Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Waitress

“What do you want to drink?” She dropped the menus on the table…three of them, even though our family numbers five.
“What do you have?” our eleven year old son timidly asked before my husband or I had a chance to ask her to give us a minute.
She gave a sigh that sent some spit flying from her mouth onto the edge of the table and shifted her weight from one hip to another. I figured, from the way she was acting, that it must have been a long day for her. Then I checked my watch. 4:30 pm. They’d been open for a half hour. “We have Pepsi products,” she said, like my kids are supposed to have the entire Pepsi catalog memorized.
“Dr. Pepper?” my son asked.
She snorted.
“Just give the kids root beer,” I said.
“We don’t have root beer.”
“Diet Pepsis,” I said. And she stalked off, like I’d ordered the wrong thing in the wrong language.
My husband tried to be funny. “She’s going to spit in your food now,” he said. The kids looked scared about that so I told them he was joking.
We were in a rib joint. A half hour earlier, we thought ribs sounded pretty good. It had been ten hours since we left Omaha on our way back to Virginia. We were hungry and tired and wanted another hour or two under our wheels before we stopped for the night.
Seemed like an early supper was a good idea. Seemed like ribs would hit the spot. Seemed like we shouldn’t have found ourselves in a scene from Deliverance.
Things aren’t always what they seem.
She brought the sodas and slammed them on the table hard enough to splash some on the table. “What do you want to eat?”
“We need a few minutes,” my husband said, checking his temper.
She tucked her order pad back in her pants and stormed off to the kitchen. “Now she’s going to spit in your food too,” I told him.
The kids looked scared again.
We ordered ribs.
She brought us rib jerky and slammed it on the table, ignoring our request for refills on the sodas.
“Did she spit in our food?” our daughter asked.
“No, honey. She didn’t spit in the food,” I said, loud enough for the waitress to hear. I think she may have gone into the kitchen to spit in everyone else’s food then because she looked really mad. I decided not to complain about the ribs.
We were in Indiana at the time. I guess some still consider that state part of the Midwest. We were returning from our first trip back to Nebraska since moving away…away from the only home I had for the first 36 years of my life. So naturally, when the trip started I feared I’d see my home state and the roots I’d ripped from the ground, not yet completely healed, would ache and sink back in again. The trip was a big deal.
When our visit was over and we headed east again, I didn’t give it much thought. I was on auto-pilot…just a wife and a mother living wherever she needed to in order to keep the family together…until the waitress in Indiana and the bad ribs.
I looked out the window, overcome by fatigue and homesickness. And the homesickness wasn’t for my home state of Nebraska. I longed for Virginia. I craved the southern hospitality, the waitresses who call my kids “baby” and come back every five minutes to fill my coffee cup. I missed the forests and the mountains. I missed the silence of my house out in the middle of nowhere. I missed the blackness of a night with no streetlights. I missed the sound of a hundred different kinds of birds in the morning. But most of all, I missed the people. Not that we haven’t had bad service in Virginia restaurants on occasion. We have. But for the first time, I felt connected to that place like I hadn’t before…or maybe it was just bad ribs, old cole slaw, and fatigue talking.
I ate as much of the rib jerky as teeth of standard human strength could chew and picked up a bag of Doritos on our way back to the highway, eager to get home…to Virginia.
So I bet you’re wondering if we left a tip. We did. Twenty-seven cents. She was worth every penny.