Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday Mystery Tour Revisited

I wrote this story some time ago and it first appeared as an original feature as part of my Monday Mystery Tour series. I have written about the jobs I have had over the years, over 80 of them, and this one in particular was listed as number 39.

The Waterfront Diner
Duluth, MN

THIS PLACE OF BUSINESS WASN’T ONE THAT YOU WOULD RECOGNIZE FROM STREET LEVEL. IF YOU DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS INSIDE THE MAURER OFFICE BUILDING ON LAKE STREET IN DULUTH, YOU WOULDN’T KNOW IT WAS THERE. IN FACT, WHEN FOLKS TOLD FOLKS ABOUT THE WATERFRONT, THEY HAD TO EXPLAIN HOW TO FIND IT AND EVEN THEN, MANY PEOPLE HAD A HARD TIME OR GAVE UP AND WENT SOMEWHERE ELSE.
TOM, THE OWNER, WORKED EVERY DAY ALONG WITH THE HIRED HELP. HE OCCASIONALLY SHOUTED OUT SOME INSTRUCTIONS, BUT NEVER REALLY ACTED LIKE A BOSS. HIS DREAM WAS TO OPEN  UP AN OLD FASHIONED DINING CAR LIKE THE OLD ONES OUT EAST. BUT FOR NOW, IN THE MEANTIME, HE WAS OPERATING A BREAKFAST/LUNCH  MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY PLACE FOR THE OFFICE WORKERS AND THE LABORERS IN THE INDUSTRIAL AREA ALONG THE LAKE SUPERIOR WATERFRONT IN DULUTH, MN. 

THE AREA IS STEEPED IN HISTORY. INHABITED BY THE NATIVE AMERICANS BEFORE THE FUR TRADE ERA, HERE WAS A PLACE ALONG THE SHORE OF LAKE SUPERIOR, AN ACCESS TO THE ATLANTIC OCEAN USING PORTAGES BEFORE CANALS AND LOCKS WERE BUILT. MINNESOTA IS RICH IN IRON ORE, CEMENT, COAL AND GRAIN, SHIPPING FROM THE MOUNTAINS AND HEARTLAND COME THROUGH THIS CITIES LOADING DOCKS. THIS TRAIL HAS BEEN USED TO TRADE ON THE GREAT LAKES AND BEYOND FOR CENTURIES.
COMING TO THIS AREA YEARS AGO, BEFORE THE TOURISM SET IN, WERE FOLKS WHO WORKED IN THE BUILDINGS AND AROUND THE AREA. SHIPPING DOCKS HAD LONGSHOREMEN, OFFICES OF SMALL AND MEDIUM SIZE COMPANIES WHICH CATERED TO NORTHERN MINNESOTA AND DID THINGS LIKE LOGGING, PAPER MAKING, MACHINERY FABRICATION AND SHIP WORKS BROUGHT MANY WORKERS TO THE AREA.
THE MAURER BUILDING, THEN, WAS A SIX STORY OFFICE BUILDING WHICH HOUSED OFFICES FOR MANY FIRMS AND A COUPLE OF LARGER CORPORATIONS WHICH LEASED OUT WHOLE FLOORS AND RAN THEIR BUSINESSES THERE.
ON THE FIRST FLOOR, TO THE LEFT AS YOU WALKED INTO THE BUILDING, WAS THE WATERFRONT DINER. A SIGN ON THE GLASS DOOR IS ALL THAT WOULD LET YOU KNOW IT WAS SOMETHING OTHER THAN ANOTHER OFFICE SUITE IN THE GARGANTUAN BUILDING. ON THE OUTSIDE THERE WERE TWO WINDOWS, EACH ABOUT FOUR FOOT SQUARE. IN EACH OF THESE WINDOWS WHICH WERE ABOUT 15 FEET ABOVE THE SIDEWALK, WAS A NEON SIGN WITH LETTERS ABOUT EIGHT INCHES HIGH AND COLORED A PINKISH RED. ONE SAID “DINER”, THE OTHER SAID, “EAT”.

