I left Angel’s Haven at ten, bound for Lodi. After a year of living tiny on the California Delta Loop, I’ve found my groove, smooth and strong. Adjustments can always be made, but the clear sense of direction for which I’ve constantly yearned finally steers me.
As I slowed for Korth’s Pirates Lair, a gnawing emptiness cramped my belly. I pulled into a parking space near the dock and crossed to the restaurant. The young men behind the counter nodded, the gentle and universal bob of every country server everywhere. I walked through the dining room, thinking to take a two-top by the wall.
Good morning, isn’t it? came a voice from near the window. I paused. An old man lifted his coffee cup, another unmistakable gesture. I took a step in his direction and agreed with his assessment. A few exchanges later, the server at my elbow, I lowered myself into the empty chair beside the man and ordered coffee, eggs, and toast.
I offered my name, and he mentioned his. He took my hand in a firm grasp, drawing my eyes to his face. My eggs arrived as I listened to his tale of moving to the Loop twenty years ago; of his friendship with the owner of this cafe; of his two cats and his little trailer, and the comfort which he feels in the slow easy embrace of Delta life.
About twenty minutes into breakfast, I realized that he had told me the same story several times. I squinted, focusing, and saw the unmistakable struggle for words; the little wince; the sideways glance. I understood: Time had been kind to him in many ways, but not in the steady march towards a fog which the brightest, warmest Delta dawn cannot disperse.
But his charm remained. He spoke of his daughter, whom he struggled to name, who lives nearby with her boyfriend and works in a factory by the tunnel. I know which tunnel — the Caldecott, over two bridges and almost to Oakland. As he talked about his life before the Loop, I noticed a small notebook and a pen sitting near his plate. Every once in a while, he scribbled a word — my name, the notation “tiny house”, the state from which I come, the identification of which evoked a vivid response: “The Show-Me State!” He wrote that too. I could not have been more humbled.
I rose to pay the bill, wondering if I should offer to get his breakfast. He said, Perhaps I will see you again? I printed my phone number on a fresh page. He removed the sheet, and handed me the notepad.
That’s yours, I said, as softly as possible.
Oh, yes, he replied, and carefully slipped the torn page back between its covers. I shook his hand again, and he earnestly asked, Do you live on the Loop?
I told him, yes, I do, and identified the park in which I live, as though I hadn’t already done so several times.
Maybe I’ll see you here again, he suggested; and I smiled. I’m sure you will, I promised. He pointed to the cat outside the window, which we had already discussed, and which I knew had followed him down the road.
That’s my cat, did you see him?
He’s a lovely cat, I assured him, just as sincerely as I had done the first two times. He seemed pleased. As I left the restaurant, I watched him through the window. He bent his head low as he carefully recorded some essential detail in his little book. I thought about waving, but in the end, turned, got into my car, and continued the journey into town.
It’s the twelfth day of the sixty-first month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.