We drive around searching for a place open late.
“There’s sure to be a restaurant with after midnight hours. This is a college town, after all,” Mom mutters. I spot a possibility.
“Look, Mom. How about that place?” I point to a corner restaurant. Large windows wrap around the outside revealing several couples sitting in booths.
“Okay, we’ll give it a try.” Impressed with her smooth parallel parking, I get out and appreciate the night life surrounding me. Couples and groups of twenty-something year olds walk past me going somewhere. I am smitten with temporary jealousy. No curfews. No apparent concerns. No parents. Okay, to be fair, my parents are low-maintenance, and if anything is a concern, it’s probably my parents wondering about my lack of any type of social life.
Mom breaks into my thoughts. “Mitzi’s, huh? Part two of our adventure?” Mom laughs, joining me on the sidewalk.
“Sure, why not?”
Entering Mitzi’s is what Mrs. X calls a paradigm shift. When my parents do go out to eat it‘s usually what I call “safe“ restaurants. The types of places where Dad recognizes the menu choices, not being intimidated by the décor or the clientele. Or by the servers. Dad winces when he sees anything pierced beyond earlobes. Dyed hair doesn’t rattle him too much, nor do tattoos. It’s funny to watch him watch someone with a facial piercing. He unconsciously rubs a finger across that part of his face. I wonder if he is trying to mentally erase it away. I think Dad would have been out of his comfort zone here.
As we look around, wondering if we seat ourselves or grab any place to sit down, I can’t help but think I’m doing an Alice entering Wonderland or Dorothy landing in the land of Oz. It would be an understatement to say Mitzi’s is an unusual restaurant. First of all, the color scheme must have been done by committee. One section sports bright turquoise walls with beach decorations. A red and white life preserver, the type that looks like a white Life Saver with red paint strips and ropes, hangs on the wall next to an orange and yellow towel. Whoever decorated this wall had assembled what looks like a day’s beach outing. On the towel is a novel “The Beach House,” and a bottle of Coppertone PF 30. Next to the towel is a cooler , which makes me marvel at the feat of genius of attaching that to the wall. At the foot of the towel is a pair of flip flops, and a blue and purple bucket with a red shovel in it. The whole scene looks as if the person had decided to go splash in the waves and would return shortly.
The other two walls are as just amazing. One appears as a college dorm wall, or at least what they think a college dorm wall would look like. There‘s a Beatles poster, the Abbey Road one, a bulletin board with memorabilia like ticket stubs, photos, stickers, car keys, etc, and a banner of the local community college. Most two year colleges don’t have dorms. Northland CC built some a couple of years ago and it definitely increased the student population. The room is built around an actual flatscreen TV. I like this wall the best.
The third wall isn’t as creative, yet it is also interesting. Instead of an organized theme it has framed photos, letters, things like keys, and souvenir postcards. Mom pulls my elbow, pointing to a table. The server brings our menus and asks if we want anything to drink. Mom asks for coffee and I say water with a twist of lemon. I learned a long time ago that restaurant water can be the worst water in the world and a squeeze of lemon can effectively hide the taste of over-chlorinated h2O. I am not a coffee drinker. Cocoa might be a possibility. Maybe I will get one anyway. Lots of whipped cream on top.
“What looks good?” Mom opens the menu and we read the variety of salads and sandwiches offered along with the chili and soups. Burgers are available too. The Mitzi sounds daunting: “Two sumptuous beef patties accompanied by thick palette-pleasing tomato slices in the presence of crisp romaine leaves with the perfect amount of Mitzi’s extra special sauce, a generational family secret.”
“Sounds like they hired you to write their menus, Mom.”
“Does sound yummy, doesn’t it? Too much for me though. I don’t think my sweet tooth is as hungry as I thought. A bowl of chili sounds delish. How about you?”
I scan the selections. Waffles. A Belgian waffle with strawberries catches my eye. The only waffles we serve in our house involve a carton and a toaster. I point. Mom nods. “That does sound good.”
The server wanders over to our table and I wonder what it would be like to have a job where you constantly meet strangers, yet become acquainted with them in an instant. For a few minutes you have to establish a rapport, being all friendly and ready to give them whatever they need, even if they prove to be a pain in the rear end. Considering it’s after midnight our server looks like she could go another two hours on her supply of upbeat energy. Some people must come naturally caffeinated.
“Hi. How’s it going? What would you two like tonight?” We give our orders, which she nods at, then takes our menus and tucks them under her arm. “Be back with your orders in a flash. While you’re waiting feel free to play with the table toys.”
Table toys? There they are, patiently waiting in a basket next to the napkin container. There are three to choose from: one of those skill puzzles where you have to roll the silver bbs into parts of the picture, like eyes on the kitty cat; a mini Etch a Sketch, and a wooden Tic Tac Toe set where you spin the blocks to make your mark.
“I’ll play you a round of Tic Tac Toe,” I challenge Mom.
Years of playing solitary Tic Tac Toe on my school notebook paper, done out of partial boredom and in hopes it looked like I was actually busy and would deflect any undue attention from teachers, has helped me perfect the art of Ticing Tacing and Toeing. I win three games in a row before our food arrives.
“What a great idea,” Mom says to the server, holding up the Tic Tac Toe game.
“Yeah, it’s one of our little idiosyncrasies. Being a college eatery means we have to need a gimmick to draw them away from all the other places. People of all types like the table toys. We sell most of them up front if you’re interested. Enjoy!”
Left to our food we d0 little talking. We are both hungrier than we thought. Five bites into my waffle, which was about the size of my geometry book, I realize how tired I really am. I glance at mom’s progress on her chili. She is slowing down as well. She glances at me. We both laugh. “We’re a couple of lightweight party girls, aren’t we? Come on, let’s finish what we can and then we better get home before we turn into pumpkins.”