AS YOU WALKED  INTO THE DINER, YOU SPOTTED  AN OPEN AREA TO THE LEFT WHERE THERE WERE A FEW BOOTHS ALONG THE WALL AND A COUPLE OF TABLES IN THE CENTER. NOT MUCH SEATING REALLY. THERE WERE SOME STOOLS BUILT IN ALONG THE COUNTER, BUT THE COUNTER FOR SEATING WAS SHORT TO MAKE ROOM FOR TOM’S LINE. HE HAD SORT OF A CAFETERIA LINE SET UP TO SERVE FOLKS AND PUSH THEM TO THE REGISTER WITH WHAT SEEMED LIKE ALL ONE MOTION.
RENEE, THE WAITRESS WHO HAS WORKED AT THE WATERFRONT FOR YEARS, WAS A YOUNG LOOKING WOMAN, BUT IF YOU LOOKED CLOSE, YOU COULD SEE THE AGE OR HARDNESS OF THE YEARS ON HER FACE.  SHE WAS SMALL, BARELY 5 FOOT, AND  IN MY OPINION, NOT THE VISION YOU THINK OF WHEN YOU THINK OF A CAFE OR DINER WAITRESS. 
SHE SMILED SELDOM AND TOLD PEOPLE WHAT THEY OWED RATHER THAN ASK FOR THE MONEY. SHE SEEMED TO TELL EVERYBODY EVERYTHING WHEN SHE SPOKE TO PEOPLE. SHE NEVER STRUCK ME AS NICE OR NICE LOOKING. 
ACTUALLY. SHE WOULD BE CLASSIFIED AS A BITCH BY ANY STANDARD OF MEASURE. I NEVER SAW HER CHANGE THAT DISPOSITION. I BELIEVE IT CAME FROM A HARD LIFE OF LATE NIGHTS AND ALCOHOL WHICH WAS FOLLOWED UP WITH A LOW PAYING JOB THAT MADE HER GET UP EARLY. NO HASH-HOUSE QUEEN HERE. NOT WORTHY OF THE TITLE.
IF YOU HAD WALKED STRAIGHT THROUGH THE DOOR AND THEN HEADED STRAIGHT BACK, YOU WOULD MEET A WIDE OPEN STAIRWAY OF ABOUT 8 STEPS. THIS WENT UP INTO A LARGE ROOM THAT HAD ABOUT 10 TABLES. SORT OF LIKE A MEZZANINE OR BALCONY , BUT NOT REALLY ATTACHED TO THE LOWER PART OF THE PLACE WHERE THE COUNTER AND KITCHEN WAS HOUSED. THIS IS THE SECTION OF THE RESTAURANT WHERE YOU WERE ALLOWED TO SMOKE. BACK IN THOSE DAYS, SMOKING WAS ALLOWED. SMOKING IS NO LONGER ALLOWED IN ANY RESTAURANT IN MINNESOTA.
THE ROUTINE WOULD START IN THE EARLY MORNING, FOLKS WOULD COME IN AND ORDER COFFEE, OR BREAKFAST, OR ORDER LUNCH AHEAD OF TIME TO BE PICKED UP LATER, THEN GO UP TO THE MEZZANINE TO TALK, DRINK COFFEE AND SMOKE.  THERE WAS NOT A SMOKING AREA ON THE MAIN LEVEL, ONLY IN THIS BALCONY AREA. THE ATMOSPHERE UP THERE WAS THICK WITH SMOKE AND PERFUME FROM THE OFFICE GALS CHATTING AWAY BEFORE THE WORKDAY BEGINS OR WHILE ON A BREAK.
DURING THE REST OF THE MORNING, FOLKS WOULD BE COMING IN AND OUT FOR COFFEE BREAKS OR BREAKFAST OR TO SEE WHAT THE SPECIAL WAS GONNA BE AND RESERVE ONE. THEN, DURING LUNCH THE PLACE WOULD FILL UP IN WAVES OF PEOPLE ORDERING FROM TOM’S LINE, ORDERING THROUGH THE WAITRESS, PICKING UP PRE-ORDERED ITEMS AND EVEN BRINGING IN THEIR OWN SACK LUNCHES, BUYING A COKE OR SOME OTHER BEVERAGE, THEN GOING UPSTAIRS TO EAT, SMOKE AND TALK THROUGH THEIR LUNCH HOUR.
