There’s this diner right down the block from my place. I love it so much. I love diners in general. There’s nothing better than sitting down and being handed a menu as thick as a phonebook with absolutely every single dish in the world printed somewhere inside. I never even look at the menu, because I know that whatever I wind up wanting to order is going to be in there somewhere, and if it isn’t, someone behind the line will just make it for me anyway. Diners are the best because they’ll do anything you want and it’s never a big deal.
I love this diner, but I’m not sure if I like going there for breakfast. As soon as I get up every morning, I’m automatically starving. My first thought is always: what do I have to eat, and how long before I can start eating it? I get started on breakfast before I take a shower, before I brush my teeth. I’m just always really, really hungry. If I go to the diner, I have to get ready first, which means that my hunger is going to mount and get stronger and tug at the corners of my consciousness. I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone else, but if I let my hunger get past a certain point, it wins. It says to me, fine, you want to be hungry? You’re going to be hungry. And after I get past that point, there’s nothing I can do that will satisfy it for the whole day. I’ll keep eating, but I’ll still be hungry. Once every couple of years or so I’ll find myself either waiting in a waiting room or being stuck in a car in the middle of nowhere for like eight hours. It might not be exactly that situation, but it’ll be some sort of scenario where I’m starving and there is absolutely no way that I’ll be able to put any food in my mouth for an extended period of time. In this case, my hunger wins, but it doesn’t stop. It metastasizes into something cruel, something vicious, something that, when I finally do get myself in front of a plate of food, won’t even let me enjoy it. Do you know what I’m talking about? How sometimes you get so hungry that when you finally get to eat it actually hurts? It doesn’t feel good or satisfying at all. It’s like your stomach has started to feast on it’s own lining, and it’s all you can do to put something, anything back in there to stop your whole digestive system from self-destructing. And each bite you take you wish you could take out, but you know that you just have to pay your dues and take your lumps and try to remember to always keep a bag of something or a piece of bread or fruit in your pockets at all times, especially when you think you might be somewhere without access to a snack for a while.
It’s obviously not that extreme, getting ready to go to breakfast at the diner, it’s only like maybe an extra half hour to an hour, getting ready, getting out of the house, walking to the diner, waiting to get seated, waiting for the waitress to come over, waiting for the food to come out. But the same process that eventually ends in me not being able to enjoy my food begins somewhere in that time span. So even though I love the diner, and I love a diner breakfast, I’m not really sure how I feel about going to the diner for breakfast.
And then there’s the issue of coffee. I get up in the morning and I love to drink coffee. I make a giant pot and just sit there and drink it and eat my breakfast. Going to the diner, it’s like the coffee is this whole separate hit-or-miss process. On a best-case scenario, I’ll sit down at the table, and a busboy will come up to me right away, even before the waitress has a chance to say hi, and he’ll say, “Coffee?” nothing else, not “hello,” not, “Would you like some …” just “Coffee?” And I’ll just say, “Yes, please, thank you so much, coffee.” And he brings me over a cup of coffee. I can’t be alone in this. Maybe people like me have this look that people who work at diners have learned to recognize as an expression of anguish that can only be satisfied by the immediate serving of coffee. And diner coffee is the best. If I could choose one type of coffee to drink for the rest of my life, it would definitely be diner coffee. It’s always so fresh because they’re constantly serving pots and pots of it. It’s just the best.
But they bring it out in these tiny cups. It has to be a huge joke. I wish they just had a coffee machine installed at every table. Barring that, I wish they’d serve the coffee in a giant cup, a cup big enough to hold five or six cups of coffee. As soon as I’m served my first cup of coffee, I like to down it in one gulp, before the busboy even has a chance to walk away, and I want him to see this. I want him to see me pour this scalding cup of hot coffee down my throat, and I want him to know that it physically pains me to do this, but he’ll get it, he’ll get the message, that I really wanted that coffee, despite the pain, despite the burning, so go get the pot, fill me up, and keep it coming.
But that’s, like I said, a best-case scenario. A slightly less best-case scenario involves the waitress having to come over, asking me if I’m ready, and I say that I am, and I have to order my cup of coffee in the same sentence that I order my large glass of orange juice and my Greek omelet (I’m being hypothetical here. I never order the same thing for breakfast. A Greek omelet just happened to be the first thing that popped in my head. But I’m not being hypothetical about the OJ. That’s always the same. Well, maybe I’m being half-hypothetical, because every once in a while I’ll get a large half-OJ half-grapefruit juice. But that’s only if I get my coffee first, because I don’t want to overload the waitress with commands that might hinder the timely delivery of my coffee.) When everything’s ordered all together, it really deemphasizes how badly I’d like the coffee to come out first, to come out right this second, can you just send over the busboy maybe? Coffee?
Amidst all of these less-than-best-case scenarios, one time I had an cup of coffee at the diner on a busy Sunday morning, and I had moved the empty cup right to the edge of the table so anybody working in the restaurant could see that I needed some more. But my waitress wasn’t around. Finally another waitress came to the booth in front of me with the pot and started pouring, and I let out a sigh of relief, but I shouldn’t have let myself get too comfortable or too relaxed, because as I closed my eyes to let out that sigh of relief, she disappeared. So now I had to wait for my waitress to show up, and I had to kind of wave her down, which I never do, because I’m a waiter myself, and I really hate it when people flag me down, or worse, snap at me, or scream out, “Hello!” to get my attention, because can’t you see that I’m really busy? I’ll get to you in just a second! But I got her attention really quick and asked for just a little more coffee, please, I’m sorry to have flagged you down, I see that you’re really busy. And she says OK and disappears. And right as she fades out of my peripheral vision, I see the busboy from across the room, and he points to me and mouths the word, “Coffee?” and I’m thinking, oh shit, what do I say? If I say yes, then there’s definitely going to be a weird awkward moment where the waitress who I totally inappropriately begged to stop what she was doing to get me some more coffee will run into the busboy with another coffee pot, both of them clearly wasting their time on the same customer for just a cup of coffee in what’s obviously a very busy diner. She’ll think that I asked her for coffee, but then got so impatient that I also asked a busboy.
But, there’s no way that I could tell the busboy no because, and I know this from working at a restaurant, the minute I say no more, then I’m totally off of his coffee radar for the rest of the meal. He’ll think to himself, that guy’s done with coffee. He said no more coffee. And then I’ll have to constantly be waving down my waitress for the rest of the meal. They’ll hate me. So the busboy is waiting for me to answer, so I just kind of make this pained expression of my face and nod, “Yes, coffee.” And he goes to get the pot, and he gets it, but as he’s making his way back over here, just like I predicted, my waitress comes out of nowhere and fills my cup. And it’s super awkward.
I take a sip and the busboy appears again, not to be outdone by the waitress, and fills me up, even if it’s just a sip’s worth of coffee. I guess it wasn’t all that bad. I try to explain myself to the waitress but she’s as uninterested as humanly possible and not only that, she’s visibly annoyed. She drops off the check and it says, handwritten, “Please pay at the register!” and I’m thinking that this has to be a personal message, because every time I come in I always just leave it at the table, because that’s how we always did it at the diner by where I grew up, and it was never a big deal. And at the restaurant I work at now, there is no register, not for customers anyway, it’s just for the staff, so we just always just take the check and the money, you always pay the waiter there, and I always get so annoyed when a customer stands up with the check and looks for somewhere to pay that doesn’t exist, but now here I am, my cup of coffee, my check before I had a chance to ask for it, and I feel just as stupid, just as stupid as I imagine my customers to be when I’m looking at them wishing they would all just sit down and stop waving and wait for me to have a second and I’ll get to them next.