It's just a Denny's diner adjacent to the local Sandman Hotel. I'm too tired to find much inspiration in its generic front with its grey stones and a combination of tungsten and fluorescent lights waiting inside. I push the door open and obey the sign telling me to wait to be seated. It pricks me to wait. It's late; I want to satisfy my craving for hash browns and go home. So I fidget and grab a slip of paper from the bowl labeled "Wifi Password".
"Hello, table for how many?"
"Um, just the one," I say biting my tongue and grabbing a Coffee News issue.
It didn't really suit my mood. I was drained, tired from twelve consecutive hours of interacting,
"Can I start you off with anything to drink?"
"Some tea, please."
Just anything, just something warm in a mug as soon as possible...
"What do you have?"
"We have chamomile...peppermint....lemon..."
"I'll have the lemon, thank you."
She's gone before I can place the rest of my order. But I don't really need to look through the menu. Please, come back!
It's a stupor—drunk off a week's worth of constant movement. It clouds my mind and leaves me in a haze out of which I cannot seem to quite find a way. It does give me drive and focus to get what I want, though. At this particular moment, that objective is hash browns.
"Here you go," she says setting in front of me a kettle of water, a tea sachet, and a mug with the words 'Wake up and smell the coffee...and the pancakes, the bacon, the sausage, and the eggs' in a sunny yellow printed on its side.
I pour and ridicule myself for paying a box of tea's worth on one sachet. One sugar packet, a few mixes, and it's still too sour. A second packet of sugar? Too much trouble.
"What can I get you?"
"Just hash browns, actually."
"So, just a side of hash browns?"
If she's doing any judging, she conceals it well. We're not far away from a university; I imagine she's seen her fair share of random dinner requests. Speaking of university, the table across from me has a group I'm assuming hail from there. We're about the same age, but they're buoyant, chatty, and far too loud.
"I hate this song," says one of the three boys sitting across from a laughing brunette and another boy.
I wasn't paying attention to the music, focused only on the one too many conversations going on around me, but his statement grabs my attention and flings it to the song. Carly Rae Jepson's "I Really Like You" is playing. The chorus begins, and he takes advantage of it.
"I really really really really really really hate this song," he sings along. The brunette laughs again.
The people at the booth in front of me leave. The two men at the booth beside mine laugh at some hysterical joke, and the university kids place their order.
I skim the menu one more time, do a quick social media sweep, sip my tea, respond to messages, skim the Coffee News and try to not fall asleep.
"Here you go," she places a shiny flattened mound of shredded potatoes in front of me.
"Thank you," I smile.
I pour ketchup on the side of the plate and dig in.
I can hear the guys in the kitchen conversing in relaxed camaraderie. Dishes are being washed, tables being swiped, and the last couple of orders being filled. One of the waiters comes into the diner with a loaded platter. He begins placing the orders on the table of the university students. The men to the table beside me request their bill, and another family waits to be seated.
It reminds me of one of the games the Kid and I used to play years ago. The games simulated restaurant or food trucks. They always exasperated me and gave me new appreciation and respect for the work of those in the restaurant industry.
I take a last sip from my mug, make sure I'm not forgetting anything, ask for my bill, and walk over to the exit. I tip, pay, and say goodnight.
It filled my craving, but nothing more. But I don't think it was because it was a Denny's diner, but because I evidently haven't learned enough about the restaurant industry. No, scratch that, I haven't learned enough about loving people. I came away empty because I was too focused on my own tiredness. I didn't give a thought to whether or not someone else in that diner was tired. I don't remember the waitress' name, or what she looked like, and that has bothered me. So, it's a new goal. Next time it won't be enough to smile or say 'thank you'. Next time it'll be about making an effort to mean it.