I folded the note and put it in my pocket as I walked back up the beach to rejoin Smitty and Cam at the café. I was thrilled to hear from Edg, and I was excited about meeting this woman, Agnes. She had to be an exceedingly special person to have had such an influence on Edg and Pops. I admit that I would have preferred visiting Agnes alone, but since I’d committed myself to Cam for the day, I reluctantly decided to bring him along. As I got to the table, I noticed that my two dudes seemed to be tolerating each other well enough. Nothing appeared broken, anyway.
“Well, Cam, it looks like we have a lunch date up in Encinitas.”
Smitty clapped his hands, pushed his chair back, and jumped to his feet. “You boys are in for a treat. Agnes Golden is one of a kind, and that’s a shame for the rest of us. We could use a lot more just like her, that’s for sure.”
“Who is she?” asked Cam.
“You’ll see, Buck. Even you won’t be able to resist her charms.”
Cam looked at me.
I shook my head. “I don’t know her either, Cam, but let’s just say she comes highly recommended. And besides, we’re going to have to eat lunch anyway, so why not at The Wake-Up Call?”
“From the Wake-Up Pad to The Wake-Up Call, huh? Is that a coincidence, or does everyone in your circle of friends have a fear of sleep?”
“No co-inky-dink, Buck. Agnes named ’em both.” “Well, then,” said Cam the all-knowing sales god. “I’m sure this will be a treat.”
The Wake-up Call was on the main drag of Encinitas, just two blocks from the ocean. It felt like a small beach community diner but with an impressively brisk lunch business. As I searched for a parking space and scanned the bumpers of the parked cars for the telltale backup light, I noticed that the tables on the sidewalk were packed. The inside clearly was, too, because another crowd was hovering in front of the adjacent boutiques, waiting for their turn.
As luck would have it, and sometimes you’re just lucky, I found a spot three blocks south. Cam had suggested that I park closer in a delivery zone and that he’d pay the inevitable ticket to save time. Even though that was an interesting take on valet parking, I decided to play it legal. Besides, a short walk wouldn’t hurt either of us.
As we sauntered up the crowded sidewalk toward the diner, I gathered The Wake-Up Call’s clientele wasn’t the normal touristy bunch. Conversations throughout the patio were in full lunchtime swing and the wait staff moved effortlessly among the tables with plates of food, pots of coffee, and lots of laughter. I got the distinct impression that they all knew each other.
We made our way inside and found the hostess, who was dressed in a flowered T-shirt and khaki shorts and wrapped in a white apron with a name badge that said Mary Ellen in a friendly, festive script. Her blonde hair was pulled back from her perfectly tanned face. She appeared to be in her early 40s, although with her lithe, runner’s frame and youthful, energetic demeanor, it wouldn’t surprise me if she got carded every now and then.
“Hey, boys, welcome to The Wake-Up Call,” she virtually sang. “We’ve got about a thirty-minute wait right now. Shall I put you on the list for something inside, outside, or the first one that pops up?”
“Actually,” I ventured, looking around at the throngs of diners, “Edg sent us to see Agnes. Any chance you can get us in?” Name-dropping never hurts, although I always feel a little guilty trying it.
“Oh, that boy!” Mary Ellen chirped. “I haven’t seen him since Pops left us. How is he?”
“He seems to be doing fine.” True, as far as I knew. “I’m sure he’d appreciate your asking about him. Is Agnes here?” “First time at The Wake-Up Call, eh? She’s in the back booth, as always. And it looks like she’s alone, which is very unusual. Can I bring you a…” she sized us up and then pointed a finger at me and said, “a Diet Coke and” a finger at Cam, “a black coffee?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, surprised as Cam nodded in agreement. “How’d you know?”
“Just a little game I like to play. It’s no big thing, I’m wrong as often as I’m right, but it doesn’t stop me from guessing,” she laughed with a disarming burst of joy. “Come with me; I’ll tell her you’re here.”
