Once I started working at The Grill, I met a lot of people; people way different from me: a super tough-cool girl who had her own brand-new blue Mustang, The Gang, and grown men who had too much to drink. Once Mom and Dad came in. Of course I knew them. Still, having them as customers was way different then having them as parents.
I worked the evening shift, which was the busiest. Days were slower, so less running around, but fewer tips and more chores like raking the parking area and washing windows, and cleaning the trays. Maybe that’s what made Brenda, the day car-hop so darned grumpy. She got to pick the day shift, so she should have been happy, but Brenda rolled her eyes every time I came in to relieve her, counted out her tips, threw her apron on the counter and took off in a flash. Sometimes the Mustang-Girl gave Brenda a ride home. I never knew that girls name: she had raven hair down over her shoulders and when she laughed she tipped her head back and shook it making her hair ripple in shiny waves. Mustang-Girl was Brenda’s good friend that’s for sure. Even so, I never saw Brenda smile or toss her hair back in the confident way Mustang-Girl did. Maybe her smile muscles broke. I never saw either one of them with a boy. That raven-haired Mustang girl was so confident, she was perfect all by herself. Besides, with a car like that, she didn’t need a boyfriend.
Sometimes grown men came in after work. Once a drunk guy almost killed Hazel, the cook. He was so drunk, he kept turning his blinker on instead of putting the car in reverse. He turned the right blinker on, revved the engine, and went nowhere. Then he tried again, only with the left blinker. Hazel’s grill was right in front of where the drunk guy parked. If he ever got thought to use the gear-shift, and stepped on the gas like he did with the blinkers, he’d go right through The Grill and crush Hazel in the middle of a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich. He was so drunk, he didn’t eat his food, or take his change. That was the biggest tip I ever got, besides the Loving Spoonful album.
The Grill was a little ways from The Blue Sky Drive-in where XXX-Movies got played. That’s why lots of guys came there: on their way to the movies. I never went to The Blue Sky because those kinds of movies were Condemned by the Catholic church and forbidden by Mom. Still, the time Mom and Dad came to The Grill, they were on their way to the Blue Sky.
“Where do you want to go tonight.” Dad said to Mom.
“No where,” she said. “Let’s just stay home.”
“Oh come on. we can go anywhere you want to go.” This was a little trick Dad played to wear Mom down so she would go where he wanted to go. He just kept asking over and over, until she finally gave in. This time, she decided to call his bluff.
“Okay, then let’s go to the Blue Sky,” Mom said. She should have known better after all those years with Dad. He drove her right to The Grill, ordered his favorite for both of them: hamburger with everything and chocolate malted milk, ’cause The Grill had real malted, not just shakes, and then he drove her over to The Blue Sky. I found out later that he went in the “out” drive because he knew she wouldn’t stay and he wasn’t paying a whole $1.50 each just to stay a couple of seconds. Dad was sort of cheap like that, and a pretty bad tipper, too. I imagined Mom kicking her feet at the floor, all slouched down in the seat and squealing ‘Deee-ean!’ just like she always did when she tried to be upset, but at the same time she just had to laugh at the things Dad did.
Mostly guys came to The Grill, most of those guys were in The Gang: Animal and Killer were my favorite. Animal was my very favorite, but Killer worked in a funeral parlor and promised me he’d get me in to see an autopsy some day, so I was especially nice to him.
Deanna worked in my place at The Grill for one week, so I could go to cheerleaders’ camp. That’s after she was no longer a cheerleader and I was, which I never did quite get over. It was probably some sort of mistake in tallying up the votes, ’cause there’s no way I could get to be a cheerleader and not Deanna. Still, Deanna told me to shut up any time I brought the subject up, and she clenched her jaw down tight, just like Mom did when finished discussing. Anyways, Mom told Deanna, ‘sisters always help sisters’, so she was forced to substitute at The Grill when I was at camp. Sisters help each other, even when it’s hard. After I came back, every guy that came into The Grill wanted to know who was that cool girl who worked for me. Killer wanted me to introduce him to Deanna, which of course I agreed to do right that very night because she was picking me up after work. Killer and Animal and some other guys from The Gang showed up right at closing time.
“Deanna, this is my friend, Killer,” I said, standing beside his car. I was proud to do Killer a favor because he was planning to do one for me someday, and besides he had great blue eyes, and a smooth smile. He sort of reminded me of that guy from Rebel Without a Cause that I saw on late night television, when I was babysitting.
“Get in the car,” Deanna said to me, without even looking at Killer.
“Never, do something like that to me again,” she said with her eyes looking straight ahead and her skin rippling up the side of her jaw and disappearing into her hair.
“But,” I said, “He just wanted to meet you. He’s nice.” Not a peep came out of Deanna the whole way home.
That’s okay. I learned a lot about people, working at The Grill. People are like light through a prism: Different colors are revealed, depending on how the light shines on them. Sometimes I am a good judge of people, and sometimes I’m lacking. Mostly, I trust in the goodness of people until they proved me wrong. Most times, that never happens.
Killer never did make good on his promise to me. Still, he promised to love Deanna for a lifetime. They’ve been married for forty years. She’s had a career as a nurse, and he as a school administrator. Right now, he’s helping New York improve their school system.