Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Cultured Breakfast

When I used to live less than a mile from a Steak and Shake, I’d often go there for breakfast on Saturday mornings. The waitresses knew me and exactly where I’d want to sit – near the two tables scooted together where all the retired men had their conversations. I’d sit there with my cup of coffee, a notebook and a pen trying to catch snippets of their conversation. It made good background for dialogue.

As I sat there one Saturday, a dark-haired man took the small booth in front of me. I noticed that he contemplated the menu more than usual and then called a waitress over. As I listened in, he asked her what might be on the menu that contained no pork and that wasn’t cooked in a container where pork had been prepared. The waitress shook her head, confused, and tried to help him work it out. I didn’t hear what he ordered, but it made me curious.

As I was leaving I said, “Hello. Are you a vegetarian? I overheard you ordering.”

“No, I am Muslim,” he said. “Would you like to sit with me and talk?”

“Yes,” I said and took the seat across from him at the small booth. In a post-9-11 world, this might have been considered strange but I didn’t consider it anything but solving my curiosity. We talked about many things. He had a lovely smile. Eventually, he asked, “Do you feel uncomfortable sitting with me.”

“No,” I said--and I didn’t. But I remembered it.

As the conversation closed, he scooted my bill to his side of the table and bought my breakfast. I thanked him for his kindness and never saw him again. Later I learned he owned a motel in a nearby town.

The entire experience came about because I eavesdropped. I learned a bit about his culture, had a very interesting conversation and a good breakfast thanks to a very kind man.

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