I had to stop.
Joe had to roll his eyes.
It has always been thus.
When we are on a long drive, say the 1000 mile journey from Orange Beach, Alabama to Norfolk, Virginia, Joe's approach is stop for gas, stop for pee, stop for nothing else. He becomes a fiend at the wheel. Me, I can't believe we're driving by the Laurel and Hardy museum without even thinking of stopping and, really, what would 5 minutes at Pedroland have taken. So I was met will little enthusiasm when I said, "Surely we can stop for lunch. We've been driving since 6, we ate at 5, it's 1 in the afternoon."
I was pleading because of the place. It was a little diner. The real kind of diner. The one that's in the 'late night diner' painting with Elvis and Marilyn and James Dean hanging around having coffee. I'd never been in one before - because we always drove by too fast to think of stopping. But it was lunch, the diner was right by the gas station, Joe had little he could say.
It was a bit tricky getting the wheelchair up but I had to, I've used it a bit more on this trip as my legs aren't working quite right. Once inside I wasn't disappointed. There was one other couple there finishing lunch, a waitress out of central casting, and tables by the window. We asked for the windows and she muttered all the way over to the table, "The customer is always right, they don't care that we have our own ways of seating people, they don't care that the waitress is going to have to walk all the way over there." Then like we hadn't heard her little diatribe she pointed at a table and asked like she meant it, "Would this one be OK?" We nodded and were sat down with the menu.
The menu didn't disappoint either. Though it was full of healthy things like, kid you not, deep fried cheesecake for dessert, it had lots that we, as vegetarians could eat. I'd had fried green tomatos the night before and couldn't wait to have them again. So I order those, with green tea, the waitress, who had a different spirit than the 'hostess' laughed and said, "Well it is getting close to St. Paddy's day." I didn't get the joke but I laughed. Joe pointed out the 'green theme' of my meal when she left.
We began to talk. I could tell the waitress was listening because she looked like she wasn't. That's how I do it too. I was whining a bit about all the driving and all the travel. We talked about the conference in Orange Beach and the upcoming work in Norfolk. Then we talked a bit about a couple of other things and I was waxing poetic about things Vita, talking about where we are with the abuse prevention changes and the upcoming conference.
Lunch arrived. She delivered them to the table and then leaned back and started to chat as we tucked into our meal. She said that she couldn't help overhearing our chat and were we on the road a lot. I nodded - looking for sympathy. She said to me, in that charming way Southerner's have, and said, "It looks to me like you can't tell shit from sugar."
She explained to me that she worked two jobs to make ends meet for her family. She worked here at the dinner during the day and she worked in a 'care home' she called it for the elderly in the afternoon. "It's hard," she said, "but I wouldn't give up that job for the world. Those old people need me, they have nothing left, and if they don't have me they don't have nothing. I know everyone things those places aren't nice. Well, they are as nice as the people who work there, and I go there to be nice."
"It's a living," she said, "but it's also a good way to live."
"You get to travel around and talk to people about working with special people. That's sugar, baby. Working in a diner to pay the bills, that's shit."
I felt chastized.
"Tell me," I said, "I always like to throw in things that I've learned from people I meet into my lectures. What do you want me to say about being in service to others?"
That flustered her and she lost her self confidence. "I don't know, sir, I surely don't know." And she left us.
I felt like she might have thought I was being smart or trying to show her up, but I wasn't.
I thanked her on the way out for the chat. I promised to be careful with the shit / sugar thing. She smiled and said it was nice talking.
A few miles later I was putting the bill away in our receipts folder and noticed some writing.
"No matter what kind of day you've had, take gentle hands to work."
She signed it, Sheri-Lee.