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02/01/2002 Entry: "Open 24 Hours."

I was on my own for dinner tonight. I got home late from work, and set my bag down; didn't bother to take off my coat as I looked through the freezer, the fridge, the cupboards. I know I don't want to cook for myself tonight. Pick up my keys and wander out for food, and for variety's sake, walk over to King Diner on Mission for the first time in the four years since I moved here.

The manager prods a slighty pudgy latino man over to the register. He smiles shyly, which immediately endears him to me. I give him my order—Gardenburger ("With cheese?" the manager prompts; sure, why not?) side of fries and a side of onion rings, because if I'm going to eat poorly tonight, why not go all the way—he writes it all down on an order slip that he's going to hand to himself in a minute to prepare; "to-go" is indicated with a big arrow. The manager coaches him through ringing up the total. Change is handed to me wordlessly. I say "Thank you" and get the same shy smile again.

I stuff a couple dollars in the slot built into the counter for tips and sit on a red vinyl booth seat that doesn't have a table near it.

A couple of guys walk in and start talking to the manager about reserving parking spaces in their parking lot. One of the two is kind of attractive, but he's wearing expensive looking shoes. Uptight looking shoes. I'm being judgemental, I think, assuming he's an uptight dot-com BizDev type just because he's dressed kind of preppy. They're trying to talk down the price, and they want signs or something so that they're always available. And how their small office nearby will bring in so much more business at lunchtime.

I wish there was still a Doggie outside of the place.

A man comes in talking on his cellphone. He really wants to see someone tomorrow, but he doesn't have anyplace they can go, or so he says. He scratches a two-day-old goatee and looks at the menu, tugging loose fitting cargo pants up a little. The guys in nice shoes step aside from the register. "How long has this place been here?" the other one asks. (I try not to think "Good cop, Bad cop.") At least 35 years, the manager says, though he's only been there for 15. Mr. Cellphone orders a steak sandwich, pays, and goes outside, never putting the phone down.

The employee, who looks happy to be away from the register, is finishing my bag of grease and starting the next order. I think we're waiting on the onion rings. The brass railings catch my eye— flat endcaps, one each reflecting gold from the lights, red from a vinyl bench, and black from the BizDev Guy's Polar Fleece jacket. I look around, at this morning's donuts still in the case, at the unplugged jukebox, the tray left on a table, when movement outside catches my eye. Mr. Cellphone is taking a piss through the chain link fence next door, in plain view of the restaurant. Those windows are tinted dark, though, and it's dark out, so I can only see him standing in pee position, and his stream of urine barely glinting in the streetlight.

He hasn't put down the cellphone. He cradles the phone with a shoulder and zips up.

My onion rings are done. The employee puts them in the bag and nods to me. "Gardenburger," he says, and then he clams up.

"What else is in there?" the manager asks. "You got the rest of it in there?" I can't quite tell if he's trying to get the employee to speak more and be less embarrassed to talk in public, or if he's checking the order because they've been wrong before. I suspect the former. He gives me a final shy smile and tells us what we all already know.

The fries and rings were good. The veggie burger wasn't anything to write home about. And I think my keyboard is a still little greasy.

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