Early last summer, an old couple got sat in my section at work. This was not an unusual occurrence at Ruby’s Diner. In fact, the nursing home across the street regularly runs bus trips for lunch. But this couple stood out. Partially because it was 1:50 on a Sunday, which meant my shift ended in ten minutes. Old people are notoriously good at taking 45 minutes to eat a grilled cheese, so I was annoyed that they were going to be my last table.
The other reason they stuck out is because they kinda smelled. Like smelled bad enough that another table asked to move, and other servers made comments on it. The man also had a decent size injury on his arm. I couldn’t tell quite what it was, but it was kinda discolored and oozy and not something I wanted to be too close to. They did in fact take the aforementioned 45 minutes to eat, but they were super friendly and left me way too big of a tip, which is certainly not the norm for the older generation. I chalked up their hygiene problems to just being a little old and a little senile, and started to feel guilty about the not-so-nice jokes my co-workers and I made.
For the next week they came in every single day. On the third day, they came in with their daughter, who seemed generally annoyed to have to be there. She ordered a veggie burger with no cheese, no bun, and a side of tomato slices, so I was already getting a bad vibe from them. The man paid the bill again, handed it to me and said keep the change. The daughter was visibly upset and followed me back to the counter. She told me that her parents house had burn downed a few days ago, and that her father had tipped me $20 and could I please give it back. Naturally, I handed it over right away and watched as she went back to give it to her father. In a show of spunk that I appreciated, the old man refused to take it back and then left another $40 on the table to prove his point.
Now, I’ve always been a firm believer that God manages to teach each of us our important lessons in the most poignant way possible, and this was mine. At first, I was so ashamed of how I judged them on that first day that I just wanted to avoid them all together. But, naturally, that just meant that they got sat in my section all the time. For the next six months, they lived in the hotel across the street and came in every single day without fail. Soon, they went from being “that old couple” to being Bill and Ann, South Philly natives, ex-railroad operators, and cat fanatics.
They are so eager to talk to everyone who comes in, and Bill makes sure to greet all the employees by name. Ann is right on the border of losing it I think, but she still has the best stories if you’re willing to listen. Granted, she occasionally tells the same story over and over again but I can’t really blame her. Her favorite story is how one of her favorite cats stayed and woke her up when their kitchen caught on fire, which allowed her and Bill to get out generally unharmed. Her second favorite is how a Middle Eastern prince wanted her to be one of his companions, but the details on that one are a little blurrier.
Some of the other waitresses are much better at connecting with them than I am. Whether it be giving them gifts to fill their new home or visiting Bill in the hospital after his hip surgery, they naturally have that extra spark of compassion I’m still trying to work on. Recently, the contractors finally finished work on their new house (a replica of their old one, because why fix whats broken) and they started coming in pretty often again. Today I waited on them and they asked about what I was up to, so I told them my plans to go to grad school to study creative writing. Ann’s face lit up and she goes “you know, if you ever need any ideas we’ve lived a long life and have plenty of stories for you!”
I kept thinking about this for the rest of the day…what a truly human sentiment. In a way, we’re kinda all just living, breathing characters in one story or another. And isn’t one of our biggest desires for our story to be heard? That desire is there, at the base of every other dream or wish we have, I think. That’s certainly why I hope to become a successful author, and probably why I started this blog.
I hope that I achieve these goals, and that I live the kind of story that finds me in 60 years at a diner with my soulmate offering kindness to everyone around me, even if I’m dealing with unimaginable loss.
I also wouldn’t hate it if a foreign prince tried to marry me. I’d probably turn him down, but I’m sure the story would be a crowd-pleaser.