I had a personal appointment, but I was running early (somewhere in the NJ suburbs.) It was afternoon and I hadn’t eaten, but dashed out the door thinking I might be late (I always do this, worrying about traffic, and I’m always early…). I found myself looking for a place to get a quick bite, and so it was that I found Dave’s All American Cafe.
Dave’s All American sits to one side of a pot-hole filled parking lot. The “other side” of the parking lot is a slab where there used to be a pizza place that crumbled until someone knocked it down. Oh, and the cop car that is usually parked watching for speeders coming off the highway. There was a cop car when I went into Dave’s; he was gone by the time I left.
When you walk into Dave’s, the first thing you see is a bank of three refrigerator cases filled with bottles of soda. I don’t know why, but I instinctively pulled out a bottle of Diet Cola Beverage, and it’s a good thing too – I soon found out the fountain wasn’t working.
But, before you get to pull your bottle of soda out of the refrigerator case, the first thing you’ll really notice at Dave’s when you open the door, is the smell of grease. (I noticed while I sat in my seat I did not hear the whir of a ventilating fan coming from the kitchen…probably not a good sign.)
Now, I’m from New Jersey after all, and these places dot the landscape. And I could lie to you and tell you that I did not eat anything there, but I was hungry, and I did. Besides it was either this place or Johnny K’s – some re-fabbed bar and grill that USED to be the town’s main diner (formerly known as The Windsor). Johnny K’s would have offered me a crappy salad for twelve bucks, so I opted for Dave’s.
Dave’s has two waitresses, an older woman in her mid to late 50′s with long grey hair in a pony tail, and a younger woman in her late 20′s with a nose and lip piercing. These ladies do not wear uniforms, they’re dressed in street clothes, but you’ve already figured out Dave’s is pretty casual on the dress code, right?
I sat down with my bottle of soda, and the two ladies were talking to each other, and to their regular Eddie, a very rotund gentleman with a full head of white hair sitting in the far seat at the counter. The ladies are rolling silverware into napkins and placing them into a wicker basket.
Older waitress to younger: You know, I wish we had those fancy paper bands people put around silverware. It would make them look so much nicer.
Younger waitress: I don’t think so. They’re fine like this.
They kept chatting for another few minutes, so I interupted.
Me to younger waitress: Excuse me, can I get a menu? You do have them, right? (I had my eye on a specials board above the doorway leading into the kitchen, hoping it was not the entire menu.)
Younger waitress: Sure.
She finishes rolling two more silverware packs and then goes to get a menu, and puts it on my table. Then goes to get my cup with ice.
The older waitress finishes rolling the silverware and puts them around on the tables and at each empty seat at the counter. The younger waitress stands behind the counter eating soup out of a paper soup container used for take out orders.
Me to younger waitress: I know what I’d like to order.
The younger waitress looks at me, you know… in a way to let me know I’ve interupted her lunch, and puts the soup container down and picks up her order book and comes over. She looks at me, but doesn’t say anything.
Me: Uh, I’d like the grilled cheese and french fries please. Does he make that with American?
Me: Oh, okay, good. Yes, I’ll have that, thanks.
She writes it down and takes the ticket into the kitchen.
While she was taking my order the older waitress sat in one of the seats at the counter and emptied the tip jar onto the counter. There was a large stack of bills and coins.
A couple walks in the back door and seats themselves. Neither waitress goes over to them.
The older waitress starts counting the money like a bank teller into a single pile. She counts it slowly, then shakes her head.
Older waitress to younger waitress: This is not a hundred dollar day. You said you thought this was a hundred dollar day, but there’s no way. Look at this… this isn’t a hundred dollars.
The older waitress picks up the stack of bills again, and this time counts the money into piles. I can see, because there is nothing else to do but watch her, that the bills are all singles. I assume she is counting them into piles of ten. There are six piles.
The younger waitress gets my plate and puts it in front of me without saying anything, or asking me if I need anything, and walks back behind the counter, so she can continue eating soup.
The older waitress starts re-counting the money again. Now she is counting it into two separate piles. She is satisfied with her counting.
Older waitress to younger: Do you want thirty dollars for your register?
Younger waitress: Okay, sure. (She takes half of the singles from the older waitress and puts it into the register.)
Now the older waitress begins counting the change. She counts it repeatedly, and again starts stacking up the coins in small piles.
Eddie finishes his coffee, and bids them farewell.
Both waitresses smile at him, “Hey have a great day Eddie!” they say. “See you tomorrow!” they say, beaming at him.
Eddie leaves a five dollar tip, puts on his jacket and leaves.
The younger waitress stands behind the counter, in front of where the older waitress is counting the coins. They are sharing some secret joke about the coins. The older waitress puts one coin on one side of the pile, then puts it to the other side. The younger waitress laughs.
Older waitress to the younger waitress, putting the now counted coins back into the tip jar: I told you this wasn’t a hundred dollar day.
Me to the younger waitress: Uh, can I have my check please?
Younger waitress: Sure. She continues looking at the coins and playing the mystery coin game with the older waitress.
Eventually she gets me the check and I pay the bill.
I get up to leave.
Older waitress to younger waitress: It’s so slow today. It’s just dead in here.
Me to both of them: Thanks very much.
Older waitress: Sure hon. Come back again soon.