As she walked us toward the back booth, I saw a tall, slightly plump African-American woman sitting peacefully in a cushioned bench against the wall. As we got closer I realized that “peaceful” was something of an understatement. She was, in fact, sleeping. Her chin slumped slightly toward her chest, and her short, otherwise thick, gray hair was thinning slightly on top, which I knew because that was pretty much all I could see of her as we approached. I marveled at how anyone could take a nap in the middle of all this chaos. Mary Ellen put her hand gently on Sleeping Beauty’s shoulder and she straightened immediately, blinking her eyes as though being aroused from a deep thought rather than a slumber. She had to be at least 90 years old, which for some reason caught me entirely off guard. Her dark face was deeply lined, and white, meticulously plucked eyebrows arched playfully over her gray, luminous eyes. “A couple of young studs here to see you, Agnes,” Mary Ellen winked at us. “Should I send them away?”
“Oh, you’re so bad, girl.” Agnes raised her perfect eyebrows at Mary Ellen as she chuckled. She looked Cam and me over as though sizing us up against that stud remark and then gestured for us to sit. I slid into the booth and Cam followed.
Smiling with her whole face, Agnes extended her delicate hand across the table and, feeling myself melting, I took it in mine. “And you are Farber. Don’t look so shocked, Smitty called to say you were coming. I know you have a first name, baby, so why do Edg and Smitty call you Farber?” “Not unusual,” I said, loving that she called me baby.
“Most people know me on a last name basis, I guess.” “Well, Steve’s gonna work just fine for me.” She turned toward Cam, who’d been conspicuously silent so far. “And who’s this handsome young man?”
Before I could make the introduction, Cam thrust out his hand and said, “I am the prisoner, he is the warden and this,” he swept his head around to indicate his surroundings, “is my jail.”
Agnes looked at Cam’s hand and hesitated ever so slightly before she gripped it in both of hers. “Oh, my,” she smiled. “My, my, my.”
You got that right, I thought/mumbled to myself.
“Call me Cam, though. Cam Summerfield.” He shot Agnes such a charming grin that I almost yelped in surprise. This dude could certainly turn on the charm when he wanted to. It almost seemed—and I mean almost—that he felt guilty about spewing his sarcasm on this innocent old lady.
Mary Ellen arrived with my Diet Coke and Cam’s coffee. I picked up my glass and took a sip; Cam did the same with his coffee, except he used his left hand, which almost caused us to have a midair beverage collision.
“You’re a lefty,” I said to Cam as Mary Ellen stood by the table. “I never noticed that before.”
“You got a problem with that, now?” he sneered.
“No, he doesn’t,” said Mary Ellen in my defense. “He’s just being observant, right?”
“Right,” I said. “Just like you.” I wondered if she’d read the same book I had.
“That, my friend,” said the hostess to Cam, “is a left- handed coffee cup.”
Yep. We’d read the same book, all right. Hal Rosenbluth, the travel executive, had once written a story about a waitress who would size up her customers and then serve drinks to the left side of her lefty guests. It was a great lesson in adapting to the needs of customers and not expecting them to adapt to yours, and I hadn’t thought about it for many years. It was cool to see someone actually putting it into practice.
Cam picked up the cup and gave it a dubious perusal. “Sorry. I don’t see the difference.”
“You’ve never heard of the left-handed cup factory?” asked Agnes.
“No. Can’t say I have.” Cam peered at her over the thick ceramic mug.
“There’s a good reason for that,” she said. “Which is?”
“There isn’t one, you silly young man.”
We all had a good laugh at Cam’s expense, which I have to admit, I very much enjoyed.
[Note: I’m excited to share my second book, The Radical Edge, in serial fashion here on SteveFarber.com! We’ll post one installment a week until the very end of the book. You can go back and read from the beginning here. If you ever get impatient and want to scarf the whole thing down at once, you can always just pop over to Amazon and satiate yourself.]