I’ve had an amazing day, last night was shockingly unusual and wonderful and memorable however I am not going to write about anything else from last night or today to make sure I tell the following story properly.
I apologize in advance, this will probably come out flowery, I don’t know how to write.
Most of you know that I like podcasts, a lot. At different times in my life they have been an amazing voice of friendship. The very first podcast that ever hooked me, the one that convinced me that this was an art form, was an episode of “This American Life” from Nov of 2000.
In Nov of 2000 “This American Life” sent a squad of staffers to the Golden Apple Grill in Chicago, a 24 hour greasy spoon neighborhood anchor that everyone should know about. The staff spent an entire 24 hour period in the diner, talking to each and every guest, from 5am to 5am, and then assembled an amazing series of stories from these interviews.
I loved it so much that I immediately burned it onto CD to listen to in the car, over the years I must have listened to ’24 Hours at the Golden Apple’ 30 times, it is my go-to podcast when people ask what they should listen to. I always said when I visit Chicago for the first time the Golden Apple would be a must stop.
Last night, around midnight, with just an hour to spare between plans, I popped into the Golden Apple for a slice of coconut creme pie, I met Mary, Mary is a lifelong waitress, open and happy and wonderful, I didn’t mention the podcast (it was 17 years ago!) but had a really great hour with her.
Tonight I popped in again, around 11pm and was relieved beyond belief to see Mary working, she remembered me and sat me at my table from last night. We started talking, I told her where I am from and why I am in town, I asked her how she was doing. Mary sat down across from me and explained that she had buried her father this afternoon and that when I met her yesterday she had just come from his wake, she said a few times how she needed to be at the Golden Apple this week and called it home (in the podcast several families mention that they have instructed their young children, if they are ever lost, to ask to be taken to the Golden Apple).
I don’t know what to write, I choked up, Mary told me about her dad (88 years old, the best man she ever knew) born and raised in Chicago, doing everything he had to in order to support 8 kids. I told Mary about my own family and my parents, her immediate concern over their well-being and her questions about them choked me up immediately again.
Mary suggested the chicken noodle soup and the burger, I’m not all that hungry but am thrilled to eat whatever she suggests.
The chicken noodle soup is awesome, the coffee is diner great and the burger is classic.
On the podcast there is a discussion about how the dessert tray had recently stopped rotating and how sales were down since it broke, the manager promised it would be fixed in a week.
The dessert tray is not spinning tonight, 17 years later, I ask Mary if it spins and she mentions that long ago, maybe 20 years it used to but that it hasn’t worked in a long time.
I’ve been here a few hours now, the restaurant is alternately busy and quiet and if I lived here I would be here constantly. I had originally had a long list of questions from the podcast that I wanted to ask someone (the 17 year olds from the podcast would be 32 now!) here but it seems now like it would be out of place.
Mary came by once more before I left, we chatted a bit more and she held my hands, she said “You’re worried about me, I know, I’m ok, I will take a few days off next week, will I see you again?”.
I lingered until I run out of excuses not to leave and eventually headed back to my hotel before the trains stopped running.