Friday, February 4, 2011


After dealing with more sobering news at the doctor's office today I decided to treat myself to lunch on the way home from the hospital and ponder the issues.
I went to a Bob Evans. I haven't been to one of those in more years than I can count but the idea seemed comforting to me, and I ordered a meal that was frighteningly artery clogging and felt like a rock in my stomach before I was halfway through.
But I was reminded of the times I'd been to this restaurant chain, in different parts of the country, with family members that I no longer have contact with.
I thought how years ago I would eat this food without a second thought and how at this point in my life, being in this place, I couldn't be much further from my yoga practicing, vegetarian lifestyle.
But there is something about a restaurant like this that demands so little of us. The bland decor that is uniform across the country, the bland muzak one can easily tune out, the little plastic containers of jelly, and the continuous offers of coffee poured into thick white mugs all make it easy to blend in as well. There are no demands on us for food reviews and we don't have to compete with the wall decorations, or behave a certain way to fit in. Come as you are, read a USA Today and leave full and satisfied.

Many of the customers were regulars, and the waitresses visited as if they were old friends, even sitting at their tables to chat. My own waitress looked to be in her sixties and when she came to take my order, she sat down across from me, "I'm so tired" she said as she lifted her reading glasses to her face. I could empathize and was half tempted to invite her to eat lunch with me, my treat, and I'd be happy to hear her story, too.

The bland looking couple across from my table were on their way to Florida after escaping a Michigan winter. The man in the booth behind me begged them to take him along.
This part of town is next to a major interstate highway. There are chain restaurants, an overpriced gas station and hotels. To many people it's nothing but a blur on the highway, maybe a place to sleep after a long day on the road. It's not a home to them and holds no interest beyond providing for their basic needs in ways that costs them a lot of money and a little heartburn. How many of these places are there in America? Just thinking about it makes me feel dislocated from my sense of place in this town where I have lived for seven years.

The hostess had a loud, cackling laugh that she used often. It filled up the restaurant and fell somewhere between frantic and desperate. Every time I heard it I clenched my paper napkin tighter.
I dropped bits of biscuit into a bowl of sausage gravy and thought again of my family who I haven't seen in years, who made sausage gravy all the time, and biscuits, and pinto beans and cornbread. Who always had stories to tell and gliders on the front porch and fresh green beans to string for canning.
I thought of trips I'd taken with my parents and meals we'd eaten at this restaurant or ones like it. One night nearly eight years ago we went to a similar restaurant and had the most relaxed time we'd had in a very long time. We enjoyed the conversation and company so much we didn't want to leave, and felt angry that our rude waiter did everything he could to rush our meal and push us out the door.
The next day my father collapsed, went into a coma and died ten days later. I don't remember what we talked about, I just remember not wanting it to end.

I couldn't finish the meal but left a big tip and as I walked to the car I was happy to leave all of that behind, happy I am no longer the person I was all those years ago. Happy, despite everything, for the life I have now, and the strange alternating feelings of dislocation and nostalgia were shaken off as I embraced the Now.

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