January 12th, 2021 by Ken

The first time I saw Carol she was pouring coffee.  The last time I saw Carol, she was pouring coffee.  It never occurred to Carol that someone would want to come into her small diner and not order coffee – particularly in the morning.

I was up early. I couldn’t sleep.  A little from nerves and a little from excitement. It was 1965 and  I had just gotten out of the Army after nearly six years of service. I had my first job interview in the morning.  I was going to Tumwater City Hall to be a cop.

It was still early and I decided to stop at the Trails End, a small cafe adjacent to the Tumwater Inn tavern on the corner of Trosper and Capitol Boulevard.   I had some time to kill and I wanted to try and get my thoughts together.

The Trails End seated about a dozen customers, although in the evenings, Ted would open up the backroom and meet the needs of his half-drunk customers from next door.  It was busiest on Saturday night, when due to the Blue Laws and no booze on Sundays,  The tavern had to close its doors at midnight.

But, while tavern-users were the customer-base in the evenings, the mornings belonged to Carol and the men who stopped by for breakfast, conversation and coffee.

I walked in the door.  Carol looked at me, nodded towards a seat at the counter and poured me a cup of coffee as I sat down.  “What’ll it be,” she said.   I thought about asking for a menu, but felt a little ill at ease so I ordered bacon, eggs – over easy and hash browns.  Carol repeated my order to the wall behind her, moved the sugar and cream a little closer to my cup, then walked away to pour a refill for one of her regulars.

I was taken by the scene.  Men, a dozen men, of all ages, were sitting at the counter and the small two-person table crammed against the wall, under the window.

Carol was taking care of them all – not only pouring coffee, but talking with them, asking them questions about their sick wife, the job they hated, whatever happened to Bob.

When my order was up, she brought it to me and sat it down.  “Anything else – ketchup, hot sauce,” she asked.  She didn’t ask if I wanted a refill on my coffee, she just topped it off and turned to do the same to the guy sitting next to me.

But she didn’t leave.  “You on your way to work?” she asked.  I told her about my job interview.  “We have a couple of them who stop in pretty regularly,” she said speaking about the police.  “They’re nice guys.”

Shortly sounds of “Goodbye Carol” and “See you tomorrow” began to fill the diner, as her customers got up to continue their day.   I notice that very few of them got a bill.  Most just put a few dollars on the counter and left.

I began to realize that Carol was more than a waitress to these men.  She was the mother, the wife, the friend, the person they needed every morning to get their day started.  It wasn’t the food – or the coffee – that brought them in every morning.  It was the feeling of being part of something that gave them comfort.  It was being part of a family.

Carol refilled my coffee again as she began picking up the plates and cleaning off the counter.  I realized that I was almost alone, with only a couple of  guys a few seats away.  I decided it was time for me to leave, even though I would be early for my interview. I didn’t know what the bill was but like the others, I just left the money on the counter.  I put out a five dollar bill, although I was certain that was more than enough.

As I turned to leave Carol said, “Good luck on your interview.”

“Thanks,” I said and walked out.  When I got to the door, I turned to take one more look.  Carol was pouring coffee to the sole remaining customer.

(I was offered the job, but turned it down, when I went to work for the state in a job that paid more.)

Posted in The Real News

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