December 1st, 2014 | Published in this mortal coil
I appear to have eaten at Oliver’s Cafe about 90 times since March, 2012 (can’t account for a few cash transactions). I ran the Quicken report that told me that through a quick script to count how many of those visits were on a Sunday (“Dad and Ben breakfast day”): Harder to know that because the date of the transaction going through varies from the date the transaction happened, but it must be about 70.
Ben’s got a usual: 2 scrambled eggs, a sausage patty, a cinnamon roll and a cup of decaf. He settled on that after a streak where he was all about the bacon pancakes, which are incredible but also torpor inducing. Lately I’m all over the place. The coffee is a constant, but it’s hard to choose between all the scrambles and omelettes, plus the occasional bacon pancakes or plain old hotcakes.
When we first moved here, the space Oliver’s is in was occupied by Le Sorelle Café. You could get coffee and pastry and panini there. We’d stop in on Sundays after going to the farmers market. Le Sorelle didn’t last. Coffee in Lents, in general, does not last unless it’s being served out of an espresso hut. That’s a shame, because until the neighborhood is ultimately overrun by people like me, it’d be nice to have a slow but steady coffee place to go work at now and then. We had that in the form of Lents Commons, but it fell apart pretty quickly because it was never meant to be a coffee place: The owners wanted it to be a performance space.
Oliver’s has been at it for a couple of years now, and I hope they’ve cracked the code for remaining viable in Lents: They’re only open until 2 each day. They’re not even attempting dinner service.
Anyhow, this isn’t its Yelp page, where it is mostly appropriately revered by the neighborhood.
Ben and I have been walking down there most Sunday mornings for a while. It’s about 10 minutes from our house, so we’ll go all but the worst days, unless we’re feeling lazy and don’t want to get out of our pajamas.
Some days, we don’t say much. Other days, Ben wants to talk about World of Warcraft or something he saw on YouTube. This last Sunday, he was curious about elections and what it would be like if we had more than two major parties. “Winner takes all” was pretty easy to explain. Proportional representation was helped along by our recent Munchkin Cthulhu binge, because forming a coalition government in parliament is exactly like agreeing to gang up on a level 16 eldritch horror in exchange for a cut of the treasure.
When we get there, we’ve got a few preferred booths over on the east side of the restaurant, where it’s more isolated. Our waitress this past week is new — or new to Sundays — and she’s only seen us four or five times. She was visibly disoriented when we had to sit over on the west side in straight-backed chairs like a pair of chumps, though.
So, most of the wait-folks there know us pretty well by now. Ben still delivers his order each week like it’s going to be news to the waitresses. I’ve made more of an effort to mix it up ever since I caught a waitress starting to write my order down before I spoke it. The next week I deliberately broke my rut and there was an expression of polite surprise that I wasn’t having the omelette.
After I left the newspaper — my first job after college — I ended up in a burger joint for a while. On the days I had the lunch shift, there was a group of three mailmen who’d come in every day. They ordered the same thing every time, and one of them brought exact change every time. The first time I served him his burger I forgot to apply some discount the owner had made up for mailmen and there was a diplomatic incident. I never got the comfort of that routine because the three of them were pretty sour-faced guys. I just saw them sitting there eating their burgers in silence, maybe tipping a curt nod at the counter person on the way out, back to their routes.
I’ve certainly had routines since. Al & I were regulars at the Barracks Road Mister Donut in Charlottesville, VA on Sundays: chocolate angels to go with the Sunday Times for a long while. The fall and winter she was pregnant with Ben it was me going over to Jae’s Low Beer Price on Belmont for ice cream sandwiches, Diet 7-Up and the big box of Dots (which were fresh maybe one time out of ten, which always provoked pleased exclamations).
But I’ve got a weird thing about my routines being picked up on, too. It can feel strange and intimate, and I think about those mailmen and how little I knew about whatever they did besides eat burgers at the College Mall Road G.D. Ritzy’s in Bloomington, IN and (I hope) deliver mail, and how flattened out they seemed to me.
Sounds a little neurotic when I see it there in black and white, but there it is. Most major demons and powerful wizards are similarly particular about people knowing their true names, let alone their preferred breakfasts.
But with the exception of adjusting my ordering habits now and then to appropriately reset expectations with the wait staff at Oliver’s, I don’t mind being a regular there so much because the other half of things I think about in the process of regularing there is my childhood:
Several moves around town before I was five, a big move from Texas to Pennsylvania before kindergarten, cross-town moves and a few elementary schools, a move to Chicago, then back to Pennsylvania (way down the road from where we’d been before), then Indiana in the middle of eighth grade.
I recently did the math, and realized that this time in Oregon — since July 6, 2001 — is the longest I’ve lived in any state my entire life by a couple of years. We’ve been in this house just a few weeks over 5.5 years, and that’s the longest I’ve ever lived in a single house.
I’m not going to say moving around a lot was bad for me. I got a lot from it, especially because it was all so varied: suburban Chicago, dairy country in Pennsylvania, small-town Indiana, Texas, suburban Pittsburg. Lots of experiences — jumping up from dinner to help our host birth a calf out back in the barn! — and lots of people of all kinds.
But it was also kind of lonely. The Pennsylvania farm kids hated the accent I picked up in Chicago. The small-town Indiana kids didn’t really care about hunting much, and my hunter’s ed certification badge wasn’t really a mark of achievement to them. The Chicago kids — I guess they all went on to become John Hughes characters, but I don’t know because I only knew them for this little slice of their grade school lives. I had friends but they didn’t last, and I didn’t ever learn to expect them to.
So when Ben was getting ready to start kindergarten, we decided to make up our minds about where we’d be living, and we picked our house partly because we could see the elementary school he’d be going to from the front porch. I was pretty set on the idea that we’d be looking from that porch to that school every morning until middle school. That on Ben’s first day at middle school, he’ll be in a new place with friends from that school. And that when he starts high school, there’ll be familiar faces in the halls that first day — faces he’s known for almost as long as he can usefully remember anything.
Ben went on this Lady Gaga kick a couple of years ago. He loved her makeup and costumes, and “Born This Way” just sort of resonated with him. He got marked as a weirdo for it, and there was some trouble at school briefly. A group of mean girls started a playground “Ben’s a fag” campaign and he got pushed around. We briefly freaked out — I took six months of that kind of abuse from a bunch of farm kids in Pennsylvania in eighth grade — just five or six punches on the arm or in the gut every morning before gym for six months straight — and it sucked. We’d managed to “win” the elementary school lottery, though, so we could have picked another school to transfer him to the next year. But the thing we learned from the teacher when we talked to her about it was that Ben’s friends had all stuck up for him, and even if there was some stuff going on from a few shitty little kids, after the first shoving incident his friends had all just surrounded him and kept him safe. I thought about it some and realized transferring him to another school would just mean starting over, and maybe not making those friends he’d need before a mean girl clique over there decided he was a weirdo, too.
All of which is to say, that’s part of what we bought — that sense that the best school is the one his friends are at. I have to randomize my breakfast orders to keep from — whatever would happen if I let myself be known that way — but Ben gets to walk into a place where sometimes we hear the waitress behind the counter say “the guys are here,” and he can have his usual.