“Hey, Buddy! How have you been?”
The voice seemed to float out of thin air. It bore the tone of familiarity – the sweet pitch of a friend found.
Looking up from my menu, I was surprised to discover that the greeting was meant for me. Crouched next to my table was a young woman of maybe 19 or 20. From her blouse, her apron, and her note pad, I realized that she was my waitress.
“So, Buddy, what will it be today? Can I get you something to drink?”
“A glass of water, please. And a grilled chicken salad.”
“In a hurry today, Buddy?”
“Just a long day on the road with another 3 hours before I’m home.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll get you fed and on your way.”
As she walked toward the kitchen, I wondered, “Have I met this woman before?”
In a few moments she was back with my water. “So, Buddy. Are you glad to be going home?”
I nodded. She smiled and headed to the table on my left to clear some dishes. I noticed the people at the next table watching me.
Self-consciously, I began what I hoped was a less than obvious inventory of my person. I ran my right hand lightly over my hair – most appeared to be in place. I rolled my tongue around my front teeth – nothing apparently protruding. A quick glance down showed all buttons buttoned and all zippers zipped.
About that time, my waitress, “Sabrina” her nametag said, reappeared with my food.
“Here, Buddy. I know you’re in a rush, but do me a favor and enjoy this.”
My neighbors were watching again. Sabrina slid the plate my way, unrolled my silverware and handed me my napkin. “I’ll be back to check on you in a minute.”
I ate my salad in silence. When she returned with my check I had to ask, “Have we met before?”
“I don’t think so, Buddy. Why?”
“Because you call me ‘Buddy’ like that’s my name and like I’m somebody you know. And I haven’t heard you call anyone else ‘Buddy.’”
The neighbors were leaning our direction, waiting for her reply.
“I call you ‘Buddy’ because you’re alone. People shouldn’t have to eat alone. I’m all you’ve got today. Everyone else in my area has a friend.”
She was right. I was the only customer in her area dining solo. My neighbors were nodding. They turned back to their lunches, satisfied.
“Thank you,” I said quietly.
“You’re welcome, Buddy. Take care.”
“You, too, Sabrina.”
As I headed down the highway, I thought back on this unusual, but pleasant, meal.
An hour later, I stopped to buy gas at one of those throwbacks in time – a service station where you can’t pay at the pumps. As I entered the door, the attendant looked up from his sack lunch. He was dining alone.
As I slid him my credit card, I gently spoke, “Hey, Buddy! How have you been?”