“Coffee! Could we please get some coffee?!”, I asked.
“Donuts! Donuts with the coffee would be great!”, Mike assented.
We drove along the road. We expected some sort of coffee shop any second. We drove.
“Biloxi!”, I said excitedly, as I saw the roadsign on the highway, glowing in the very early sun. I had heard of Biloxi before. It must be a big enough place to have a coffee shop, a Dunkin’ Donuts.
We drove off the highway, and into the city.
We didn’t find a Dunkin’ Donuts, but we did see a parking lot full of pickup trucks and cars, surrounding a building like piglets to a sow, that sported a sign in big letters, that said COFFEE.
Things were looking good to me.
I was eager, and Mike suggested that I get the coffee. “You pick out the donuts. I’ll be happy with what you get. Don’t take too long.”, he said, handing me some dollars. I jumped out of the van door, and leaned toward a cup of hot coffee with cream.
It was busy inside. It was very early in the morning, before work started for anyone, and I guessed that everybody there was fueling up before the workday, coffee and donuts being just the ticket.
It didn’t seem like a building that had been built for a coffee shop, or a restaurant. It felt like an automobile showroom that had been converted for the purpose. The front windows were large, and tilted in, from top to bottom, in a ‘modern’ architecture styling. They were steamy along the edges from all the coffee that was being brewed and served up.
There was a counter that ran the full length of the back of the building, with swivel stools all along it.
Every stool held up persons, all men, in various stages of wakefulness, bent over steaming cups, some stirring, some chomping bites from donuts, that had come from the slanting displays behind the counter.
Overalls, suspenders, red handkerchiefs, and ball caps were everywhere, wrapped around tall, bulging men. The three ‘gals’ behind the counter all held coffee pots, dancing and dodging each other to make sure everybody got a prompt “hot-topper’. It was one cookin’ place.
I had waitressed before, and had worked as a counter waitress before, and I knew how precise an art it was. A good counter waitress could keep track of 15 people at once, knowing which one had come in first, which one next, which one needed their check, which one tipped, and which one wouldn’t.
I watched the waitress dance for a while, quietly queued up at a slight distance, off to the side. I wanted it apparent that I didn’t want a seat, but that some coffee to go was on my mind. I was waiting my turn.
A very large man, obviously local, and familiar with all the ‘gals’, pushed open the door, and came in. He walked toward my direction, and was going to sit down at an open stool at the counter in front of me, when he saw me standing there. He stopped. He looked me down, then up. He curled his mouth ever so slightly. There was a pause. He said something I didn’t hear well or understand at all. There were some guffaws from nearby stool occupants. He stood facing me a moment, then pushed past me to the counter, turned his back, and ordered some coffee. A cup was set down in front of him immediately.
I began to be perplexed. I was definitely ‘next’ for service, and I didn’t mind a town ‘important person’ getting preferential treatment, but something was odd here. The waitress’ didn’t blink at his actions, and came nowhere near saying to him that “she was here first”.
He stirred his coffee. Ting-ting. Ting-ting.
I thought surely I was next in the waitresses mind. I inched forward toward the counter, to fill the space, but not too close to invade the big guys elbow room.
Instead of turning to me and saying something waitressly like, “What can I gitcha hon?”, the ‘gal’ behind the counter turned her back, and proceeded filling half empty cups, going away from me, all down the line, elbow high as she poured.
I had my cash in my fist. I wedged myself sideways and I stuck my arm out and planted my hand holding the money, stiff elbowed, on the counter edge. I made it very obvious to all, that I wanted to buy something. It got noticeably quiet, considering all the AM hubbub that had been going on. I was practically nose to shoulder with the big guy. He wasn’t sure what to make of me, and he certainly wasn’t going to look at me, now that I was that close to him.
I had been taught how to ‘conduct myself’, and honey, I was leadin’ the whole orchestra at that moment.
It was the longest ‘wait’ of a few moments I bet any of us had ever had. The coffee pot waitress, that had walked away, was back in the vicinity. She looked quickly at the big guy, without looking at him. He said, “I think you need to take care of this one.”
The waitress did a little stutter step, and looked from him to me and back, he nodded imperceptibly, and she said, “What can I getcha?”
“I would like two coffees and a half dozen raised donuts, TO GO.”
The waitress poured containers, slung donuts in a bag, and said, “That’ll be tew oh naaahn.”
I paid, waited for my change, which could have been a tip, picked up the donuts and containers, and pushed out the door with my hip.
I got to the van. Mike looked anxious, more in a hurry than worried. “What took so long?”, he said.
The van was running. I handed the one container of coffee through the window to him, tossed in the donuts, opened the door, hopped up, slammed the door, and said, “Let’s eat these down the road.”