Watching the Regulars (Lunch at KJ’s Diner)

A diner connected to a bowling alley. A place I’ve driven by about a hundred times on my way to other things. It’s a small, corner room with oversized windows along two walls, providing lots of natural light. The décor is black & white, with a checkerboard counter. There’s a decent lunchtime crowd and I’m sitting at a booth across the table from a friend, catching up on things. An elderly woman in a wheelchair greets her waitress with a “hello, Dear” and a kiss on the cheek. This atmosphere is calming and the coffee is perfect. An old man in a black straw fedora with a much younger man (his grandson perhaps?) sits down at a dirty table by the door and stares expectantly toward a staff who has not yet seen fit to acknowledge his party. That’s the unmistakable look of a customer who wants attention. It’s a standoff that can’t last too long. And it doesn’t. “Can we get a goddamn busboy over here!?” the old man wheezes with the effort of a shout as the young man smiles nervously. A waitress promptly approaches. She’s tall and blonde, a hardened forty-something. “Now, you be quiet!” she scolds. “What the hell is wrong with you people?” says the old man. A grin cracks on his face and then breaks out into a full smile. So this is their little game. I wonder how many times this scene has been played out here. My friend sees that I’m distracted and I apologize. I’m new here, and I’m just watching the regulars.

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