Old Home Café: The Next Generation

By Edward Floden, based on characters and situations created by William D. Fries, Jr.

Episode XX: Saturday Morning Thunder

(Originally published in The Legend-News of 2003 July 7.)

Another early Saturday morning at the Old Home Café, and Jon was working on the books. He’d commandeered Booth 1 on the Main Street side and the table was spread with receipts and statements, surrounding his 3-year-old PowerBook. The ’Book’s battery was at 50 percent, but Jon estimated that he’d finish before the reserve power notice popped up.

Larry was in charge of the grill today. Jon could hear the sizzle of something being fried; judging by the lack of a new customer in the past fifteen minutes, he guessed that Larry was trying his hand at another breakfast creation. Jon hoped that, whatever it was, it was more edible than last week’s chocolate-chip sausage pancakes.

The new waitress, Anne, was working the floor. Every few minutes a call would come for a fresh cup of coffee, and Anne cheerfully responded. She was a week-and-a-half into her new job, but she was another of those summer hires — like Larry and the Jerrys — that wouldn’t be around two months from now. School would be calling them back. For Larry and his brother, that school was the University of Omaha, which wasn’t all that far away; they’d said that they’d stop by on weekends, if they had the chance. But Anne? She would be returning to a place even further away, in — what was it? Summerdale? — California. She had told Jon that she was travelling east, just to see something that was less superficial than Southern California. She hadn’t told him why, but she just decided to stop in Pisgah and settle down for a few weeks.

Jon entered the last of the week’s financial information into his FileMaker Pro database just as the battery level decreased to 15 percent. Time for a recharge, he thought, as he gathered the papers and PowerBook and carted them back to his office in the back of the kitchen. Next week he’d send out the database to his accountant in Des Moines, and hope that he’d figured everything correctly. He wished that he had a local accountant to do the job.

As he walked past Larry, he glanced at the grill and decided to not ask about the strange yellowish-green blob that appeared to be boiling in a slick of oil. Larry looked happy; the blob looked disturbing. Jon thought that he’d have some relatively safe white toast for breakfast.

Outside, the throaty rumble of motorcycle engines was heard coming from south of town. Even back in the kitchen, Jon could hear it. He looked at his watch: 6:54 A.M. He was puzzled: since the first visit by the Sioux City Ramblers last month, he’d hosted quite a few bikers who were on their way through the Loess Hills, usually on a day run. But those groups usually arrived around noon; none had ever been here at seven o’clock.

Jon plugged in the power supply to the PowerBook and headed back out to the dining room, expecting a crowd of twenty or thirty bikers to be arriving shortly. Anne was busing a table. She looked up at Jon, nodded her head towards the sound, and looked quizzical.

“Don’t worry, we only get a nice clientel around here,” Jon said to Anne, as the first riders came into view and parked at the curb. Jon noticed the insignia on their jackets: as he suspected, these were the Ramblers, and Mike Solovic was among the first to enter the Café. “They’re professionals with a hobby.”

“Jonny!” cried Mike, striding into the room with his hand held out for a shake. He grabbed Jon’s right hand and pumped it hard. “Haven’t seen you in a few weeks. Got a moment? There’s something that we need to talk about.” Jon motioned towards the door to the still-closed Old Home Bar. The Bar wouldn’t be opened until 11. As Jon walked to the Bar, he passed Anne. “This is a larger crowd than I expected for a Saturday. If you need help, get me,” he said, and pushed through the swinging doors into the Bar.

Mike followed. “What’s the problem?” asked Jon, taking one of the red leatherette stools.

“No problem,” said Mike. “Not for me, anyway. For you, maybe. We had a meeting last week,” he said, flipping a thumb towards the crowd in the other room, “and we’ve decided on a new schedule for our weekends.

“The Ramblers started out about ten years back as a group of newly-graduated college guys looking for something to do on the weekends that didn’t involve wearing a monkey suit and bowing and scraping to wizened old rich guys. We may look like outlaws, but we clean up real nice."”

Jon glanced over at the denimed, leathered and chromed customers in his dining room, sporting their do-rags and Ray-Bans and chained wallets. Yeah, at first look they’d seem threatening. But they really did seem too clean for an outlaw gang.

“Anyway,” Mike continued, “One of our traditions has been a Saturday run. We form up on the south side of Sioux, about 6 o’clock, at Lewis & Clark Park. Then we head down the Interstate for about ten miles and go east on 141 to Denison. We stop for breakfast at a pancake house over there on U.S. 30, then get back out on the road to somewhere. But last week we got some bad news.

“The restaurant that we stop at is closing. Thirty years in the business and the owner’s retiring. His kids don’t want to take over, and he hasn’t found a buyer. So as of next Friday, we’re out a place to go and we’re looking for a new one.”

