The waiter calls me “darling,” with a dreamy smile on his face.
He’s about 19, with the beginnings of a goatee, an honest-to-god twinkle in his eyes, and the thickest black horn-rimmed glasses I’ve seen outside a movie screen. Huarache sandals, black t-shirt and black jeans, turned charcoal grey by the dorm washing machines.
I’m in Studio One, a little breakfast place in Eugene, sitting outside on the rickety side deck. The deck supports are rotting, so as people walk by the planks under my chair respond just like a player piano, up and down, up and down.
And a LOT of people are walking by. Studio One is a popular breakfast place near the University of Oregon and this is apparently the Sunday before freshman orientation. Families are here with their off-to-college kids, ordering the famous Eggs Benedict(s) and talking bedding and groceries and laptops.
I’ve got the best seat in the house for people watching, because I know the secret of great breakfast places on a Sunday: Get there before 10:00.
After 10:00 you’re competing with churchgoers, late risers and parties of 12. Translation: Your table will be ready in 20 minutes. Which means 40.
I arrived at 9:45, and so I’m in a cozy spot on the player-piano deck, watching the wait list fill up with proud-but-wary dads talking sensible budgets, envious younger siblings, anxious moms savoring the last few moments with their babies…and the collegiates, pretending they’re already grown up and on their own.
I’m actually in Eugene for an art class (more on that in another post), but my hotel is near the university and my (very comfortable) room at the Comfort Inn was probably the last-available in town.
College town in late August also means that the part-time waiters, hostesses, cooks and cashiers are getting the hang of it this morning. The cashier muddles through a dreadlocked blonde who needs to pay his tab with cash and TWO credit cards.
“So…you want $15 on this card, $10 on that card, and the $20?” he asks, and the fellow shakes his head, starts to explain again.
Right now, my waiter is a kid playing a guy who plays a waiter on TV. He’s got a pencil and pad to take my order, but doesn’t actually write anything down. His t-shirt sports a faded brickwork Jupiter, dripping sparkles, and the lenses in his hornrims are so thick they go mirrored when the angle is right.
At the moment, the hornrims look puzzled; I’m apparently his first customer who hasn’t asked for the famous Eggs Benedict(s) and he’s not quite sure what to do.
Now, I’ve nothing against Eggs Benedict, but at Studio One there’s no such thing as a plain old poached egg and ham on a muffin, with a little hollandaise. These benedicts are fancied up with squash, home fries, tomatoes, crab, polenta and whatnot.
So I opt for French toast instead and… “You mean you don’t want it with the Romanov sauce and creamy almond custard? Not even the berry compote?” he asks, aghast. “Breakfast is the most important meal! It’s your FUEL for the day!”
I give in. “OK, but just the berries,” and he sighs with relief.
The mother-daughter combo behind me moves to a table in the sun. Apparently the player-piano deck planks got to them. “It’s like a boat inna storm!” the mother said, “We’re getting seasick!”
They order, talk about sheets and pillowcases for the dorm room bed, and run out of things to say. It’s getting too close, that time when Mom will deposit her chick at the dorm and drive off to fill her empty daughter-space with worry and other things.
The silence grows until, finally, Mom picks up her phone, checks her email. Her daughter watches for a moment, then picks up her own phone. Soon they’re safely texting away on their own electronic islands, insulated from the leave-taking tonight.
My food arrives quickly. Berry compote turns out to be a kind of stewed-fruit syrup, not really my favorite, but the accompanying scrambled eggs and bacon are nice.
I make a few inroads, then return to typing this post, smiling at the curious as they walk by and try to catch a glimpse of my words. The deck planks play, and my waiter returns with my check.
“How was it, my lovely?” he asks with a flourish, and I hand him a $20 for a $15 tab.
“Not bad,” I smiled, “But you need to work on the patter.”
He winces, just a bit. “A guy I know worked here last year, and he said he got more tips when he called everybody terms with endearment.”
“Well, I guess it works,” I chuckled, rising to leave, “Go ahead and keep the change.”