On My Own

October 16, 2012

This memory never fades: the sound of the cook’s spatula clanging on the spacious griddle, his occasional cry of “Seaboard!” (code for to-go orders), and the smell of sizzling onions. I watched him from a swivel stool at the counter of the Royal Castle burger joint in Maitland, Florida in 1967. I was 16. It was Saturday, 7 a.m. or so, and I was waiting for breakfast: two eggs over easy, grits, bacon, toast, and coffee. The meal cost nearly as much as I would earn in the next several hours working in the yard of my fifth-grade teacher, which I did every Saturday morning until leaving for college. My brothers said I was nuts to stop at the Royal Castle those mornings and spend so much of the $5 she paid me for the hot, dirty work. But the allure wasn’t the food. It was sitting at the counter with plumbers, contractors, and other blue-collar types. Outside, my father’s 1962 MGA, top down, hinted that I wasn’t one of them. It didn’t seem that way. I felt independent, alone but not lonely. I was making my way in the adult world, if only over breakfast with real working men. For for the first time the path ahead looked not so treacherous.