Jon pointed a finger at himself. “Me? The Old Home Café? Isn’t it a bit small for your needs?”

Mike shook his head. “Nah, not a all. We’ve got every one of our members here today, all forty-two. They’re here to check you out, or couldn’t you tell?”

“I had noticed that a lot of them were actually reading the menues,” said Jon, observing the activity in the dining room. Anne was busy scribbling on her pad, and she didn’t seem to be as cheerful as she was ten minutes ago. “And I think that I’m understaffed for this. Can we continue this conversation later?” asked Jon, rising from his seat. “I’ve got to help Anne, or we’ll never get your people fed.”

“Not a problem,” said Mike, as he and Jon exited the Bar. “Talk to you later,” he said, slapping Jon on the back. Mike sat at the counter. “And how about a cup?” he asked Jon.

Jon slipped behind the counter, put on an apron, and grabbed a pad and pencil and a carafe of coffee and poured a cup for Mike, then hit the dining room. Anne may have been swamped by the sudden influx of customers, but she was handling it well. Jon asked “What tables haven’t you done?” and she indicated the booths on the north side. Jon quickly worked his way down the row, and within the next five minutes everyone’s order was down and revolving on the wheel at the passthrough from the kitchen.

The coffee level was running low, so Jon popped into the kitchen to get another can of Folger’s. As he pulled the can from the shelf, he watched Larry at the grill. Larry was almost dancing as he flipped pancakes, scrambled eggs, and caught the newly-browned in mid-air as it popped from the toaster.

Toast in mid-air? “What did you do to the toaster?” Jon asked Larry. “Those last two slices were at least ten inches into orbit!”

“A slight modification,” said Larry. “It’s easier to catch ’em on the fly than to have to pull them out of the slots.”

“Ever miss any?”

“A few; but that’s what the basket is for,” said Larry, showing Jon the wire catcher behind the toaster. “I miss ’em, it catches ’em. No loss, boss.”

Jon shook his head and returned to the counter and prepared three more carafes of coffee, then helped Anne to deliver the food orders. Inside of fifteen minutes, all of the guests had been served. Anne took a break, sitting at the register, while Jon tapped Mike on the shoulder and re-entered the Bar. “So you want to make the Café your regular Saturday stop?” Jon asked.

“That’s about it. Can you handle thirty or forty people, every Saturday morning at 7?”

Jon though about it, but very briefly. “At the moment, no. Business hasn’t been heavy, and until today I’ve only needed one regular waitress. I can hire a temp, at least for Saturdays. Yeah, the Old Home Café can handle your type.”

“Just what I was hoping to hear,” said Mike. “Deal,” he said, and shook Jon’s hand again.

“There’s just one detail, though,” said Jon. “Parking. Your people are taking up every space on the block. Could you have them park on the slab out back? There’s a lot more room.”

“Let’s see it,” demanded Mike.

Jon led Mike out through the back of the Bar, through the kitchen, and out the back door to the lot on the north side. “The concrete’s cracked a bit, but we’re keeping the weeds down. The entrance is up the driveway on the east end of the building.”

Mike nodded his acceptance of the arrangements. “Not a problem. We can get forty bikes in here, at least.” He stepped over the east driveway and looked towards the street, thirty feet away. “You might want to put a ‘Bike Parking’ sign over there,” he said, pointing to the dirt strip between Main Street and the sidewalk. “Just a suggestion. And, by the way, what’s this?” He stopped at a small mound of coins that lay on the concrete slab, about ten feet from the northeast corner.

“That,” said Jon, “is the World’s Largest Pile of Loose Change.”

“You’re kidding.”

“It’s a tourist attraction.”

“Yeah? How many tourists have seen it?”

“About 80. I can check the logbook.”

Mike toed a nickel that was at the edge of the pile. “How much cash in here, then? About thirty bucks, I’d guess.”

“28 dollars and forty-three cents, and that’s not counting about twenty non-U.S. coins,” said Jon. “Want to know how many coins, of what denominations? I’m keeping records. As soon as I install a web camera, I’m putting on the Internet. ‘Watch it grow’, and all that.”

“Are you planning to charge for admission?”

“No. But you can contribute to the pile, and we’ll put your name and donation on the roll of contributors. Got any spare change?”

Mike considered the offer for a moment, then delved into his right front pocket. “Forty-three, no, forty-four cents. Just toss it on?” he asked.

“One moment,” said Jon, as he ducked into the kitchen only to quickly return with a receipt book. “How many coins do you have?”

Mike sifted the coins in his palm. “Two dimes, three nickels, and nine pennies.”

Jon noted the amount on a sheet, which he tore from the pad and handed to Mike. “Your receipt, sir,” he said. “You may now toss,” which Mike did, his coins clinking on the pile.

“Twenty-eight dollars and eighty-seven cents,” said Jon. “Thank you for your support.”

Next: Prelude

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