The waitress with the missing front teeth asked me what I wanted to drink.
The over 55 menu featured soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. I ordered the Santa Fe Skillet with eggs over medium instead. I asked for hot sauce. Cholula or Tobasco? Cholula. I noted that it was imported from Mexico. I wondered if Trump’s tariffs would jack up the Cholula price and protect Louisiana’s Tobasco industry.
The older couple at the next table were finishing their soup and grilled cheese. I assume they came in around 11 to beat the noon rush, as many older folks do. I don’t know their names, but will call them Norm and Norma. Both had gray hair, pale skin, and age spots. Both had canes. When finished Norma got up to go to the rest room. Norm stayed behind finishing his sandwich. When Norma got back she sat down to finish her meal. The waitress delivered the check and told them she’d see them back next week. They must be on some kind of circuit lunch routine. They then proceeded to rise from the table in stages, grasping their chairs and their canes. They shuffled towards the register to pay. I noticed Norm was wearing walking shoes with Velcro straps instead of laces. I reflected on how Velcro straps were easier for toddlers and oldsters to manage. At the register a kind gentleman helped Norm with his jacket. On the back was Stillwater VFW. I assumed he was part of the rapidly vanishing Greatest Generation, and that he had seen action in WWII. Now he needs a cane and shoes with Velcro.
The Hudson Wisconsin Denny’s is a chrome plated diner with a 1950s ambiance. Do-wop music and red and silver roll and tuck upholstered booths resembling 57 Chevy car seats. Nostalgia. My first car was a 57 Chevy. The engine was shot and I traded it in for a 62 Ford Galaxie 500 390 engine overdrive, manual transmission, no seat belts. Whoopee! A do-ron-ron-ron a do-ron-ron.
I looked around the diner and noticed the other patrons: A construction crew squeezed in a booth. More older couples. A pair of middle aged women behind me chatting it up. A few Hispanic looking dudes, who, I assumed, were part of the construction crew. Good thing we have Hispanics to supplement our construction crews. I’ve heard that fewer youngsters are going into the trades, and in the future if we want houses built, plumbing and electricity installed, landscaping done, and anything that requires the use of hands and backs, we’ll need to rely on immigrants. Apparently native born kids are all headed for college and desk jobs, destined to make a living in front of computer screens.
I wondered about the cooks and wait staff. They were all dressed in black and had name tags. The young woman with missing teeth who waited on me might have been attractive if she kept her mouth shut. I wondered if her boy friend had knocked her teeth out, or if she just lacked dental insurance. During a lull they all gathered around by the kitchen and appeared to be gossiping. I assumed that at a break some would go outside by the dumpster for a smoke. I speculated on what they did for fun. Maybe a night at the casino? But maybe I am stereotyping and they are all in night school studying to become accountants. Get off their feet and on to the desk job.
I hesitate to say this is Trump’s America, but speculate that if a poll was taken of the patrons and staff a fair number voted for him, if they voted at all. To call them deplorables is unfair. What I see are people who just want what we all want: a good job with benefits, a safe country, an opportunity. They feel left behind. Some of the oldsters fought for the country and saw their buddies die. They all feel threatened by what they see as the liberalization of America. They all want to make America Great Again.
So what do we have for them? Will tax breaks going to the top trickle down? A dicey proposition. Seems to me that we need a New Deal: Spending on infrastructure, education, and public works. My Grandfather worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. It took young men off the street and put them to work building bridges, planting trees, and other conservation work that still stands to this day. Where is our commitment to conservation? As we all age we will need many more direct care staff—nurses, personal care attendants and the like—to allow the elderly and those with disabilities to live in the community. Where is our commitment to enhancing that work force? We are the only major developed country in the world without universal access to health care. Where is our commitment to coverage for all? Many, like the staff at Dennys, are just getting by financially. Where is our commitment to assuring that someone who works full time can make a living wage with benefits? If the next generation of leaders—Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, can address these bread and butter issues, then I believe that a fair number of Trumpsters who drank his kool-aide will wake up and truly Make America Great Again.
In the meantime, life at the diner goes on. At high noon the regulars who came at 11 will be finishing up their soup and sandwiches, making way for the construction workers and others. The waitress with the missing teeth will be there to greet you. The placard at the table will advertise their pie slices, complete with the number of calories in each. Your American food will arrive hot and on time. The woman at the check out will ask you if you belong to AARP. I showed her my card and got a 10% discount. A do-ron-ron-ron a do-ron-ron.