Tag Archives: Restaurant

Thanks Alice

I sipped the watery coffee and unwrapped my egg biscuit. Hitting the highway early and with another hour ahead of me, I’d pulled off to go through the drive-thru window of a lone fast-food place surrounded by woods. Nice, I thought. I’ve always found eating in my car preferable to the noisy interiors of those restaurants. It was quiet and peaceful with no kids screaming.

“Mommy!” the kid screamed.

It was a little girl. She and two other kids stood with their backs flat against an old beat up car parked a few spaces away.

“Mommy!” she screamed again. A little more panic in her voice this time. All three kids looked around in different directions but never moved from their spots. Puzzled, I stopped eating and watched for a minute as I tried to understand. That’s when Mommy appeared from the woods with a baby on her hip and a long thin stick in her hand.

“But where’s Daddy?” the screaming little girl asked, still in a panic.

Daddy appeared from the woods holding a toddler’s hand. He, too, carried a long thin stick.

When Daddy fumbled around the edges of the driver’s side window I realized they were locked out of their car. Mommy and kids stood by while Daddy tried with first one long stick and then the other to get into the window. The first stick was too thick and the second broke just as he seemed on the verge of success.

They need to find someone with a coat hanger, I thought. I’ve seen people get into locked cars using those. But it was so early in the morning and with no one else in the parking lot I wasn’t sure who might have one.

Oh wait. I did.

I popped my trunk from inside and got out of the car. It only took seconds to go into my luggage and grab the one wire coat hanger I had among several plastic ones. I heard an odd rattle, but in a hurry I paid no attention and shut the trunk. Daddy’s eyes lit up as I approached with the coat hanger and Mommy herded the kids aside so he could try again. The screaming little girl was now crying. Mommy had her hands full with the other four so I squatted down beside the little girl.

“Don’t worry. It will be ok.” I said, patting her on the arm. She seemed to be taking this whole incident very seriously!

“My name is Alice.” she said, voice cracking.

“Well Alice, don’t worry. It will be ok.” Her Daddy contorted himself in attempts to maneuver the coat hanger into the window. I hoped it would work quickly so Alice wouldn’t give up and panic again.

Pop!

“And there you go!” I said to her when we heard the door unlock.

Sighs of relief from Mommy and Daddy who thanked me profusely as they packed the five kids back into the old beat up car. Daddy joked saying the worst thing of all was that his coffee was now cold. We laughed and I waved as they drove off.

Bang! Bang! As they left, their old car backfired twice, maybe in celebration. Heading back to my own car I reached for the keys in my pocket.

They weren’t in my pocket.

They were in the trunk.

I’d dropped them into the trunk while getting the coat hanger. That was the odd rattle I’d heard. I could pop the trunk from inside of the car though, simple enough.

The car was locked.

I looked around. It was still very early, dead quiet, and I was the only car in the lot. Not sure how long it would take to get into my car, or have someone get into my car there in the middle of nowhere, I just leaned against the door with my head in my hands.

Bang! Bang!

From around the fast-food place came the old beat up car. As it turned out, Daddy just couldn’t keep driving with cold coffee and he’d circled back for more. By the look on his face when he saw me standing there I could tell he knew exactly what had happened. He pulled up beside my car, coat hanger in hand, and set to work.

I watched him struggle a bit. It didn’t seem to be working as easily with my car as it had with his. He bent the coat hanger several ways, trying each new bend to see if it was the right one. His family watched eagerly but everyone stayed in the car.

Everyone, apparently, except Alice. I looked down to see what was tugging at my shirt.

“It will be ok.” she said.

I smiled at her but I wasn’t so sure. Daddy seemed to be struggling with the coat hanger and had worked up a slight sweat. He tried to unlock it, I tried to unlock it, and he was trying again when I decided to stop wasting their time and call someone to get into my car. I guessed it was time to give up but Daddy kept at it.

“It will be ok.” Alice said again as she patted my arm.

Pop!

And there you go!

Stuart M. Perkins

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Now I Remember Why

Recently I chatted with Lisa, a dear friend for nearly thirty years. Prompted by news of early snow across the country and our own cold weather, she made one simple comment that unleashed many fond memories.

“This reminds me of the Bamboo day”.

