Sunday, October 21, 2007

Al's at Eight

With my failure to note my neighborhood's famed breakfast niche's opening hour, I stopped for a cup of joe before entering the line at Al's this morning. As I was alone, I pretended to read Conrad's Heart of Darkness as I eavesdropped, sandwhiched between conversations. The robust man to my right was speaking rather loudly into his cell phone. Clad in a quilted flannel jacket and large leather boots, his beige plastic rimmed glasses reminded me of Milton and his stapler. To my left, a couple from Santa Barbara, California were freezing in the 55 degree morning. It was quite the juxtaposition.

"There's some kind of goulash already prepared," the Milton Man reported to the unknown on the other line. "No, GOULASH," he more loudly retorted. "Yeah, the neighbor lady made it and is bringing it over this afternoon for the party." "Yeah, it was real nice of her to prepare the goulash."

"I hear there are only 14 stools in the entire place," her husband said as he counted the ten heads ahead in line. "I think we're just squeezing in."

"Some people just want to talk and talk," Milton Man yammered to his friend. He tucked the gray plastic into his breast pocket. As he buttoned it, the anntena poked out of the corner.

"That man is wearing flip flops!" the woman said. Her long aburn hair flitted in the breeze and her shoulders shurgged toward her ears beneath her black wool coat. It was 8:40 or so, and we had another twenty minutes before the original Al opened the diner.

At this point I looked up from my monotonous text and felt the need to comment on the mild October morning. "This is nothing," I said, as they laughed in reply. Our conversation settled on traveling to Minneapolis and local coffee chains both here and in their original Seattle. California couple inquired and desired one more sight before their flight home and I recommended the bridges neare St. Anthony Main, or a soft sunny walk around Calhoun.

As Al, a man in 50s black rimmed glasses and a black windbreaker from the 80s, opened the door and the fourteen fire engine stools were filled, coffee cups were turned up toward full pots of steaming liquid. I was the only of the fourteen who chose orange juice. My breakfast mates and I quickly settled and ordered and bodies filled into the narrow spaces behind the stools. California couple ordered an abundance of food, and Milton Man had the eggs and peppers titled "huevos". I set down with Bill Holm's vignettes of his year in China and two pumpkin pancakes.

Successfully meaningless conversation settled across the yellowing counter, and Milton Man suggested the addition of black beans to the Menu.

"I've been coming here since 1970," he told me, "and the menu hasn't changed, let alone added beans."

It perplexed me that this man from Minnesota seemed to understand my sentiment for legumes. Since my return from Guatemala, I've always felt breakfasts without beans seemed sorely lacking.

"If I were to bring black beans, would you cook them for me?" I wondered aloud to the waitress. It seemed every time I entered the breakfast spot (which is perhaps once a month) she happened to be the individual adding my tab.

"... Probably." She laughed.