"Eggs over easy, English and coffee light, please...eggs over easy, English and coffee light, please..."
I'd been rehearsing my breakfast order for two weeks, trying to make it sound as if I had spoken it hundreds of times before, like the regulars at Nick's Lunch. I had eaten at Nick's diner on several occasions with my parents. But on this brilliant, sun-kissed, April school vacation morning, I was walking into town alone. For my first Nick's breakfast -- alone. Maiden voyage.
This did not echo any of my former, feeble attempts to act grownup, like pretending to shave with my father's soap and a dull butter knife in front of our bathroom mirror. How childish! This was about proving I could behave like an adult in public, on my own. Eating with the truckers. An eight year-old boy taking a big risk in the company of men.
I walked slowly past the trailer rigs and old pickups lining the entrance to Nick's, took a deep breath, turned the pale, yellow doorknob and took a stool at the counter. The two, thick, human walls I sat between were well into their corned beef hash, home fries and toast, too busy to notice my appearance.
I recognized the waitress approaching as Miss Marie. She had been especially welcoming to me when I had visited Nick's with my folks, once serving me an unusually, extra large scoop of chocolate ice cream with my warm apple crisp. Miss Marie smiled broadly, hands on her hips, cocked her head to the left and sang the words I prayed i would hear -
"Hi hon. What'll it be?"
"Eggs over hard, english, coffee light, please."
" You got it, sweetie."
Miss Marie seemed delighted with my order.
My behemoth, bookend stool mates were now on their third cups of coffee, dragging deeply on their fourth or fifth Lucky Strikes. My dad's Kents smelled milder but I gladly breathed in their trucker smoke, forbidding myself to cough. I lingered over my breakfast, eagerly taking in animated talk of rebuilt carburetors, rumored textile mill layoffs and Ted Williams. "He's my favorite Red Sox player. My Uncle Peter gave me a baseball with his autograph on it," I piped in, to no one in particular. The wall to my left half-turned toward me, "He's the greatest, kid!," he bellowed.
I graciously thanked Miss Marie for my scrumptious breakfast, paid my bill, and left what I considered to be a generous tip on the counter. She eyed her tip and cooed, "Thanks sweetie. You come back soon" My newfound, counter buddy roared, "Take it easy, little Teddy!"
My sneakers never touched sidewalk on my walk home. I was soaring.Soon I would reinhabit my eight year-old self, as I had an early afternoon, pickup baseball game at Nelson Street Playground. But I would take the field today with more of a glide in my stride, maybe even a slight swagger. I was a trucker's "little Teddy." I was Miss Marie's "sweetie." I had swum alone with the big fish today. I had come of age.
Are many of today's, overly protective parents too frightened to encourage or allow such Nick's Lunch, solo stepping stones? Perhaps. But I so hope parents will let their children find their Miss Marie, as she's always waiting to take their order, to help them soar.
What was your first, successful, solo entry into the world of grownups? Your maiden voyage. Your own Nick's Lunch coming of age.
I'll be on the stoop, waiting for your answers. Stop by. Sit a spell. Let's reminisce.