A LESSER SCENE OF ACTIVITY WAS DURING THE AFTERNOON COFFEE BREAK TIME, BUT A PRETTY GOOD CROWD THERE TOO. TOM’S WIFE WAS THE BAKER AND ALL THE SWEET STUFF WAS HOMEMADE. SHE WORKED AS A NURSE AND WOULD COME TO THE DINER AFTER WORK TO MAKE BAKERY FOR THE NEXT DAY. I WAS USUALLY GONE BY THEN, I ONLY MET HER ONCE. THE BAKERY WAS GOOD AND SHE SEEMED TO KNOW WHAT THE CLIENTELE WANTED, WE SOLD OUT ALMOST EVERY DAY.
THE OTHER WAITRESS, JANE, WAS A WOMAN OF AVERAGE HEIGHT AND WEIGHT. SHE WAS ATTRACTIVE AND WELL KEPT. NICE NAILS AND HER HAIR WAS ALWAYS DONE UP GOOD. PERFUME, CRISP CLEAN BRIGHT RED BLOUSE, ENOUGH MAKE-UP TO TURN YOUR HEAD. A DARK HAIRED BEAUTY. SHE ACTED A LOT YOUNGER THAN HER 45 YEARS. TRYING TO STAY YOUNG, BUT GETTING OLDER.
THE OTHER COOK, BILL, WHO I WORKED ALONGSIDE, WAS AN EASY GOING GUY ABOUT 40 OR SO. BILL WOULD GET THE JOB DONE BY JUST KEEPIN’ ON DOIN’ THE WORK. I, ON THE OTHER HAND, WOULD GET A LITTLE FRAZZLED DURING THE SHORT INTENSE WAVES OF PEOPLE COMING DOWN FROM THE FLOORS ABOVE FOR THEIR LUNCH BREAKS. BILL KEPT IT IN PERSPECTIVE AND WAS STEADY, I RAN AROUND WITH A SENSE OF ORGANIZED URGENCY TO COMPLETE TWO MOTIONS TO EVERY ONE OF BILLS. FUNNY, BILL SERVED AS MANY AS I DID. I NEVER DID FIGURE OUT HOW HE DID IT.
SO, HERE IT WAS, THIS JOB AT THE WATERFRONT DINER. A PLAIN SIMPLE STRAIGHTFORWARD KIND OF SITUATION. LOW PAY BUT NO PRESSURE. WHAT BROUGHT ME HERE WAS FATE. LIKE MOST NEW EXPERIENCES I GOT MY SELF INTO AT THE TIME. THEY WERE NEVER PLANNED, THEY JUST EVOLVED INTO WHAT THEY WERE FROM WHATEVER I HAD BEEN DOING BEFORE IT. 
I HAD RETURNED TO MINNESOTA FROM A 15 MONTH STINT LIVING IN GRAND JUNCTION,COLORADO. THERE, I HAD BEEN WORKING FOR A JEWISH DINER OWNER AT A JOINT CALLED THE 7TH STREET CAFE. I WAS FRESH FROM A JOB WHERE I HAD LEARNED A GREAT DEAL ABOUT THE DINER BUSINESS AND WANTED TO CONTINUE. THE WATERFRONT WAS THE KIND OF PLACE I WAS LOOKING FOR. 
WHEN I RETURNED TO MINNESOTA, I WORKED AT A LODGE UP ON  THE NORTH COUNTRY’S FAMOUS GUNFLINT TRAIL. THIS JOB WAS SEASONAL AND ENDED IN THE FALL. I ACTUALLY HAD WORKED THERE BEFORE I LEFT MINNESOTA IN THE FIRST PLACE. WHEN WE DECIDED WE HAD TO GET OUT OF COLORADO, I CALLED THE LODGE AND THE OWNER JUST HAPPENED TO BE IN A BIND AND NEEDED A COOK. I CAME BACK IN JULY OF 1994 AND FINISHED THE SEASON, WORKING AT THE HUNGRY JACK LODGE AS A COOK UNTIL OCTOBER OF THE SAME YEAR. 
I LEFT ON A TRIP TO THE SOUTHWEST WHEN THE SEASON WAS OVER AND WHEN WE RETURNED, WE FOUND AN APARTMENT ON PARK POINT IN DULUTH, A SPIT OF LAND MADE FROM THE SANDS FROM THE WAVES OF LAKE SUPERIOR SWEEPING ALONG THE “POINT” AT THE FAR WESTERN EDGE OF THE GREATEST OF ALL THE GREAT LAKES.
