The food is never really that great- but I expect that. Every carb-heavy dish served to every hunched over patron is monochrome brown, as are the mountains of plastic wrapped pastries that only appear appetizing. Orange juice provides the single fleck of merciful color. The silverware is identical too-- everywhere. My teaspoon is stamped "9 Winco 18/0 Stainless". I've actually never seen that before. It's usually just a pressed "Stainless Steel". Weird. (A little research reveals that Winco is a supermarket similar to Walmart. Curiously, they only have locations on the west coast and a few Rocky Mountain states. How did their silverware end up in Manhattan? I guess it doesn't matter much.)
Heavy white ceramic mugs make a dull thud every time they are replaced on the fake marble counter top. The sound is unmistakable and comforting. It is a part of American culture. (The equivalent French sound is much higher pitched: an espresso cup clinking into its recessed crater-home on the saucer.) Plus, the unlimited coffee is nice. I haven't seen that idea anywhere outside of the United States. I think it's a sign of American kindness. I can't partake in the ritual though, because after one cup I get the jitters and have to switch to decaf (which might as well not be coffee). Even then, I will feel a slight uneasiness and constant fluttering in my chest for the next few hours. But I expect that.
The businessman sitting next to me uses every condiment available on his Western omelet (no cheese) and home fries, side of sausage. He haphazardly puts a heart attack inducing amount of salt over his entire dish, taking little care or pride in where the grains fall. He seems content enough to just go through the salting motion. A pinch of pepper from an ash filled shaker on the omelet, a plop of ketchup on the home fries, and a dash of Tabasco sauce over the whole mess. Milk from a carton (not the little prepackaged striated white plastic thimble-cups with peel back lid) and sugar in his coffee. He's either a control freak or severely indecisive-- I'll go with the former. When leaving, he's impatient to pay his bill and repeatedly calls the server over and waves his money rudely in the air, even though the kind server is clearly taking another customer's order.
Yeah, control freak.
Jose, the charming veteran waiter who bears an uncanny resemblance to ex-Pakistani president/dictator Pervez Musharraf, is aging a bit. His sideburns are white now and his glasses thick. He's a charmer. He comes over to me, leans on the counter top, looks me in the eye, and says, "You asked for grits but I gave you po-tay-toes" (he enunciates each syllable of "potatoes"). He is right, and he smiles. "These things happen," I say as I shrug my shoulders in willing surrender. It is all right.
I sit for a few more minutes, read a few more pages of my paperback, and get up to leave- but pause to get Jose's attention to thank him.