Rashida Maddox was pissed. On a normal Tuesday morning at 2am this place would be clearing out of the normal contingent of stoners, street people, and dorm-rats looking to stretch their allowances from home and she would have had clear sailing until she was out of here by 5am, before families starting arriving with their kids for breakfast time. She already had her tables swept and the aisles mopped, with all of the syrup dispensers and ketchup bottles refilled. She was hoping for at least an hour with her Business 101 textbook that was tucked open behind the counter to cram for a test in her 8 o’clock class. “Why did I sign up for a class that early again?”, she thought as she watched two Asian guys in army surplus getups come in and grab a table in Trish’s section over by the restrooms. Because she was eager to take a full class load, and because she had filled out the class schedule at registration way back before she had found this job on the night shift, that’s why. She wouldn’t make that Freshman mistake again. That is, if she made it through Professor Wilson’s test tomorrow and made it to Sophomore year.
This wasn’t a normal Tuesday at the Green Street IHOP in Champaign though. People were starting to stream in and find tables. Rashida was picking up from the chatter that these were campaign workers, coming in early to carbo-load before training for a month long voter drive push to the election next month. Some were talking about the phone banks that they were learning how to set up. One guy was making out lists for the drivers that would be picking up people and taking them to the polls to vote. One girl she recognized from her dorm had stopped by earlier in the shift and asked her if she was registered to vote and if she would be voting for the Democratic Party candidates. Probably, Rashida thought. Perky girl was that inspiring with her enthusiasm and with her admonitions about how important this election was for their generation. Probably. If she voted, that was. First she needed to study. Then get through her exam and three more classes. Then sleep off this graveyard shift. The election was an eternity away.
The only other person in the IHOP not talking about the election was the agitated young man that had been her only customer from midnight to now. He was picking at his food and making a mess of his plate. Half talking to himself, half singing bits of ACDC songs, as a tic of sorts. Cute, she thought. White dude, but dateable. He was obviously not one of the stoners that she had to fend off night after night. In fact, he had hardly paid her any attention at all. He didn’t make eye contact when he ordered his food, or at all for that matter. He was just closing his cell phone after an animated conversation when she swung by his table with the check.
“Can I get you anything else, honey?”
“I’m good”, Steve said. “I’m waiting for someone now. Can I hold off on paying until she gets here?”
“Okay, that’s fine. I’m here awhile longer”, Rashida said. Maybe the girl that was coming would have money for a decent tip. “ If you need anything, just ask.”
“Coffee? Can I switch from diet to coffee? I like coffee.”
“Coffee it is. I’ll be right back.” As Rashida went to retrieve a fresh pot of coffee, she saw the hostess seating a tall guy in the booth next to her customer. One guy, by himself. There wouldn’t be a big tip there either. If she was going to have to wait on tables instead of studying for her exam she wanted large groups, preferably large enough that the tip would be added to the bill automatically. Oh well. Another shift gone.
Tucker slid into his booth up against the wall. He liked to take the side with the best view of the room where he could indulge in people watching as he ate. Well, half of the people anyway. Okay, he wanted to girl watch while he ate. He couldn’t care less how many men were in the place, like the agitated young man with his back to Tucker in the next booth. Waitresses caught his roaming eye, as did the women in the election training group. He wouldn’t agree with them politically, of course, but that didn’t keep him from enjoying the wonderous beauties of a woman. He was a man, after all, and yes – men are dogs. Woof woof.
Being generally antisocial, Tucker liked this time. He liked eating alone. He liked entertaining people, but didn’t necessarily want to eat with people. He had discovered in his time on the road that this was not true of everyone. His girlfriend – stop! his ex-girlfriend he had to remind himself again - would never even think about going to a restaurant to eat alone. Many would not. They would be mortified with embarrassment, or bored, or both. What’s up with that, he thought. He was fine with the solo dining experience. He looked forward to it, in fact. This was his time to think through how the stage show had been and to purge it from his mind and move on. It was his time to plan and to organize the trip that he had planned for the next week or so.
Tucker was excited about his road trip to Chicago later in the day. He had planned it for a while, coordinating it online with his blogger buddies, some of whom he was going to meet in person for the first time. What would they really be like, he wondered. It’s hard to tell from internet chat only, especially when their common bond online was so narrow. They were all film afficianados, and all film industry wannabes. Robert Ingvall was their common bond, their one degree of separation. They had all “met” in the comment section on Ingvall’s excellent blog where they had passionate – but civil – discussions of film quality, methods, and meaning. What an eclectic bunch they were!
“What can I get for you this morning, sweetheart?” Rashida asked, interrupting his musings.
“Well, hello darling”, Tucker replied with his stage charm. It was a natural reaction to people now. He wanted people to like him. It was an occupational hazard. It wasn’t all fake. He really did like waitresses, and appreciated the hard job that they had in the service industry. He had been raised to know that part of character was in how you treated those who were waiting on you, and they would always find a friendly face in Tucker. “Given what time of night, or should I say morning, it is I am thinking breakfast will work. How is your breakfast special?”
