Conversations at the Lunch Counter
The tiny diner in middle of town is a cramped and steamy place that smells like bacon and coffee. A few tightly placed tables, a lunch counter decked out in chrome and formica and stools with seats covered in red naugahyde are wedged into the narrow space. Bacon and eggs, sausage and pancakes cover the griddle. It’s a shrine to comfort food and the place to go for a lumberjack’s breakfast, meatloaf, or pie. It’s also a spot to nurse a cup of coffee, read the paper, tell stories and exchange gossip.
The sun shines bright on this early spring morning and cars out on Elm Street drive up and down the road in both directions. Men come in and sit at the counter, around the corner, out of sight.
“I heard Gottchalk passed away last weekend,” one says.
“No, he’s already been dead for years.” another one says.
“You’re thinking of Gotsill, he’s the one passed away last weekend. He was a classmate of mine. Lived in the house just up from the telephone company.”
I pour hot sauce and ketchup on a steaming mountain of home fries. It’s quiet except for the sound of bacon sizzling on the griddle and the buzz of the exhaust fan.
“How ‘bout that body they found floating in the canal?” one of the guys says, “Some woman, floating face down. I don’t think they even identified her yet.” One of the other guys says, “They think she’s from around here, anyway.”
Someone scrapes a fork across a plate and the cook pours eggs on the hot griddle.
“I see where that pilot died.” “He was flying a twin engine Cessna and died at the controls. His passenger had to land the plane. They talked him in from the tower.”
Someone else says, “I read he had some flying experience. Logged about 100 hours, but never flew anything big.”
American cheese sticks to the roof of my mouth and I try to wash it down with hot coffee.
“Ever watch them crop dusters work? I used to watch ‘em work out near the airport,” one of the guys says.
“Heard about a time, when I was a kid, one of ‘em didn’t pull up soon enough and flew the duster into a tree. Hung that plane right up in the branches. Weird…you’d think it would’ve mowed that tree right down. Slammed his head on the dashboard and died. They said he woulda survived if he had his helmet on.”
“Those friggin’ guys actually wear helmets?” another one says.
The dishwasher comes out to take a break. She has hearing aids in both ears and her hairstyle looks like a helmet.
A man comes in with a newspaper and sits down at the counter.
He says, “Hear about that body they found floating in the canal? Found her floating face down in the water. Wonder who she was?”
“Can I get you something to eat Al?” the waitress asks.
“You got any donuts? I could go for a single donut.” Al says. “Anyone know when Gotchalk’s funeral is?”
One of the other guys says, “You mean Gotsill. Gotchalk’s been dead for years.”
The exhaust fan hums and cars drive past on Elm Street, going in both directions. A couple passes by on the sidewalk, oblivious to the conversation at the lunch counter.