THE LAND LORD I RENTED FROM, BILL, WAS A REGULAR AT THE DINER AND AS I MENTIONED, IF YOU DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS THERE, YOU’D NEVER SEE IT. BILL TOLD ME ABOUT THE PLACE ONE DAY WHEN WE WERE TO MEET FOR A CUP OF COFFEE AND WHATEVER. I EYED THE PLACE AND WAS LOOKING FOR A JOB. BILL KNEW THE OWNER AND INTRODUCED ME. AS THINGS WOULD GO SOMETIMES, IT JUST SO HAPPENED THAT THE WATERFRONT DINER WAS IN NEED OF A COOK AND THERE I WAS.
I LIKEN IT TO THE STORY LINES OF THOSE OLD BLACK AND WHITE DRAMA SERIES’ OF THE 1950’S AND 60’S. IN ONE EPISODE OF “THE FUGITIVE” STARRING DAVID JANSSEN AS RICHARD KIMBALL, THE KIMBALL CHARACTER IS TRANSIENT IN A SMALL TOWN AND AS HE SHUFFLES ALONG THE STREET HE SPOTS A SIGN SAYING “HELP WANTED” IN THE WINDOW OF A STORE. HE GRABS THE SIGN AND GOES INSIDE. IN THE NEXT SCENE HE IS WORKING FOR HIS PAY SO HE CAN CONTINUE BEING A FUGITIVE. 
MY HIRING WAS SORT OF LIKE THAT. NO INTERVIEW OR APPLICATION. NO SCRUTINY OF MY SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE. JUST HIRED BECAUSE I WAS THE GUY WHO BROUGHT IN THE SIGN AND SAID I WANTED THE JOB. I WAS THE GUY THERE AT THAT TIME READY TO WORK. I WAS THE FUGITIVE, OR RATHER THE MAN.
THE STOVE/ GRILL AREA WAS OUT FRONT FOR ALL TO SEE. I COULD LOOK AROUND AND SEE THE CUSTOMERS. TALK WITH THEM AND CHECK OUT THE ANTHROPOLOGY AS IT HAPPENED IN FRONT OF ME. AT TIMES, I WAS BEING WATCHED. FOLKS DINING ALONE AND SITTING AT THE COUNTER COULD SEE EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED AT THE GRILL. 
SOMETIMES THE URGE WOULD CREEP UP AND WITH A BLAST OF ADRENALINE I WOULD FLIP A FEW EGGS OR OMELETS OVER RIGHT IN THE PAN AND FLING PANCAKES WAY UP HIGH AND CATCH EM’ ON THE END OF THE SHINING STAINLESS STEEL SPATULA. I HAD MY OWN KNIVES AND SPATULAS. I BENT THE HANDLES TO FIT MY STYLE AND HEIGHT. SHARPENED MY OWN KNIVES ON MY OWN STEEL SHARPENING ROD LIKE A PRO. I HAD FOUND THE PERFECT URBAN WORKING ENVIRONMENT. CLOSE TO MY RENTED APARTMENT, IN AN AREA OF INDUSTRY, I WAS SLINGIN’ HASH IN A DIVE DOWN BY THE WATERFRONT, AT THE WATERFRONT DINER. 
I WAS A LIVING BACKGROUND FOR A MICKEY SPILLANE NOVEL. I WAS THE GUY WHO WOULD GESTURE WITH A NOD OR A FINGER, IN THE BOOK, TO THE HERO WHEN HE CAME IN TO FIND INFORMATION ABOUT THE BAD GUY.
I WENT TO THE FOOD SERVICE/RESTAURANT SUPPLY PLACE AND BOUGHT MY OWN APRONS AND A CHEFS HAT. I HAD THE CHECKERED PANTS AND MY OWN TOOLS. THE CHECKERED PANTS HAD CREASES SOWN IN AND NEVER NEEDED IRONING.  MAN, I THOUGHT I WAS ‘COOL’.