With a smile I recalled enjoying that day too – but, I don’t remember why

Even the date of that winter day years ago escapes me. Snow fell as I drove to work and in spite of accumulation, not a single business closed. I walked into work slowly, waiting, stalling, watching thousands of flaky excuses to stay home fall for nothing. I was sure the security guard would meet me at the door to say we were closed. He didn’t and we weren’t.

Until later.

Memory also fails me as to the exact time later that morning that my boss announced our closing. As I left, swirling snow began to cover my car. While I scraped ice from my windshield I pondered the falling flakes, and then did what anyone else would do when dismissed early from work due to heavy, dangerous snowfall.

I met two friends at a local café.

Where Lisa worked at the time I don’t recall, but she left work early too. I don’t remember where Billy worked either but his office closed also. Filled with the thrill of snow and early closure, the three of us met at Bamboo Café, a cozy little place in our hometown of Richmond, Virginia. The snow kept falling.

We chose a booth towards the back, I think, but I draw a blank. Maybe we talked about mutual friends – which ones, I can’t remember. We probably talked about relatives – though I’m clueless as to what was said. What we ate slips my mind but I think there was coffee. I know there was laughter.

For hours, who knows how many, we watched snow fall and enjoyed our impromptu time together. We drifted from casual comments about work to heavy political discussions, reminisced about past vacations, then around again to whatever our personal dramas were at the time. We most likely shared reflections, bounced ideas, told dirty jokes, and laughed at sporadic flashbacks.

I don’t know why we always remember the Bamboo day. Why is it still so memorable? It was an unremarkable day really. Just three people huddled in a booth watching snow fall as they talked, laughed, and spent a surprise few hours basking in the gladness of old friendship. Oh…

Now I remember why.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Tasty Truth

My daughter is an intelligent, funny, beautiful young lady already in her late teens – I still wrestle with that fact. Not long ago I watched as she drove up in her car, walked in high heels, and made a phone call about her job. I was reminded that sadly I was no longer looking at my little girl. I’d been reminded of that before and she knew what I was thinking when she saw my face. Where did that tiny kid go I used to carry in my arms?

“Will you always think of me as a five year old?” she asked as she rolled her eyes.

“Yes Baby Doll.” I answered, calling her the name I’ve called her since the days I carried her in my arms.

Even as that five year old kid she was outgoing, curious, and questioning. Like every child with every parent, she often asked questions that forced me, I felt, to come up with the tiniest of white lies in order to shield her from the harsher realities of life for as long as I thought I could. How dare anything ruin her happy, innocent world? I couldn’t stand the thought of her sweet little head being contaminated by life’s occasional negatives.

For instance, the time she softly asked why the cute raccoon was lying on the side of the road, I naturally told her he was just taking a nap. I rolled up the window before she could ask about the odor. And who could fault me for telling her that our goldfish was simply learning to float on his back the day she saw him belly up in the tank? I turned on her music box so she wouldn’t hear the toilet flush him away. Once day we watched a program on television about Africa and before I could grab the remote she saw a crocodile drag a gazelle into the river. “Everybody likes to wrestle their friends in the water, Baby Doll.” I said as I hurriedly switched to cartoons.

I couldn’t stand her innocent little mind being tainted by such things and I found myself constantly on guard for additional realities I might need to protectively water down. I was off my game the day the chicken truck pulled up beside us at a red light.

Just a few miles past where we lived at the time were chicken “factories”. Periodically, trucks with loads of live chickens traveled down a major road near our house. Several times in the past I had done illegal U-turns just to avoid them if I had my daughter in the car. I couldn’t imagine what I would say if she ever asked me about those trucks with stacks and stacks of pitiful live chickens, obviously miserable, being hauled off to their deaths. I was always mindful when I used that road. Except that day.

Only she and I were in the car at the time and I hadn’t even noticed it was a chicken truck as it pulled up and stopped beside me at the red light. I noticed the truck cab beside me, but trucks of all sorts used that road and nothing in particular was triggered until I reached over to change the radio station. That’s when I saw, through the windshield, a huge white feather float slowly down and land on the hood of my car. I sat bolt upright.

“Chickens.” I said to myself.

As I leaned over to look, almost afraid to confirm what sort of truck it was, I noticed my daughter in the back seat looking intently through her window. Just feet away from her dear, chubby little face were hundreds of terrified white chickens crammed into tiny metal cages. Feathers floated everywhere. My daughter stared at the birds. I can still see her red cheeks and wide eyes as she scanned the many cages full of chickens.

