Last Saturday I awoke early, turned on CNN, and groped my way toward the shower. The room was dark, and the news even darker: The New York Times was alleging the president had made a deal with Russia, Robert Muller was continuing his investigation moving ever closer to the administration, and a 28-year-old woman in Arizona who had been in a persistent vegetative state for years had just given birth to a baby boy. Hoping to cleanse my system of some of this bad energy, I stepped under the hot water and scrubbed vigorously. The gloom didn’t want to release me. After listening to CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, or any of the other major news outlets, one might rightly conclude the watchwords in America have become chaos, disaster, and decline and---hope, prosperity, and goodwill have been banished from the land.
It was the weekend and I was in Salina, Utah, with my wrestling team. We had completed a full session the day before and would soon be heading back to finish the Battle of the Pound, hosted by the Gunnison Valley Bulldogs. My young charges were still asleep as I stepped out of my room and into the cold January morning. It would be another hour before the boys were stirring, and I needed to start the day with a hot mug and warm bread. Pulling up the hood on my San Juan High School Wrestling sweatshirt and sidestepping the semi-tractor-trailer rigs inching across the large parking lot, I headed across the street to Denny’s.
Outside the diner, a few Dodge pickup trucks with lift kits and large wheels were parked. Wondering what I might find inside, I stepped boldly in. A Twiggy-thin, late-sixtyish waitress wearing a metal name tag, which proudly proclaimed “Margie,” noticed me and said, “Come on in San Juan.” Margie wore a standard issue uniform and had her hair pulled back into a ponytail. Showing signs of a hard life under her bubbly exterior, she was still attractive and had somehow maintained a great deal of her youthful energy and faith in humanity. It was obvious she was not weighed down by the news of the day.
Other than two older gentlemen sitting at the bar, the restaurant was empty. “Mind if I sit at the bar?” “No, not at all. Scotty, move over,” Margie commanded. She was firmly in control of the situation. Scotty, dutifully moved to the left, making room for me. Bobby, the other man, who had apparently just returned from a trip to the toilet, asked, “Where’s my breakfast?” Bobby and Scotty were likely Bob and Scott in their more mundane lives, but to this director of the dining room, in her space, she made the rules. “I thought you were done,” she replied. “Well, damn it, I wasn’t,” Bobby gently castigated. “You want to take this outside?” she asked, stiffening her back. “No, no. I think I really was done,” he retreated, “where’s my bill?” The manager walked through nodding his head, approving the situation. It would not be a stretch to say that everyone in the room had a deep fondness, even love, for the others. That was the America I knew.
Having satisfactorily concluded her issue with Bobby, Margie looked directly at me and smiling slyly said, “What’ll it be . . . Honey?” "May I have a cup of coffee and some wheat toast?” In this place, it was coffee straight up; no mochas, lattes, or expressos. And the toast was thinly sliced Wonder Bread, butter on the bottom; no nine-grain, cracked wheat or other designer loaves served here. Nothing fancy about this cafe, just solid Middle America values and value, something we all could use more of in our daily lives.
Lingering over my breakfast, I soaked in the tenderness these individuals had for each other. Each had clearly worked hard over the course of their lives and it showed in the lines on their faces and the gray in their hair. Nobody, however, had become hard or calloused. Nobody had become bitter or mean. Here was respect and emotional nutrition we all crave at this time in our history, at no extra cost. Finishing my meal, I left a large tip on the counter and walked out, wishing I had the resources to leave something that would be life changing for Margie, something she deserved for all her years of fearless struggle. There was, however, the mortgage, bills, and tuition to pay, so that had to wait for another day.
As I walked back towards the motel, a Dodge Ram crossed in front of me. A large rack of elk antlers protruded above the truck bed. The window was rolled down, and Arlo Guthrie could be heard singing, “Good morning America, how are you. Don’t you know me, I’m your native son.” With the images of Bobby, Scotty, and Margie stuck in my head, and Arlo ringing in my ears, I knocked on the doors of my wrestlers and told them it was time to rise up. America was waiting for us to do our part.