TOM WORKED DOING WHAT HE LIKED TO DO, IT SEEMED. HE WOULD MAKE THE DAILY SPECIAL. IT WASN’T AN ITEM THAT WAS ON THE MENU. NO, THE SPECIAL WAS SOMETHING ELSE AND HE HAD A GOOD SELECTION OF THINGS HE WOULD DO. YOU DON’T FIND FOOD LIKE THIS AROUND ANYMORE.
WHEN MOST PLACES WENT TO A FOOD SERVICE COMPANY AND BOUGHT THEIR ENTREES AND SAUCES MADE FROM PACKAGES, TOM MADE HIS FROM SCRATCH. CHICKEN POT PIE, CORNISH PASTIES, MEAT LOAF, SCALLOPED POTATOES, STUFF LIKE THAT. HIS LUNCH SPECIALS HAD A FOLLOWING AND AN APPEAL TO MANY. FOLKS WOULD CALL AHEAD AND ASK WHAT WAS TOM MAKING TODAY. ALMOST EVERYONE WHO CALLED AND ASKED TOLD US TO ‘HOLD ONE’ FOR THEM FOR WHEN THEY CAME DOWN FOR LUNCH NO MATTER WHAT HE WAS MAKING.
IN THE EARLY MORNING, BREAKFAST WAS SERVED AND WE MADE OATMEAL BY THE ORDER, A BOWL AT A TIME, FROM SCRATCH. OLD FASHIONED OATS, TOO, NOT THE QUICK KIND.  THE EGG ORDERS WERE PUT UP ONE BY ONE, NO PRE COOKING THE POTATOES. THE BEST THING WAS THE RED FLANNEL HASH. IT WAS A ROAST BEEF LADEN HASH WITH ONIONS AND AU JUS BEEF STOCK POURED OVER WHILE THE FRYING WAS TAKING PLACE. THIS GAVE THE DISH A REDDISH HUE, HENCE THE NAME. WE’D PUT TWO POACHED EGGS ON TOP AND SERVE IT WITH TOAST.
I GUESS WHAT MAKES THIS UNUSUAL IS THERE WERE SOME VARIATIONS TO EVERYTHING. THIS MADE BEING A SHORT ORDER COOK INTERESTING. OTHERWISE, THE JOB CAN BECOME STALE COOKING THE MENU ITEMS OVER AND OVER. THIS APPROACH HAD SOME PERSONALITY IN EVERY ORDER. I LIKED THAT!
SOMETIMES I’D MAKE THE EGGS IN A ROUND PAN, SOMETIMES ON THE FLATTOP GRIDDLE. I’D CUT THE TOAST SQUARE OR ANGLED, ANY TIME I WANTED TO. YOU NEVER GOT AWAY WITH THAT AT A PERKIN’S OR A BAKER’S SQUARE FRANCHISE JOINT.  I REALLY LIKED THE FREEDOM OF THE INDEPENDENT DINER.
I WAS THE MORNING GUY. I CAME IN AT 6:30AM AND WORKED THROUGH THE LUNCH RUSH. I WAS DONE AND OUT THE DOOR BY 1:00PM. I LIVED ABOUT ONE MILE DOWN LAKE STREET AND COULD WALK OR TAKE A BUS. 
I RENTED A SMALL APARTMENT SOMEBODY BUILT IN THE GARAGE OF A BIG HOUSE DURING THE 1950’S. THIS GARAGE/APARTMENT WAS UNIQUE BECAUSE IT WAS ATTACHED TO THE ORIGINAL HOUSE, BUT MADE INTO AN APARTMENT WITH ITS OWN ENTRY. THE DRIVEWAY WAS MY OFF-STREET PARKING AND RIGHT NEXT TO THE PLACE WAS THE SIDE YARD OF THE PROPERTY WHICH ATTACHED NEATLY RIGHT TO A LONG EXPANSE OF SANDY LAKE SUPERIOR SHORE. THE HOUSE AND GARAGE WERE BUILT ON THE LANDWARD SIDE OF A SAND DUNE AND WAS PROTECTED FROM THE DIRECT PATH OF COLD WINDS THAT COULD BE GENERATED FROM THE HUGE LAKE.

