A few years ago, I saw a sign in the window of a diner that read, "Today's Special: Grilled Shrimp with rice and veggies. All Day." It was around lunch time so I decided to go in and have a quick bite.
Inside it was loud and busy - just the way I like it. When I sat down at the counter I was immediately met by a non-smiling, middle aged waiter who was obviously in a hurry. His shirt sleeves were tightly rolled up his arm, and his stained, sweaty shirt and apron were proof of a previously hard fought breakfast rush. He spoke in a thick Greek accent.
"You want drink?" he asked.
"Sure," I said. "Just a glass of water, please."
"Why you no want Coke?" he said.
"Oh I don't know. Water's fine for now." I said.
"You should have Coke." he said.
"Yeah, well, I really just want the water for right now. Thanks." I said.
"This is America, have Coke! Why not?" he said.
"Yeah, well..." I stuttered.
"What? You no like Coke?" he asked.
"Sure," I said, "I like Coke. I just want water for now."
"You should have Coke," he said, "Is delicious. Is American way!"
"Water is fine for now." I said.
"Have both." he said, "This America! A-me-ri-ca!"
"I don't want both!" I said.
"Have both!" he said. "You should have both. Both. Yes? Have both. Have. You. Both. Now."
"OK, " I said. "I'll have both!" What else could I do? It WAS America after all.
He didn't smile but nodded briskly and then slapped a menu on the counter in front of me.
"You read. I come back." he said.
Then he wiped my part of the counter semi-clean of toast remnants with a smelly, dirty, wet rag, which left me feeling like I was eating on a mildewed, slightly sticky Slip-N-Slide.
The diner was just the kind I like: loud, busy, confusing. There's something about people being fed that I find very comforting. I busied myself making up stories in my head about all the people in the diner, when suddenly the Waiter showed up again and proudly slapped a cup of steaming hot coffee and an orange juice down in front of me.
"Oops," I said smiling much too broadly while motioning at the coffee and juice. "Oopsy," I said again.
"What? What for?" he said. "Is coffee."
"Um, yes, I see that it's coffee and juice," I said, "But I think I was the one wanting the water and a Diet Coke? Yes? Yes?"
I noticed I was slowly starting to speak in a slight Greek accent.
"You want water and Coke?" he said.
"Yes." I said.
"Sure, sure. OK, I bring, I bring. Is very bizee now, yes?" he said and pulled out his pencil and pad. "Very, very bizee."
"No, I understand, I just...if I could just get the water and Coke that'd be great." I said.
He stood staring at me for a minute then said, "So what you want?"
I suddenly went blank trying to remember what it was exactly I had come in for in the first place. Then I said, "I think I'm just gonna get the special."
"Frong day weendoh?" he asked.
"Excuse me?" I said.
"Frong day weendooh?" he said.
"Window?" I said.
"Yes, " he said "Frong day special in day weendoh?"
"Oh! Yeah! Yes, the shrimp thing." I said.
"OK, sure," he said. "How do you like your eggs?"
"Excuse me?" I asked. I was sure I had somehow misheard the question.
"How do you like your eggs?" he said again slower and much louder like I had suddenly turned 90 years old.
I wasn't sure how this question played into my shrimp order, but I could tell he was in a hurry so I assumed it must be some sort of secret diner code between how I like my eggs cooked and how they would prepare the shrimp. So I said, "Um, scrambled? I guess?"
He nodded once, tucked the pad and pencil in his apron, grabbed the menu and walked away, leaving the coffee and juice, as he yelled something in Greek to the man in the kitchen.
At that point I really wasn't sure what had just happened. So I got up and went outside to look at the sign I had seen when I first came in. Maybe I had misread it. Maybe it was too late or too early for THAT particular special. But when I read the sign again, there it was: "Today's Special: Grilled Shrimp with rice and veggie. All Day." Satisfied that I hadn't as yet gone gone completely crazy, I went back inside and sat down once more at my seat at the counter.
Just as I settled in, the Waiter returned with a plate in his hand and said, "Is hot plate. Very hot. Watch!" and then carefully set down a plate of perfectly scrambled eggs in front of me. Just eggs. Nothing else. Then he said, "And..." and then placed a huge milk shake in front of me as well.
For the first time he smiled a huge toothy grin at me and said, "Is goot? Yes? Yes?"
"Um..." I stammered. "Sure. I guess. Yeah. Everything looks...good."
"You eat." he said.
"What?" I said.
"Eat. You eat." he said.
"I'm going to eat, yes." I said.
" No, now! You eat now! Is goot! Yes?" he said.
"Oh!" I said, "Right! Sure."
And then I picked up a fork and took a bite of what may have been the best scrambled eggs I have ever eaten. They were NOT shrimp. But they were some REALLY great eggs. And by the way, if you haven't had scrambled eggs and a milk shake since you were 9 years old, you should give this taste treat a whirl. It's fantastic.
Then I looked at him and smiled. Then he smiled at me, poured me some more unwanted coffee and walked away.
I still don't know what happened that day. I don't know if I had breakfast or lunch or accidentally invented something new. What I do know is that it wasn't what I was expecting at all.
But sometimes...that's OK.
As together we stand and sing.