Friday, February 19, 2016

The Breakfast Guy

Recently I've been inspired to write more in this blog. I have quite a few stories to share, and if I wait too long I will forget them all. 
Part of the reason I write reluctantly is that stories, if messed up in the writing, never seem to go back to their original poignant place in my mind. So in order not to do harm, I do no good. 

Basically I've been taking myself too seriously and just need to get on with it. 

A couple of Septembers ago I had the fun and joy of heading off to a two day Writer's Conference in Edmonton. It was fabulous - I had a hotel room to myself, I was surrounded by like-minded people, and there were books and poetry and learning hour upon hour. 
I didn't really know anyone but that was fine; I chatted and got to know a few interesting people here and there, and I like solitude when I can find it. 
The conference was a bit crowded, people-wise. Tables were put together and there was lots of walking sideways between chairs and saying, "Excuse me, sorry, can I get by here", which made lunch time rather entertaining. For breakfast we were on our own, and some went out but most stayed in the hotel and ate at the little restaurant downstairs.
The second morning I slept late, and found myself fairly alone, standing outside the restaurant with a few stragglers coming in or going out. A table of about six writers conversed seriously over a second or third coffee, picking through the remains of an earlier feast.
The waiter was a trifle harried and glanced at me sideways as if to say, "great, we've got another one wanting a rush order," but he sat me down at a table on the side, big enough for two, and poured me that first grateful coffee. I decided on the continental buffet. Might as well save him some stress. 

Facing the lobby area, I noticed a guy in his early 30's, dressed in dark coloured working clothes and construction boots, heading toward the restaurant. He approached confidently, but became hesitant as the waiter pointed out the lack of tables. There was absolutely nowhere to sit. He looked perplexed, blinked a few times around, said something again to the waiter, and then slowly turned toward the door. He had the reluctant stance of someone with nowhere else to go. The waiter was very apologetic. 
It happened much faster than the time it takes to relate, but I did think it over. "What would people think?" flashed through my head for 3 seconds, after which I raised my hand and called the guy over. 
"Excuse me, would you like to sit here?"
 I gestured to the empty seat in front of me. 
"I'll be gone soon", I added to convince him. Honestly I thought he would probably decline. Come in and sit down with a total stranger? Eat breakfast with said stranger? Who does this! The woman might have a screw loose. 

The key to doing crazy and interesting things is to think much more about how another person feels and much less about how you feel.

As he walked over and took the chair opposite, thanking me sincerely but not profusely, I thought, "This is going to be fine. As long as he doesn't think I'm hitting on him. Or even if he does, really." 
I took great care to be matter-of-fact. I kept the conversation light. I told him about the writers conference, and he ordered a large egg-and-bacon-filled breakfast. We kept talking.
 He had been married only a couple of years, working hard, and thinking about having kids. Or one, anyway, they would start with that and see. I agreed, one baby at a time was the way to go, if at all possible. He had a dog, a German shepherd I think, that he was very attached to, which was either with him during a stint in Afghanistan or waited for him at home - I can't quite recall. I told him about my kids and my husband, about our recent move to Three Hills, about missing the forests and working at whatever I could find, though I was a teacher by training. 
We munched our food. My fruit and raspberry muffin, his toast piled high with jam alongside dripping eggs and bacon, sausages, orange juice, the works. He was making short work of his meal.
It was funnily companionable, and I glanced around wondering if anyone had noticed this unlikely breakfasting. If they had, they probably thought nothing of it. Just two people eating. 

Later, after he had left, I thought about it. The invitation probably wouldn't have worked with just anyone. Having spent some time overseas, he would have known how to talk to strangers, how to be calm and make himself understood. He was confident but not brash. On the other side, me, who has always felt pretty comfortable meeting new people and being in new situations. It could have been awkward, or downright strange, or even slightly creepy, but it wasn't. 

He finished up, and I went back to the buffet for a few more strawberries. Or something. When I came back, he had paid and was going to savour a last cup of coffee. I learned that he was working at a construction site close by, and stopped here for breakfast almost every weekday morning. He said it kept him going all day, as he liked to work straight through. I asked a bit about the work, what they were building. We chatted pleasantly for a few more minutes.
He had to get going, though, he was expected to start work at 9 am. 

The Breakfast Guy did tell me his name, but I've since forgotten and anyway wouldn't share it, obviously. He stood up and thanked me again. Said he wouldn't have had time to find food anywhere else and would have had a miserable and hungry morning, and he was grateful. I said think nothing of it. Why should I sit here, hogging an entire table? It was lovely, I said, and I hoped he would have a good day. We said goodbye. 
When the waiter came closer I asked for the bill. The first session of the day had undoubtedly begun and I should get in there. The waiter told me that the gentleman had paid my bill, and my eyes watered suddenly. He must have done it when I was at the buffet! How very nice. I supposed we were even, now. I smiled. 
I didn't feel like leaving the table, the moment, for some reason. As soon as I stood, and plates cleared - his messy egg and hash brown dishes, my small plates of crumbs,  two empty coffee cups - the story would be over and everything tame and sane once more. 

I walked into the conference and sat quietly, listening to the speaker. I felt a bit outside of things.  No one knew about my breakfast story, that a complete stranger had become a friend. I felt warm inside, like my heart was really in there. I thought of how amazing people and life can sometimes be. If you see them, that is, and invite them to sit at your table.