IT WAS A BEDROOM, LIVING ROOM, KITCHEN AND BATHROOM, ALL HEAT AND UTILITIES PAID FOR $325.00 PER MONTH. THIS WAS 1994 AND IN MINNESOTA, GETTING THE HEAT PAID WAS USUALLY A BIG DEAL BECAUSE OF HOW COLD IT GOT IN THE WINTER.
I LIVED THERE FROM NOVEMBER OF 1994 TO MARCH OF 1995. I HAD A CAR, OR RATHER A PICKUP TRUCK. A BROWN ONE, 1980 F-150 FOUR WHEEL DRIVE. NOT A BIG TANK OR ANYTHING, JUST A GOOD DEPENDABLE VEHICLE. MY WIFE USED THE TRUCK TO GET TO WORK, SO THAT LEFT ME ON FOOT.
WHEN I LEFT THE HOUSE IN THE MORNING TO WAIT FOR THE BUS, THE GAL LIVING UPSTAIRS WAS LEAVING FOR WORK. MANY A MORNING SHE WOULD GIVE ME A LIFT THE MILE DOWN THE ROAD TO THE DINER. I LIKE TO IMAGINE SHE WAITED TO LEAVE UNTIL SHE SAW ME GOING TO WORK. SHE MUST HAVE LIKED TO BE HELPFUL, OR LIKED ME.
TOM’S DREAM OF HAVING A “REAL” DINER WAS RIGHT OUT FRONT FOR EVERYONE TO SEE. HE OWNED AN ACTUAL DINING CAR HE BOUGHT IN NEW JERSEY. HE HAD IT IN A STORAGE LOT IN DULUTH AND IT WAS COVERED WITH TARPAULINS. HE WAS SOCKING AWAY MONEY TO BUY A SUITABLE PIECE OF LAND TO SET THIS OLD FASHIONED DINER UP AND MOVE THE BUSINESS TO A LOCATION WHERE HE COULD BE SEEN BY PASSERSBY. HE RAN HIS CURRENT DINER AS IF HE ALREADY HAD THE DINING CAR CALLED “THE STREAMLINER”.
LAST I HEARD, TOM CLOSED THE WATERFRONT WHEN THE HEAVY TOURISM CAME IN AND RENT GOT SO HIGH IN ALL THE BUILDINGS, ONLY STARBUCKS, OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE AND OTHER GIANT CORPORATE ENTITIES COULD AFFORD IT. YOU KNOW, PLACES LIKE THAT. I DON’T KNOW WHAT BECAME OF HIM OR HIS DREAM, BUT SOMETIMES, WHEN I VISIT THE DULUTH AREA, I CRUISE BY THE STORAGE LOT OFF OF GARFIELD AVENUE AND STILL SEE THE DINING CAR SAGGING FROM ROT AND THE OLD TARPS FLYING IN THE BREEZE OFF OF LAKE SUPERIOR. IF HE’S LIVING HIS DREAM, IT AIN’T WITH THAT STREAMLINER.
I NEVER MADE MUCH THERE BY ANY STANDARD. I GUESS I GOT MYSELF INTO A POSITION TO BE ABLE TO DO WHAT I WANTED AT A PLACE I WANTED TO DO IT FOR WHATEVER I WAS OFFERED FOR WAGES. TOM HAD A GOOD DEAL GOING. HE WOULD PUT MY CASH PAY IN A PLAIN ENVELOPE EVERYDAY WHEN THE PLACE CLOSED. ON FRIDAY, AS I WAS ABOUT TO LEAVE, HE WOULD PULL OUT THE ENVELOPE AND STUFF THE LAST DAYS PAY INTO IT AND HAND IT TO ME. I HAD A WAD OF CASH IN ALL SORTS OF BILLS FOR THE WEEKEND. OF COURSE PAYING THE TAXES ON MY EARNINGS WAS MY RESPONSIBILITY.
