The first day of work, I show up in my oversized T-shirt and ball cap uniform looking forward to starting a casual and kitschy job. Half an hour in, my positive expectations soon vanished. I was the only waitress on the floor, and with all 30 tables occupied, I ran around like a baboon on fire not sure which tables got the peppercorn poutine or the turkey special. I found out that I was also expected to be the diner’s official dishwasher at the same time as being the only server. Let’s just say my hefty T-shirt was covered with dishwater and gravy by the time I took Table 3’s order.
Strangely enough, I fell in love with working at the Court Street Café. I soon became accustomed to the diner’s regulars. There was Sal the bookie. Every day at 1pm he’d show up and sit in the same booth waiting for his “clients”. He always had coffee, in a larger mug than everyone else, and burnt rye toast with marmalade. From 1 pm to 3pm, several people would come and sit in his booth for a few minutes. Sal would take out his little notebook, put on his glasses, perform some calculations and complete the transaction. If I had to guess, he must have been going on 80, but he still had such a debonair, friendly way about him, and he was the best tipper.
At noon, on the dot, Milo showed up to take his table at the back of the restaurant. If someone was sitting at his table, I’d always ask them to move because he felt agitated if he could not sit there. Every day, he’d asked me what the specials were, in his soft-Quebecois voice. I would humor him and go through the soups and hot entrees, knowing that he wouldn’t choose any of them. And like the comfort that routine brings, he would always order two eggs over easy, brown toast, ham and french fries with gravy. To finish up, Milo got a chocolate sundae and the remote for the TV so he could watch the hockey highlights from the night before.
I miss Sal and Milo, but not as much as I miss Garth the cook. It didn’t matter if the diner was completely full, he insisted on carving an apple sculpture to garnish each plate, making his average delivery time: two dishes every 10 minutes. Although it was frustrating at the time, I appreciate his quirky artistic style and his rabbit-shaped fruit were particularly impressive.
I don’t know if the Court Street Café is still open. Maybe I’ll go back to Thunder Bay sometime and still see the same booths with ripped upholstery, hear the banjo tunes and the grease fryers sizzle. I’ll see Milo and Sal sitting at their reserved tables. I’m not so sure I’ll see Garth still behind the line.