Tonight I went to my favorite haunt, Lulu's Bakery & Cafe. It's a downtown diner of the sort Charles Bukowski wrote about in "Nirvana", only with real frenetic substance.
I like going there to do something by myself around other people. "Yeah, this is a good place for that!" my waitress Barbie laughs, adding her tips in the seat left of me at the counter. That's her real name.
Bob Seger plays and my mind rolls backward: A few years ago I used to stop by every night around 12 with a book, Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins or David Griffith's A Good War is Hard to Find or Douglas Adams' Mostly Harmless. It was there I learned decaf still has some caffeine, the riddle of why six or seven cups left me unable to sleep solved.
On my right was her husband, Freddy, and on the other side of him sat their daughter Penelope, face pressed into the glow of a large broken phone screen. That's another name you don't hear very often.
"I've waited here hours for her to get off," he tells me. Tonight, or over time? "No, like every night she's here." Wow. That sucks, I say. Aside from the hours, it seems like a pretty good place to work though. "Oh yeah, she makes like $200 a night. This place is always busy."
Sometimes while waiting for her he goes fishing on the Riverwalk off Josephine Street. He's caught a big catfish and some suckermouths. Catch and release, of course. I wouldn't trust a fish from that part of the river either.
The carne guisada taco is not that good, it's kind of runny, Barbie cautions me. What do you recommend? They both answer, the bean & cheese & potato & bacon taco. Well, how could I not try that?
In between sprints here and around, she complains to him about her day and they talk. Sometimes he yaps as she dashes by, "Hey, I'm hungry!" She still hasn't taken his order. It makes me a little nervous.
After a while, she yells to him from behind the register, "Queso or gravy?"
"Queso or gravy?"
"On your chicken!"
"On me!" and they laugh.
A few minutes later, "Look what I got you!" she says and slides him a big plate of chicken fried steak and corn and mashed potatoes and gravy as sightly as moonlight on a midnight river.
And my meal was particularly good, too. And the coffee.