WANTING TO MAKE MORE MONEY, I WAS LOOKING FOR ANOTHER JOB. THE MARKET IN DULUTH HAS BEEN DEPRESSED SINCE THE STEEL COMPANIES MOVED OUT IN THE 1960’S. THAT’S WHEN JAPAN FLOODED THE U.S. MARKET WITH HIGHER QUALITY STEEL MADE FROM CHEAP ORE. THE RICH ORE FROM THE MESABI RANGE IN NORTHERN MINNESOTA WASN’T NEEDED AND U.S. STEEL CLOSED ITS DOORS. POPULATION IN DULUTH WENT FROM OVER 110,000 PEOPLE TO JUST UNDER 90,000, WHERE IT’S AT TODAY.
I REALIZE THAT THIS SNAPSHOT OF MY EXISTENCE FOR THOSE FEW MONTHS ISN’T THE MOST EXCITING THING IN THE WORLD. IT IS NOT ALL THAT INTERESTING TO GO TO WORK. TV SHOWS ARE MADE ABOUT CRIME SCENES, PEOPLE’S DISTRESS AND SHORTCOMINGS AND HILARITY FOR HILARITY’S SAKE. THE ONLY DINER SHOW I REMEMBER WAS “ALICE”. SHE WORKED AT MEL’S DINER SOMEWHERE.
THE COMEDY WAS MIXED WITH THE TRYING CIRCUMSTANCES ASSOCIATED WITH A SINGLE MOM STRUGGLING TO MAKE ENDS MEET AND THE CHARACTERS SHE CAME IN CONTACT WITH. EVERYDAY LIFE IS A LOT LIKE THAT FOR MANY OF US. BUT FOR ME, THE DINER EXPERIENCE WAS MORE.
YOU GET CUSTOMERS COMING IN AND OUT ALL MORNING LONG. SOME ARE REGULARS AND YOU CAN FOLLOW AN EPISODE OF THEIR LIFE FROM DAY TO DAY. EACH TIME YOU SPEAK OR ARE SPOKEN TO YOU FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED NEXT IN THEIR SAGA. HOW THE SURPRISE PARTY TURNED OUT, HOW THEIR CHILD'S DENTIST APPOINTMENT WENT, THE BIRTHIN’ AND THE BURYIN’. REAL LIFE.
SOME ARE STRANGERS AND DON’T SAY MUCH. I LIKE TO IMAGINE THEIR LIFE. I LIKE TO PRETEND I KNOW THEM AND IMAGINE THE CONVERSATION. HOW THEY ARE DRESSED, FOR WORK OR LEISURE, HOW THEY EAT, HUNKERED DOWN ON THE PLATE OR UPRIGHT AND DIGNIFIED. HOW THEY SMOKE, IF THEY SMOKE, OR WHAT THEY ARE THINKING, WHAT THEIR NAME MIGHT BE, HOW OLD THEY ARE OR WHETHER THEY ARE SINGLE, MARRIED, A PARENT, A STUDENT, THEIR STORY.
EVERYDAY A DIFFERENT DISPLAY OF HUMAN NATURE. A REACTION TO A SIREN OUT IN THE STREET. A COMMENT MADE ABOUT ANYTHING. HOW THEY SCRATCH THEIR EAR OR PICK THEIR NOSE. HOW THEY ARE AFFECTED BY THE LOCAL OR NATIONAL NEWS.  THIS IS WHY I LIKED DOING WHAT I WAS DOING AT THE WATERFRONT. THIS ACTIVITY IS WATCHING LIFE ITSELF AND GETTING PAID FOR IT. I CAN’T REALLY EXPLAIN THE FEELING. IT’S A TYPE OF AMBIANCE OR EXISTENCE THAT THE ONLY WAY TO UNDERSTAND IT IS TO EXPERIENCE IT. 
