Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Take Time to Stop and Smell the Home Fries

I recently spent a few days back in my old hometown of Baltimore. I flew in from Albuquerque Saturday night, rented a car, and stayed at the Radisson in Cross Keys, a gated community where I worked as a security guard after leaving college in the early 70's.

I was back in town to attend a memorial gathering for my parents, arranged by my brother. I could have stayed with my brother and sister-in-law, or with any of several friends or family in the area, but I chose the hotel instead; I wanted to be someplace anonymous and impersonal, someplace neutral where I could come and go as I pleased. I wasn't certain about how well I would handle the constant reminders of my parents' recent death along with the continuing realization that Baltimore had changed and had gone on without me after I moved away ten years ago.

I woke up Sunday morning, shaved, showered, dressed, then got in the car and drove aimlessly for a while. I was hungry, and I remembered other Sundays when my wife and I would walk from my apartment over to the corner of 32nd and Greenmount to Pete's Grille. Pete's is a local institution that gained notoriety (a few years after we left the neighborhood) as being a favorite of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. I decided to drive to Pete's and get some breakfast.

Though the ownership of Pete's Grille has changed, little else about the place has. It's one long counter-- you sit wherever there's an empty seat, or you wait patiently until one opens up. I was lucky; there were several places open, and I sat down next to a party of three: a man, a woman, and a little boy who was not quite old enough to talk, but was quite emphatic about the nonsense syllables he could pronounce such as "Bah!" and "Mama!" and the like.

While waiting for my scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and home fries, I occasionally glanced at the child, who sported two braided pigtails, just like his dad. His father got him to finish the last of his breakfast, and the kid was getting the attention of one of the waitresses, who thanked him for the empty plate.

He proceeded to babble to her, and his mother and father were encouraging him to talk. His dad was joking about how he was trying to get the boy to say "Waitress!" or "Excuse me, miss." It was at that point that I leaned over and said, "As long as he doesn't learn to say 'Hey, Bartender!' I figure he's gonna be OK."

And I was home.