diner and spend a few minutes. Taking a seat in the corner booth, it gives me a good view of the rest of the dining room. Though it’s private and cozy, it can make it difficult to follow all the conversation, but I just came in to do a little people watching while I sip on my coffee.
The place is empty at the moment, but Gladys is on duty. Everybody likes Gladys. She’s friendly, maybe not the best looker, but she has the kind of sassiness that makes up for it. Gladys is at the pass through window at the kitchen, chatting it up with the short order cook. I think he used to run a hot dog concession down at the ball park. I don’t know his name, and though he’s a jovial man, he always seems to have a gripe to share about his wife.
Here comes a couple to place an order at the lunch counter. They look like they’re dressed to see a Broadway show, or maybe an opera. The brunette lets the older, well-dressed man do most of the talking as they place an order. There must have been a shift change, and Frank takes their order to the cook.
When I first met Frank, I was impressed by his enthusiastic attention when he greets customers, and waits on them. His smile is one that stretches from ear to ear. I know that’s a cliché, but it fits him to say that. The smile sinks in down deep into his face and makes his eyes shine. It’s as genuine as any you would want to find anywhere. Then you actually catch what he’s saying, he delivers responses to his customers questions with a snide and sarcastic remark. But that smile, those sparkling eyes, are they disarming, or does he draw the full measure of his glee at getting away with those biting remarks? The well-dressed couple barely stays long enough to be served, let alone eat. I wonder if they’re in a rush, or if they were somehow offended over something Frank said?
As they slip out, in comes in a pair of women, dressed in a way to indicate they are no stranger to money. The women exude an air of languorous warmth, and are attractive. They’re conversation is too soft to eavesdrop, but for all appearances, they’re probably comparing notes on their well to do husbands. The bubbling conversation suddenly takes on a moment of what can only be described as shock, then the heads move in closer. Voices talking in whispered interchange. A secret? A conspiracy? Their darting eyes almost testifying to what? A devious plot of some sort?
A clatter of sound explodes from the kitchen. It’s not hard to figure it out. The cook is doing a little celebrating. His recipe was submitted to some major publisher, or food critic, or some such place. To listen to the explosive whoops of joy, you’d think he just won a million dollar ticket to national fame. I need to make it a point to get that guy’s name; he doesn’t look like the cook who was here a few minutes ago. From the glimpses of him pacing past that kitchen pass through window, whatever his news was has put a new found energy into his walk. Lumburger? What’s a Lumburger?
Now there’s a sight. A large man, dark completed, dark hair, and a laugh that infects the ears, and finds a way to draw out a chuckle from anybody in the room. What an order he has arriving at his table. There has to be enough there to feed a small village in a third world country. As he is about to dig in, a little man with the appearance of a Billy goat strides to his table. It’s not just the nose, and the goatee, the rasp in his voice and laugh complete the image. Was there some kind of bet lost? Now it’s the little man who is gloating, and the jovial man has had his pride deflated.
PS: To the fan of old radio shows; you may recognize most of the people who have spent time in the Retro OTR Diner. For the less initiated acknowledgements include: Jack Benny, Mary Livingston, and Frank Nelson from the Jack Benny program. The Great Gildersleeves and Judge Hooker. Two murdering women in a chilling installment of the Molle Mystery Theater. Also a quick nod to Pine Ridge, and Lum Edward’s world famous Lumburger recipe.