Monday, November 25, 2013

An Hour at Mickey's Diner

Downtown St. Paul, November 2013

We enter the restaurant just before 5:30 p.m. The row of red-covered counter stools is empty. There are four booths at the right end. The one in the back is occupied by a black man who's transferring a takeout order into styrofoam pods.

At the table in front of his there's a 20-something couple with a 5-year-old girl. The man is white with short, brush-cut brown hair and a large tattoo on his neck. Kind of beefy but healthy. The woman may be biracial, a bit overweight, with sandy hair and a crocheted sweater. The little girl is very blond, contrasting her magenta headband and sparkles in her dress.

We sit in the first empty booth, across from the family.

The black man leaves soon after. We overhear some of the conversation among the family members, mostly the man ragging on the little girl to behave and the woman telling her not to drink all of her Orange Crush before their food arrives. No, don't, not now, they say.

Their food arrives, and they eat for a while. During that time, three white men whose appearances would label them as homeless enter the restaurant and sit in the booth behind us in the back corner of the room.

They're all bearded, with weather-beaten faces and clothes in varying degrees of dirt-grind and odors to match. At least in their 40s, possibly their 50s. One looks a bit less downtrodden than the other two, but he has a strong smell of alcohol.

They look at the menus and decide what they're having. One guy puts a cigarette in his mouth and for a moment we worry that he's going to light it, but he goes outside to smoke it.

While he's gone, the waitress takes their order. One guy asks for a half-pound bacon cheeseburger. The second wants steak and eggs; this is the guy who is outside smoking, and his friends guess that he prefers wheat toast to accompany. I didn't hear the third guy's order. The smoker returns just as the waitress is leaving, and she confirms that he does indeed prefer wheat toast.

I think that's when I realize they are interesting.

I overhear some of their conversation. Their vocabularies are decidedly not limited, especially compared to what I was hearing from the young man and woman across the aisle. I hear one of them say "magnitude." They discuss fire and safety issues in a building. One of them says something about the Veterans Administration. They sound like any three guys who have interests, sitting around with friends, talking about whatever comes to mind. Meanwhile, one of them is making funny faces at the sparkly little girl.

She and her parents soon finish eating and leave, the grownups grousing at her all the way out the door, and their table is quickly cleared. Two young white women sit down at the counter near the booths and order milkshakes. (Chocolate-strawberry was recommended because the restaurant uses fresh strawberries.)

Not long after, a white guy in his 30s comes in with a little boy who appears to be his son and sits at the just-vacated table. A waiter ascertains that they are waiting for a third person, his wife. The dad says that it's the little boy's birthday, and his son wanted to celebrate at Mickey's because they drive past the restaurant frequently and he loves the building. (A future architect or graphic designer!)

Just a little while later, one of the homeless guys gets up from their table and stops beside the dad and son. He asks the little boy his age, and the boy shyly holds up two fingers. The homeless guy then produces two dollar bills and gives them to the little boy as a present. The dad is very gracious and thanks him, trying to get the shy one to speak, which he never does, but that's okay. We all know how little kids can be with strangers. The guy returns to his seat and he and his friends finish eating, still talking.

I realize the homeless guys are discussing hundred dollar bills. One of them says something like, "It's been so long since I've seen one, I've forgotten what they look like." Another one says, "I don't remember which president is on it." (At which point I thought to myself -- it's not a president, it's Benjamin Franklin.)

The waiter brings the check to the back table, and ours as well. As we finish our food, one of the guys goes up to pay at the register. We get in line behind him, and I notice he's paying their $27 tab with a $100 bill. The cashier holds it up to the light and scribbles on it with ink, checking to make sure it's real, I guess. The guy leaves a $10 tip because the cash drawer doesn't have enough change. He seems glad to do it.

I say happy birthday to the little boy before we leave. The two young women with the milkshakes smile at me.

We go back into the cold night.


Photos from top to bottom: (Sightseeing in St. Paul)

Liv Taylor

Wild and Wayward


Oh, and here's what Mickey's Diner looked like when the Republican National Convention came to town and the city was turned into a police state:

Photo by Veterans for Peace


Ms Sparrow said...

Thanks for the visit to Mickey's! I have never been there and a friend told me I shouldn't go because there are homeless folks hanging around. I guess the "homeless" aren't that big a problem>

David Steinlicht said...

Lovely slice of life blog post. Thank you.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I haven't been there in several years, but you've captured much of what I remember: a diverse group of customers with a diverse range of attitudes, but all on good behavior.