Even though it was 20 minutes away, I became a regular at the diner, and that sniffly waitress began welcoming me with wider and wider arms as I spent more nights there sipping burnt coffee.
I went mostly on weekends. During the week I found simply being at work doing something ‘that I was supposed to be doing’ enough to stave off any cravings for driving to the diner. Plus, I was never hungry like I was on the weekends during the week. After my shift, Tony always wrapped up a tupperware full of pho for me to take. This was before I’d met Jordan, so I ate these countless tupperwares of brothy noodles alone.
At first I’d drive straight home and eat, half the times with a cold tallboy of beer. I mean where else would I eat a plastic container of soup? But the idea of dashing home alone after a day at work didn’t sit well with me. Initially I tried watching TV as I ate, thinking that might help. But I eventually ended up driving my pho towards downtown and finding public places where people would still be hanging out. There was a park I liked going to. They had a space that would host concerts and other events that required a stage and a general admissions area for most of the year while they converted it into a public ice skating rink close to Christmas once the kids went on winter break.
There was always people there. And even though I wasn’t talking to them, it felt nice to be around them. There would be all types of people. Young couples on dates. People walking by to get to wherever they were going. High schoolers looking for something to do, anxious not to return home. Hobos looking for change. It felt alive, but still private, especially back when I first began working at Hop Syn’s when the nights were getting colder and dark really early. There, I would open up my pho and eat in peace on a metal table while people-watching, occasionally glancing over at the large buildings that oversaw the park.
This ritual suited me much better than just going home. So I ended up doing it more. And sometimes, I’d even hang around downtown, catch a movie or an event that was happening before heading back. My weekdays felt alright in this way.
It was my weekend evenings when I had been just sticking around home and my stomach was protesting for something other than Clif Bars and bagels filled with cream cheese that I craved to go to my fluorescent enclave, where unlimited amounts of buttered toast, individually packaged jam, burnt coffee, and Kirstina’s opinions awaited me, so long as I was prepared to swipe my credit card for it all. The bread and butter they made the toast with was of the lowest quality. And the coffee was burnt and tasted disgusting. Still, it wasn’t cheap to eat there. And I left decent tips. But all of that was a small price to pay to escape the darkness that awaited just outside the fluorescent lights of The Greasy Mug.