THE WATERFRONT DEAL LASTED ONLY A FEW MONTHS. I WAS OUT OF THERE BY MARCH OF 1995. I LEFT DULUTH AND STARTED THE NEXT CAREER. THE NEXT JOB IN A SERIES OF EMPLOYMENT AND SCHEMES TO SUPPORT MY LIFESTYLE SINCE 1970. SOMEDAY, I’LL PUT TOGETHER THE MASTER GUIDE TO MY RESUME AND LIST THEM ALL. 
ISN’T IT FUNNY THAT BILL, THE GUY WORKING IN THE WATERFRONT DINER NEXT TO ME EVERYDAY HAD BEEN THERE FOR 19 YEARS? HE HAS LIVED IN THE SAME HOUSE SINCE HE WAS BORN IN 1952. HE DOESN’T DRIVE AND HAS NEVER HAD A DRIVERS LICENSE. HE COMES TO WORK AND WORKS AT HIS JOB. HE DOESN’T THINK ABOUT THINGS THE SAME WAY I DO. IT’S NOT A BAD THING OR A GOOD THING, BUT A DIFFERENT THING. A DIFFERENT WAY OF LIVING THAT IS FOREIGN TO ME, BUT ACKNOWLEDGED THAT IT DOES EXIST. 
I LEFT THE DINER LIKE I FOUND IT. I TOLD TOM I WAS MOVIN’ ON AND WOULDN’T BE IN NEXT WEEK. HE SHRUGGED A KIND OF GESTURE THAT SAID HE HAD HEARD ME. I DON’T REMEMBER SEEING ANY SIGN OF SADNESS, BUT WAS ALSO NOT OVERJOYED. 
FROM THE WATERFRONT,I MOVED TO THE TWIN CITIES METRO AREA OF MINNEAPOLIS/SAINT PAUL IN 1995.
SEE YOU NEXT WEEK FROM WHO KNOWS WHERE!

PEACE

3 comments:

This Eclectic Life said...

Hey, Joe. Although your experience might not make a "sitcom" such as Alice, it was interesting to read what your life was like. Thanks for sharing it.
I thought of you when I saw a news story the other day. It seems that there are several kids who are trying a different job every week during this summer ... just to get a taste of the opportunities available in the real world. As the station aired the story, I thought, "I bet Joey Spado could tell 'em a thing or two!"
Hey, it keeps life interesting, doesn't it?

Mel said...

I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the story.
I remember the bitty diner where I was raised, slinging hash in front of me, chatting with the cooks--they were gracious enough to hire me, mostly cuz I asked. Tips were great for a kiddo my age--and since I was a good BSer, I did really well. LOL

Lovely places, those......few and far between......

We look for those joints in our adventures--they have the best food, the coolest waitresses (albeit the occasional 'bitch'....LOL....you made me laugh)....and the homiest atmospheres one could ever want. Everyone's welcomed--which oughta be how it is, dontchathink?

:-)

Beth said...

EIGHTY JOBS? EIGHT, ZERO?
OH MY!