A few months ago, in the dead middle of a Phoenix summer, I got up at 6:15 on a Sunday morning to fulfill a breakfast date with my father, stepmother, aunt and uncle.I’d finally given in to my dad’s nudging, he seemingly oblivious to my protests of “Who meets for a meal at seven in the morning by choice?”
I’m a bit of a late sleeper and haven’t passed more than a drink of water over my lips before 9 AM in years. Even when jobs called for an early appearance, I really never kicked in till late morning. But dad’s an engineer and inventor and loves the precision of getting to his office every day, weekends included, by 8 AM.He’s done this at least my whole life, probably his too. At 78, he has the will of a ten-year old boy intent upon catching his first fish.
To most who have lived through one of our scorching Julys, it’s common knowledge that the only bearable time to do anything that takes you outside is between 5 and 8 in the morning. But like most people who believe that, I rarely take nature up on her offer to enjoy those slivers of time and instead sleep in and run from my air-conditioned apartment to cooled car to any other place that keeps the temperature below 80 degrees. This Sunday morning it was 93 degrees when I slid into my car at 6:45.
I arrived at Randy’s, a local diner that proudly takes no plastic forms of payment, CASH ONLY emblazoned in Sharpie on a sign in the door.The joint was packed.Every table was taken, people scarfing down plates filled with fried potatoes, eggs sunny-side up, stacks of pancakes three inches high.No one looked as tired as I felt.
When I found the table with my early-rising family, my dad looked at his watch.“7:05. You almost made it on time.” I smiled and sat down, flipped the upside-down coffee cup at my seat right-side up and the waitress, on me like a shirt, filled it to the brim. “Cream, darlin’? Sugar?” I shook my head no and drank a sip, hoping it would kick in fast. Some caffeine in me, I got up and hugged each of them, we passed general family pleasantries and I got a good ribbing about finally joining them for one of these early breakfasts.
The four of them looked as fresh as people in their late 70s or early 80s often do when they’ve been blessed with another day to tackle the world. I could still smell my delicious pillow and wondered if I’d ever seem as happy as these people when I, hopefully, hit my eighth decade on earth.
The waitress slid a menu in front of me and said, “You’re the last one. Their orders are in. I’ll be back in a tick.”
The pressure was on and I scanned the menu, the choices far too numerous for this time of the day. I decided on two eggs over-easy, a plate of home fries with extra onions and a bowl of oatmeal with bananas. My hunger was being teased by the smells from the kitchen.
My uncle, aunt, dad and stepmother all added their two cents into a conversation that reminded me of why I truly avoided these breakfasts. In snippets I heard what has become, in my family, standard political rhetoric: “All of them are terrorists.Anti-semitic killers” – dad , “America is losing its direction”- uncle, “Obama isn’tAmerican, you know” – aunt, and the fact that “We should be able to keep our bathtub running 24/7 if we want, after all, we’re capitalists” – stepmom.
“What are you going to have?” my dad asked, veering off from that riveting conversation, one I swore to simply swallow with my liberal tongue and avoid.I just wanted to eat breakfast, listen to the latest family gossip and fuss over who was going to take care of the bill as our family had done at every restaurant gathering in my memory.
After I told my dad my food choices, he pointed up at the Specials board on the wall behind him.
“Why don’t you order something from that menu?” he asked.
I looked up. Three choices: blueberry pancakes, a western omelette with salsa and two fried eggs with Randy’s homemade corned-beef hash.
“Nothing I’d really like, dad,” I said. “I’m in the mood for what I picked already.”
“You know, they have the specials for a reason,” he said. “Easier on the chef.”
I doubted there was a ‘chef’ within a mile of our table.
“Well,” I said, “nothing up there appeals to me.”
He continued. “Look at this place, Mark. They’re busy, need to get people in and out. The chef prefers if people just order one of the specials.”
He sounded so convincing I wondered if he’d taken a secret stake in the restaurant.
“Dad, they have a menu for a reason. They actually allow people to choose from a variety of breakfast offerings. Even lunch,” I said and pointed at the sandwich portion of the menu that stated, Sandwiches Served All Day on Sundays.
“All right, all right,” he said, smiling and holding both hands up in the air. “You’re obviously familiar with restaurant protocol. But the chef would really appreciate it if you just ordered from the board.” He pointed over his shoulder with a thumb.
The waitress arrived at the table with all their breakfasts. Not a Special among them. My dad could sense I was about to question their choices.
“We’re on specific diets,” he said, unconvincingly. “We’re old.”
“What’ll it be, honey?” the waitress asked me.
I pointed at the Specials board.
“A western omelette with salsa. Can I add some home fries to that?”