I whirled around to face the front, said nothing, and prayed for a green light. It remained agonizingly red. I thought maybe she wouldn’t ask me anything. I thought wrong.

“Daddy?” she asked, in that sweet little girl voice.

This was it, I realized. Please let me think of a good one.

“Yes?” I answered, willing the light to turn green. It would not.

“Is that what chicken nuggets look like before we eat them?” she asked. Through the rear view mirror I saw her lean forward to get a better look at the birds.

I couldn’t think of anything to say. In fact, I had no idea she even knew chicken nuggets came from chickens. She apparently hadn’t paid attention the day I told her they were made by nugget elves.

Well, she was five after all. I guessed it was time she start processing some of those harsh realities of life. I could think of nothing to say to avoid this one. She was staring face to beak at a truckload of misery and there was no way I could save her. I nearly teared up as I resigned myself to the ruination of her innocence.

“Yes, Baby Doll.” I finally answered, in the saddest of tones. “That’s what chicken nuggets look like before we eat them.” I held on to the steering wheel, stared at the stubborn red light, and waited for her to scream, cry, and wail from the pain of that awful truth.

“Mmmm!” she said with a huge grin. “I love chicken meat!”

The light turned green.

She asked to go to McDonald’s.

Stuart M. Perkins

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A Pew for You

I had dinner over in D.C. tonight and the agreeable weather made it a great night to sit outside. The restaurant’s patio area was delineated from the hectic sidewalk by a rustic cast iron fence topped with weathered planters full of store-fresh geraniums. Behind this barricade, my table and five others were neatly arranged. Six full tables enjoyed dinner and got in some good people-watching. It seemed we all finished our meals around the same time and reluctant to leave such a cozy place on such a pleasant evening, we six full tables of strangers began to talk amongst ourselves as if we were old friends at a reunion.

At one point, the woman at the table beside me told her husband that she wanted to get some things done around the house Saturday, but on Sunday they were going to church. The look on his face proved church had not factored into his plans. His wife knew that look better than I and she cut him off before he could say anything with  “Ohhh yes. We’re going to church. There’s a pew for you this Sunday!” Then she turned to me to say she asks him every Saturday night if he’s going to church with her on Sunday.

I told her that rang a bell. Growing up “across the field” from Nannie, my grandmother, meant I spent many hours as a teenager at her farmhouse working in the garden, helping in the yard, or sitting on her huge two-story screened porch out back. Nannie was more than a Sunday church-goer. She was involved in everything at church regardless of the day of the week. The fact that the church was less that a quarter mile away and visible from the very porch she sat on every evening underscored its relevance in her life. She didn’t miss a Sunday and she gave her best effort to ensure others followed suit. Unfortunately, as a teenager who preferred to do almost anything else on Sunday mornings, I probably often made the same face that the man at the next table tonight gave his wife. Nannie, just like this man’s wife, would ask every Saturday evening that she saw me whether I would be at church the next day.

One of those Saturday evenings I had been helping Nannie with yardwork. We rested on the porch and as I stood up to leave I winced when she asked, with her always sweet and calm tone, “See you at church tomorrow?” I could never lie and say “yes”, but to say “no” made me feel such guilt that I was always trying to come up with unique responses to divert her attention until I could disappear behind the boxwoods by the porch and head home. Somehow, if I could just make it to the boxwoods I felt I’d dodged the bullet. I froze. “See you in church tomorrow?” she sweetly asked again. I remembered a line I’d heard so I looked her squarely in the face, not even using boxwoods as cover, and said “Sitting in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.” She simply said “Maybe not, but cars don’t need to be saved.” When I responded with “All of them I ever drove did.” She started a good Nannie chuckle and before she finished I was behind the boxwoods heading home. I hadn’t gotten far when I heard her say again “See you in church tomorrow.” This time not presented as a question…

The woman at the table beside me seemed to enjoyed my recollection of Nannie’s weekly attempts to get me to church. She turned to her husband and said again, sternly, “We’re going to church.” He leaned up to look around her at me and said “I guess I’ll have to. Know any way I can get out of church Sunday?”

“Plant boxwoods on Saturday.” I suggested.

Stuart M. Perkins

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