Rashida appreciated the friendly face at this point in her shift. She might just linger here for a minute or two, before heading over the service the self-absorbed electioneers. “It’s the best in town. Cheap, too. Can I get you some eggs, honey?”
“Three eggs, sausage – patties, not links – some hash browns and toast will do it for me. Wheat bread for the toast. Not coffee, though. I need to sleep in a bit. How about just water for me?”
“How do you like your eggs?”
“What’s that called with the runny yolk? Over easy, is that right?”
“That’s it, baby. I’ll get that right up for you”, Rashida said in a flirty style. Better for tips, and this one might be good for a tip.
“Take your time. Rashida, is it? Take your time Rashida. I’ll be here a while.”
Where was he. Oh yes. Thinking about seeing his online friends this week. A good bunch of friends they were.
Robert Ingvall was their guru. The grand poohbah. The man. He was their guiding force and their linchpin. Robert set the discussion, always, with his blog articles and on the social media. The group were just commenters, but as a group they were pretty good commenters. Civil to a fault, even when they did not agree, and with something useful to contribute to the discussion. Tucker stood out in that group as the lone conservative, as the discussion often turned political even if it started with film. But, Robert welcomed him on the blog – welcomed even dissent – and the commenter community for the most part took him in, if only as a sparring partner. No doubt they thought Tucker unusual given his affinity for the Liberty Movement, inexplicable to their way of thinking. But that was mutual. Weren’t they all, Tucker thought, all unusual characters in their own right?
Teddy certainly was. A character, that was for sure. Teddy was a horse rancher in northern Indiana. Just across the state line from Michigan. Michiana, he called it. Ha! Teddy had lived quite a life, and that life came through loud and proud in the comments section. Teddy had been both an academic and a wanderer in his early years, traveling on the fringes of the counterculture movement in 60’s America. He was literate. He was poetic. He was philosophic. Mostly, he was a force of nature. Until you knew how to take him, Teddy could be quite intimidating. Once you knew him, he was a friend for life. And Tucker had met him, last year out on the road at a show. Teddy was in the audience laughing his hearty laugh. They’d had quite a memorable time after the show talking politics and science and Ingvall.
Some of the others he had met in person about this time last year at the Chicago International Film Festival. Tucker only had time in his schedule for two days at the Festival, but he made the most of those two days. He tried to have a full immersion experience not only in film but in the festival experience. He would be surprised if any other civilian at the festival had a fuller experience than he did. Tucker willed it, and did it – with some planning.
Part of the planning included meeting up with online sparring partner John VanDemeer for dinner and a movie. John was a professor at Notre Dame in South Bend, and the two of them spent many a night online debating science topics like Darwin. Oh, the Darwin threads! They went on for days and months, resolving little but fun nonetheless. Tucker was a lone defender on the threads of a concept called Intelligent Design, which Robert Ingvall admired and encouraged. Even though John greatly outmatched Tucker in credentials in the field, he never flouted them and they debated into the night. John drove over and met Tucker downtown Chicago for dinner that night and then for a movie they both bought tickets for. A French film with subtitles, he remembered, about a duel among military re-enactors. A wonderful film. The kind of film that neither John nor Tucker would have seen without the influence of Ingvall. As luck would have it, they encountered Robert Ingvall in lobby of the AMC Theaters and told him of their experience. “You two are here together? Really?” he said, thoroughly surprised. The picture of the three of them together that night was priceless to Tucker.
Hope Yang, from Seattle, was there at the festival last year too. As was Silvia Toceau from Quebec and Ibrahim from St. Louis. All were there in relation to Robert Ingvall, and he had gotten to put a face to an outline persona for each of them. Friends first, blog arguments were a distant second when you are enjoying the experience of watching quality films together.
Tucker had indeed had the full immersion experience at CIFF last year, and he was hoping to repeat that again this year. He had two tickets in his car to events at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival, starting tomorrow night for opening night. Tonight, he reminded himself since it was already early morning. He had two tickets for several films that he had chosen from the program for the festival’s run from October 12 to the 25. An eclectic mix of mainstream Hollywood fare, foreign films, documentaries, and even a silent film. He had two tickets, pricey ones at that, for the main opening event - a dinner honoring a Chicago hometown boy made good in the film industry – one Mr. Robert Ingvall – who was at the Festival with a new movie that he had edited. Tucker was excited for that event, and was hoping for a moment to say hello and shake hands with his online friend – no, his friend – Robert.
Two tickets. He had two tickets, and that was a problem. He had bought the extra ticket for his girlfriend Jenna. Stop! Ex-girlfriend, he reminded himself. The breakup was still fresh, and he wasn’t adjusted to it. What would he do with the extra ticket? Hmmm. He would figure that out when he got to Chicago. Maybe he could sell the extra to someone outside the theater.
He looked around for the lovely Rashida and his food as he pondered the dilemma of the extra ticket.
“Here you go, good lookin’”, Rashida said as she slid his three egg special across the table to him. “You enjoy that.”
“And here he is, Miss”, Rashida said to the tall cute blond girl that she had brought with her. “You can sit right over there.”
Miss Kappa slid into the booth opposite the agitated young man in the booth next to Tucker’s. “What can I get you, honey?”