Submitted by John L. Lincicome.
I was headed back home to the wet side, the west side of the Washington Cascades to Tacoma Town. The day started out driving to Wenatchee in eastern Washington to meet up with a fella to talk business. It’d been a good day. Hunger pestered me on the long drive back, so after I went over Blewett Pass, I stopped at a Diner along the way.
The front door to the place had a little bell thing above it so when someone came in the owner was alerted. The bell visited a pleasant ring for the second time as I shut the door behind me.
The door below was built of a wooden frame with a window in the upper half at that time in 2009. There was a little sign hanging by a chunk of twine that was looped around a nail in the upper part of the door. On one side the sign read “Open”, the other side “Closed”. I chose a booth beneath a window with a view of the parking lot and the front door. My view of the sign on the door read “Closed”.
Country music was coming from somewhere as I took off my coat and laid it on the vinyl covered bench seat, next to me. I grabbed a laminated, double-sided menu from where it lived between the black and chrome napkin dispenser and the glass bottle of Heinze Ketchup, a matching pair of half full salt and pepper shakers lived close by. A little container with real and fake sugar and powdered creamers lived on the other side. There was a set of silverware wrapped in a napkin with a paper tie to bundle the whole affair, on each side of the table.
The interior walls of the place were wood planked. The place had a cabin like feel to it. There was artwork strategically located, centered above the table of each booth that existed around the interior perimeter. The artwork were hand painted that boasted of ranch houses with ranch style fences and Doug Fir, hemlocks and cedar trees. Some of art was of snow-capped mountains and pleasant landscapes, others were of cowboys and cowgirls doin’ what cowboys and cowgirls do; working with cows and horses and dogs and other fourlegged critters. All of the art was done by local artisans and had their name, contact info and a price for prospective customers conspicuously placed on the bottom of the art.
Through the windows, and…
Beyond the parking lot was the two-lane highway that runs north/south. Hwy 97 in Washington State. The Diner was north of Liberty, WA and South of Leavenworth on the southerly slope of Blewett Pass.
The Diner was a place where locals & truckers gathered, I sposed. The truckers to grab a bite and/or wait out a snow storm, the locals because it was the only place around for miles where they could have contact with other human beings.
A large, sodium light in the parking lot betrayed the snowfall that evening, in such a way that put on a show for free, for me. Menu in my hand, I was lost in the moment until a pick-up truck pulled in the lot, found a place to park and made it its own, then shut down its lights. It wasn’t long before…
An older couple came in. The bell above the door did it’s job. The fella of the couple had pushed the door in/open so his gal could enter first. He followed, then respectfully shut the door. Then they took off their coats and hung them on hooks near the door for just that purpose. Afterwards they went to a booth and made it their own. I got to wonderin’ how’s come I didn’t see them hooks when I came in. Just then…
A pair of double saloon doors next to the kitchen opened and an older fella came in to view. He was wearin’ a red and black, plaid, woolen, button up shirt. He had a soiled white apron on, a smile on his face, a twinkle in his eye and a cocktail in each hand. He looked a look at the new comers and they looked a look back, then he turned his attention to me and without missin’ his stride said;
“Know what cha want yet?”
“Not yet” I said.
The cocktail carryin’, plaid clothen fella with the soiled apron and a cocktail in each hand went straight to the newcomers and set down the drinks on their table, then said “How ya been!”
I got to wishin’ I lived in a small town, wishin’ that someone would treat me like that when I came in. A place where everybody knows your business, and you know theirs. Well, most of it, eh? A place where secrets are kept, loyalty was honored and a fella could get a drink for a smile without even askin’.
I thought of Norm & Cliffy on Cheers, then of James Taylor and those dreamlike, frosted Berkshire mountains back east, women and glasses of beer and all that stuff as I tried to make a choice between bacon and eggs or a BLT.
After a beat or two the paid shirt fella stopped back at my booth.
“Double Whisky rocks” I said.
“Anything to eat?” He asked.
“Steak and eggs” I said. “Medium on the steak, over medium on the eggs. Wheat toast and grape jam.”
He looked me a look and I looked one back then he went to wherever fella’s like that go when they’ve got the task memorized. Wasn’t long before…
He came back with my drink and a coaster and a smile.
I spent the next fifteen minutes losing myself in the snowfall just beyond the window glass, and in the whiskey and remembers given another life by circumstance. Now and again a pair of headlights on the highway would illuminate the snowfall. I recalled driving through heavy falling snow as I looked out that window. Remembered how it felt like I was hostage in a screen saver as the snow fell so quietly violent just beyond my windshield.
Now and again I glanced over at the older couple. The older fella was the one facing me. His hands were aged with spots. They bent at the knuckle in an unnatural 90° angle as if they were all but consumed by arthritis. There was a rascal kindness in his eyes and all over the lines of his face. I looked at my own hands, then out the window again.
The snow continued to come down. It’d covered the windshield of my Jeep. I was looking forward to the time when I was back out in it, driving through the hours, through the screen saver, listening to CD’s, homeward bound. Nothin’ on my mind, lovin’ in my heart, and bit of the hopin’ thing, that the Chevron Station in Cle Elum was open so I could fill up the tank for the last leg of the drive home.
The moment passed and in the next the apron wearin’ fella set a plate of steak and eggs down in front of me.
“Another drink?” he asked as he grabbed the spent, double whiskey rocks glass from in front of me.
“Coffee this time” I said. He said nothin’.
I ate in peace as the snow fell hard and fast just beyond the window glass. When I was done I laid two twenties on the table, grabbed my coat and put it on. The little bell above the door did it’s job as I made my way out. Before I shut the door I turned to visit a look of thanks to the apron wearin’ fella. He was watchin’ me leave as a good shop-keep should. He looked at my vacated table, then at me with a look that said “you’re welcome.”
Life is full of nothings that are all somethings in disguise…
John L. Lincicome lives in Tacoma and you can read more Kid Life stories on the You Know Your From Lakewood, WA If… Facebook Page. The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.