Scooting out of our booth, I manage to glance up at the wall above us. The photos and letters are all signed to Mitzi. Looking closer I see the photos are old-time celebrities like Cary Grant, John Wayne, Audrey Hepburn, even Bullwinkle and Rocky. They all sign their names to the inscription: “To Mitzi“ and then sign off “Regards, sincerely, best wishes, etc” and their name. Who is this Mitzi?
“Everything okay?” our server, now cashier, asks us.
“Very nice, thank you,” Mom pulls out a twenty for our bill. I busy myself looking over the table toys for sale in the glass display case. She hadn’t been kidding. “You want one, don’t you?” Mom elbows me.
“Yeah, I actually do. Can we get that Tic Tac Toe game that was at our table? Kind of a momento of our wild night out?”
Mom points to the game and our server/cashier rings it up. “Can I ask a question?” I direct to her.
“Is there a real Mitzi? Doe she really know all those people in those photographs?
“That’s two questions,” she laughs, “but only one answer is needed. “Yes.”
“Really?” Mom and I say at the same time. We all three laugh.
“Yeah. This used to be my grandma’s place. It was basically a diner, a fairly popular one in its day. I used to come and hang out after school and when I got old enough she put me to work. She had grown up in California, near Hollywood, when Hollywood was the old Hollywood, not like it is now. That was when Hollywood stars actually lived around Hollywood. Grandma Mitzi told me stories how she and her cousin Frankie would sneak onto the movie lots and try to get whatever celebrities they could find and get their autographs. Eventually they got jobs on the lots too. Her parents had owned an orange grove and Hollywood kind of grew up around it and as Grandma’s parents got older and wanted to downsize their life, they sold off parts of their land holdings. They did pretty well, as you can imagine. They eventually passed away, and my grandmother and her two sisters sold off the rest of the land and the house and moved here. By then Hollywood was changing. Grandma didn’t like the changes so she packed up her car and drove until she met up with a town with more trees than people.
“She ends up marrying a guy who became a logger and has an early heart attack. Grandma decided to put her grief into this business by working. She was a young widow with three kids, but that didn’t slow her down. She put a playpen in the backroom and kept an eye on them while she dished out soup and flipped burgers. They in time helped her out before moving onto their own lives. Mom moved away briefly to got to school, missed the town so much she came back with her business degree, stayed on, got married, raised me and my sister, and when I got old enough I began to help her and Grandma out. I’ve done just about every job here. Except the bookkeeping–I’ll leave that one to my mom. Grandma died a couple of years ago and this is my inheritance, since my sister took off for New York and didn‘t want anything to do with serving pie with a smile all day. Mom still does the books, but she sold out to me.”
“Wow,” Mom said. “That’s quite a family story. You should print that up with your menus.”
Our server/cashier waved off her suggestion. “Nah, who would be interested? Besides most people around here know all about Mitzi’s. We don’t get that many out-of-towners.”
“So you are kind of a landmark?” Mom asks. I notice that inspirational lightbulb starting to form over her head.
“Yeah, I suppose we are. Probably fifty years. It’s definitely changed in style over time. Grandma would most likely have a cow about how I’ve decorated it, although she was pretty cool in her own way. I keep the one wall as a sort of a memory of her life.”
“My husband is a free-lance writer and I bet he’d do a story about your place. And I’m a copy writer and I think you should write your story up with your menu.”
Our server/cashier’s eyes widen. “I guess it’s my turn to say “Wow.” She folds her arms across her chest and nods, warming up to the idea. “You think it would be interesting enough for people to read?”
“I do. Tell you what, here is one of my cards. Think about it and contact me. We can work things out. Could you handle the boost in business? He’s a darn good writer.”
“Yeah, sure. We have a decent flow, but it’s always nice to keep things going. I’ll do that. I’m Mitty, my version of Mitzi.” She holds out her stand and my mom shakes it.
“I bet this is your daughter. How’s it going?” I nod to show everything’s good.
A couple come up to pay their bill. I notice we are now the last couple in the place. I poke Mom to let her know we should leave. She clues in.
“Email or call me. Okay?”
“Okay,” Mitty smiles.
Mom and I make our way out and we notice the neon “Open” sign no longer glows a welcome. I looked at the sidewalk clock. Cascadia is into that renovated Victorian type architecture and the street lights are old-timey looking and across from us in the bricked pavilion area is a large town clock.
“Omigosh, Mom-it’s after 2 am.”
“I think our pumpkin has come and gone,” Mom laughs.
“I think so too. Ugh. I can barely think about driving an hour home. You up to sleeping in the car tonight? Just kidding,” I add, laughing at the expression on her face. “Seriously though, I’m tired.”
“Hey, wait a minute. Hold this.” She makes me hold her bag purse while she digs around in her wallet.
“Mom, did you lose your keys? Check your coat pocket. I saw you put them in there.”
“No, no—I got those. I remember I have something. Wait, wait. Here it is. Okay, let’s see if they’ve got one around here. I think I saw one by the freeway entrance. Come on.”
The one thing about my mom that is how random she can be. She can get totally unglued about little things like leaving clean, unfolded laundry on the living room couch, and then other times not bat at eye if I bring home a D on an a test. Sometimes she can be calm and understanding. Other times I hide in my room because she‘s all freaky around the edges over dumb, insignificant stuff. I think deadlines make her a little crazy. Tonight she was fun. It makes up for all those other times when she gets unreasonable, tense and picky.
She’s quick-walking to the car, and I’m trying to keep up with her.
“This will be so cool if I can find one. Come, on, get in, sweetie. The adventure continues.”
- Tic Tac Toe ⋆ – Optime Software LLC (itunes.apple.com)