Her pen was shaking as it hovered over a pad of guest checks.
“My name is Megan and I’ll be your server. Can I start you off with something to drink?”
“Hi, Megan. Yeah, I’ll have coffee.”
She made a note on the pad. A server with steel-gray hair and the same cafe smock reached over Megan’s shoulder and pointed to something on the pad. Megan looked flustered: “Regular or decaf?”
“I’ll get that for you,” she said, slipping the pad into the pocket of her apron.
She left a menu on the table, but I ignored it; I always ordered the same thing.
A thick ceramic mug banged onto the table in front of me.
“Have you decided?” The pen trembled over the pad.
I’ve always wanted to be a regular at a place where I could just say “the usual” when a server asked me that. We weren’t there yet.
“I’ll have the omelet,” I said, tapping the menu. She leaned in for a better look.
“The number four,” I added in case she learned the menu by number.
“Let’s see … that comes with … “
“A pancake or toast,” I said. “I’ll have the pancake … and lots of syrup.”
Generations of servers have found my “lots of syrup” line to be charming. Megan didn’t seem to notice and I wondered if she was writing “lots of syrup” on her pad.
“Anything else?” she asked.
“Little more coffee when you get a minute.”
“Right away,” she said, pocketing the pad.
She returned alone with a steaming carafe; her mentor apparently trusted her enough to let her venture out on her own.
“This is my first day,” she said quietly as coffee dribbled into my mug. Then, dropping her voice to a whisper: “You’re my first customer.”
I’ve been through a couple of first days. They were exciting and terrifying.
“I had one job where I was actually late for work on the first day,” I said. “But my boss overslept that morning and got to work 10 minutes after I got there. I never did tell him I was late. Did that job for almost 30 years.”
The jitters seemed to leave her with a “whoosh.”
She stopped three times during my meal to see if everything was alright, and was diligent about keeping my cup full.
“Can I get you anything else?” she asked as I pushed back from my empty plate.
“Just the tab.”
She tore the top page off her pad and placed it face down on the table.
“You did great,” I said. “But the next time I come in I’m just going to order ‘the usual’."
“Number four with a pancake,” she said with a smile. “And lots of syrup.”
Yeah, she’s going to be just fine.
Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.