Café Seating

Okay, this past weekend was hotter than Hades. Here in Chicago, we broke records for consecutive ninety-degree days this late in the year.

But last weekend – well, it was perfect.

The temperature, the infinite deepness of the blue sky, not having obligations that needed quick attention, feeling that, although perhaps months away from recovery, I am actually making progress on the use of my arm and hand after my July accident – all these things led me to decide I needed to take myself out for breakfast.

I didn’t just want to go anywhere. I was in no mood for a quick bagel or Starbucks fix of sugar and caffeine. I wanted to go somewhere where I could sit under a big umbrella and watch the neighborhood enjoy the perfection of the September day. I wanted café seating and eggs cooked differently than I make them at home.

I took myself to Glen’s Diner. The sign over the awning claimed the honor of being the best diner in the world. I don’t know about that, but sitting under one of their giant umbrellas near the Montrose Avenue el stop seemed to be just what I needed.

I somehow remember the first time I heard the expression, al fresco.

I thought it referred to a man named Al Fresco. I assumed he liked to go out to eat a lot because I always heard his name in conjunction with a restaurant.

When I traveled in Europe, I enjoyed spending time in outdoor cafes. Whether for a glass of wine, cup of coffee, or a full meal, the people watching, the buzz of being OUT — was as important as the menu.

In Portugal and Spain, in France — it seemed that people took public transportation more often, regardless of their station in life, and they took special pleasure in communal life.

People filled the pubic squares and plazas. Going to a café was not just for slamming down food. It was about having a place to view the world, to experience life happening around you.

When I chose a table, I situated myself so that the umbrella would block out the sun’s rays from their most direct path.

I took a few deep breaths and took note of the other patrons; a few young couples, the men in long khaki shorts and the girls in light summer dresses. There was a fit, older man at a table near the street, the Sunday paper spread out up to his coffee mug, which was refilled frequently. Everyone seemed to relish the simple pleasures of Sunday breakfast out.

As I reviewed the menu, I remembered a friend telling me once that he didn’t care for the place. I realized that review might have kept me from trying Glen’s years ago. I decided to reserve judgment until I had my own experience.

I had a meatless version of a benedict; poached eggs with fresh tomato and fresh spinach, under pale gold hollandaise over an English muffin. They threw in one of their signature potato pancakes. A nice breakfast plate.

I enjoyed seeing my waitress bustle about, running between the kitchen and the outdoor seating section. No one chose to sit inside with the weather so perfect. She seemed happy and acted so graciously. Wearing a Rosie-the-Riveter tied bandana, jeans and black tee decorated with Glen’s logo, she obviously liked to answer menu questions and be of service.

I found myself amused by the condiments that were arranged in the middle of the table. Fifties style glass salt and pepper shakers with metal tops sat next to a molded plastic tray holding individual Smucker’s jelly packs. There was ketchup and tobacco sauce.

A single red carnation stood upright in a small bud vase, matching the color of the geraniums in large planters along the black wrought iron fence around the perimeter of the café seating section.

Someone came by regularly to top off water glasses.

I recall feeling in no hurry to leave. I felt I had everything I needed.

What a strange realization — that I could be so content by so simple a situation.

Eating outdoors, when the weather is perfect, and seeing your contentment reflected in the faces of your own neighbors, is no small thing.

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