Thursday, January 19, 2017

January 19, 2017--The 2400 Family Diner

Here's another diner story from on the road south. This one from three years ago--

We had just placed our order at one of our favorite on-the-road places, the 2400 Family Diner in Fredericksburg, Virginia--eggs and grits for Rona, and the $7.95 county ham special for me--when the owner plopped an overflowing plate of eggs and sides on the counter and himself on a stool.

"That looks good," Rona said, sipping her tea.

He turned in our direction, not responding, looking annoyed by her interrupting what must be a daily ritual.

I thought, "Here we go. We're already in trouble."

"Is that lemon you're squeezing on your eggs?" Rona asked, ignoring his ignoring us.

Without turning he nodded and grunted something indecipherable.

"I've never seen that before."

I mouthed to Rona to "Cool it."

But she persisted, "I never tried that. I love lemon and maybe I'd also like it on eggs."

"Very Grek," he said with a thick accent, squeezing another half lemon all over everything on his plate.

"Grek?" Rona said.

"Grek," he turned fully in our direction, "Grek, Greek. Dot's me. Grek."

"The lemon is very Mediterranean," Rona smiled at him.

At that, with effort, he lifted himself off the stool and lumbered in our direction, hunched over with his arms dangling at his side.

"Lemon we have with everything in Grek." His accent thickened as he neared us.

I was beginning to feel nervous. We were the only customers. 8:30 is often a quiet time in diners that cater mainly to locals--late for those headed to work, too early for older folks, and too off the tourist route for travelers. Exactly our favorite kind of place.

But at the 2400 I was beginning to feel threatened. The two waitresses, who looked as if they had worked there for decades, watched, smiling, which partially reassured me.

"You Brooklyn?" he asked.

"What?" I finally joined in, thinking that might ease the situation. He stood pressing his huge stomach against our table, still with his arms dangling and swinging simian-like.

"Brooklyn? From dare?"

"Yes," Rona chirped, the caffeine in her tea taking hold. "Both of us." She included me in her sweeping gesture.

He glared at me and pointed, laboriously hoisting one of his thick arms. "Him too?"

"Yes, he and me. We were both born there. Are you also from Brooklyn?"

"Grek," he said.

"So how did you know we--"

"Sound just like your mayor. Bloom. Both you and him." He dismissed me with a wave of his massive hand.

"Bloomberg," I said, taking a chance by correcting him.

"No gut."

"He's not our mayor anymore," Rona informed him. "As of January 1st we have a new one. De Blasio."

"De who?"

"Bill De Blasio."

"What kind of name dat?"

"I'm not sure," Rona said. "Maybe Italian?" I nodded.

"Where does he stand on guns?" His accent miraculously gone. "Not like Bloomberg I hope."

"I assume--" I cut myself off, stunned by the change in the way he spoke and not clear where this might be headed.

"He doesn't understand us." What happened to all the Grek business, I wondered. He sounded like someone more from Virginia than Athens.

"In what way?" Rona asked, eating away at her eggs and grits as if not noticing. I was feeling substantially relieved and took to enjoying the wonderful country ham.

"He should come here and talk to people. Real people. Then he would see."

"I think he's not--"

"He is," he corrected me before I could finish.

"Is what?" I was feeling bolder with him backed off from us. But I was still thinking about his disappearing accent.

"Take my son, for example," the taller of the two waitresses said, joint in.

"Your son?" Rona said.

"Yes. He has a gun. Most of his friends do."

"I assume," I stammered, "To me it depends on how old he is. I mean from my perspective. But what do I know about these things. I'm just like Bloomberg. From New York. The city. Brooklyn."

"Exactly," she said, having wandered over to us.

"I mean, if I may ask, how old is he? You don't have to tell me, of course."

"I know that." She smiled a bit condescendingly in my direction. I deserved that, I acknowledged. "If you must know, he's eight."

"Eight?" Rona could not hide her surprise. 

"I know what you're thinking but you don't know my boy. Or his grandfather."

"Who is?" Rona ventured.

"He works for Homeland Security."

"Really? What does he--"

"He teaches marksmanship. Trains their best people to become snipers."

"Really? That's amazing," I said.

"To tell you--"

She interrupted Rona. "I think I know what you're thinking. That this is a terrible thing to do and--"

"Not really. I mean I know--"

"That in the real world," she completed Rona's thought, "as awful as it is, it's necessary. Don't you think? I don't need to spell out all the situations where we need them. Snipers. There's no other way to describe them. That's what they do. So we should call them what they are. And are proud to be. To help keep us safe. You remember those Somali pirates?" We both nodded. "Well, my father teaches Navy Seals too."

There was no need to say more. "His grandfather taught him, my son, all about guns. Starting at six."

"Not to--"

"No not to become a sniper," she and Rona laughed together. "But how to handle and respect them. Guns."

"To tell you the truth," Rona said. "This is not something or a world that I know anything about. I guess I'm OK with people having guns. I mean--"

"Among other things, it's in the Constitution," the owner rejoined the discussion. "The Second Amendment says--"

"We coud debate that all day," I said, "The history and meaning of it."

"You mean about the 'well regulated militia' part?'" He said, now directly to me.

"That and other things," I said. "But at the moment I'm just enjoying your eggs and wonderful ham. Every year when we're here I can't wait to have some."

"Let's just agree," he offered,  "that things are often more complicated than they seem."

I couldn't disagree about that.

"Like, for example," the waitress said, "how few people from where you're from could learn from my father how to defend us."

"Fair enough," Rona said, "But there are many ways to do that. Not everyone has to . . . . There are other things that need to be done. And people from Brooklyn and other places are helping as well. In their own ways. About things they know how to do."

"One thing, for sure we all agree about," he said, "is that there are some bad guys out there and we have to figure out ways to keep people safe. There are probably other things we could agree about. Like privacy, for example. On the other hand," he caught himself, "considering where you're from, maybe not."

"It might surprise you," I said, finishing my ham, "but for a New York liberal I'm no so liberal about privacy and some of the things the N.S.A. does."

"And it might surprise you that I voted for Obama. Twice. And she did too," he pointed toward the waitress who was refilling the coffee pot.

"Just once," she winked. "The second time, I didn't vote at all. A plague on all their houses," she said.

"While I'm holding this can I heat up your cup?"

"I'd love some," I said.

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