Monday morning – 8:30 AM
“Hey YOU! GIRL! Why are you yawning, EH why are you yawning? You think you have the right to yawn? I’ve been working my whole life and YOU’RE yawning! YOU have no right to be tired. IM TIRED!”
“Morning Martha, how are you today?”
“I’m going to call the labour division on you, you know, they will straighten you out! YOU are a bad worker, I’ve seen you. I’m going to call the boss and get you fired! I’m going to tell your husband you are a terrible waitress!”
“Martha, I’m not married...I don’t have a husband.”
“Yes you do, his name is Hank and he works at Tbaytel...and I’m calling him today to tell him how badly you do your job. He will not be happy, no he won’t.”
“Would you like some more coffee Martha?”
“WHY WOULD I want more coffee? You are so .... terrible service....” Her berating rant becomes muffled as I walk towards the back of the restaurant.
I would never marry someone named Hank.
Mornings with the Lane Lady are always tiring.
I slam the coffee pot down on the heater, and upon hearing the satisfying sizzle of evaporating water, let out a deep sigh that I feel will be the first of many. I jab my fingers into my temples: it’s going to be a long day.
Although I didn’t know her real name until I came to work at this small breakfast place this summer, the Lane Lady has been a figure in my life ever since I was a kid.
There is no complicated story behind her nickname, given that children were the ones to bestow it. Her “house”, a sad wreck of twisting weeds and garbage, backs onto a sundrenched, verdant lane, which would have been an ideal place to play, had one not been besieged by a surprisingly fast old woman, heaving brooms and profanities in your general direction. Thus: The Lane Lady.
The Lane Lady, when not guarding her lane, was also a prominent and popular figure on the side of two major intersections near my childhood home, as well as the restaurant I eventually came to work for. Here, one of her daily past times was, and still is, to hurl upraised, enraged fists at the passing cars. Although I don’t know her reasons in particular, it is clear if you watch her that there is method and technique to what she does...it is an art form. For any common vehicle that passes, one can expect to receive a simple but effective close fisted jab indicating her pointed outrage, reminiscent of a revolutionary speaker or perhaps dictator of a fascist country (either way it is very opinionated). Particular vehicles though, which mine was, would receive a special signal. She would first turn herself completely away from the road, showing the oncoming offensive object her back, and then in a feat of impressively swift and flexible manoeuvring, twist her fisted arm backwards and towards the vehicle, shaking aggressively without missing a beat.
So it came to be that when I arrived to work for my third waitressing shift: fresh faced, trained and ready to please, I was shocked to see the lane lady hunched at counter seat number 4, sporting the same grimy over sized blue trench coat I had seen her in for the past 12 years. Her grey hair matted around her face: etched with deep angry lines, which I imagine were the result of years of scowling.
“Wow she is really small close up”
That was my first thought.
Then I was sharply nudged by my supervisor.
“Have you served her before?”
She smiled broadly, obviously amused, “Have fun”.
This brings me to now, five weeks later, 8:30 am on a Monday morning: the beginning of a long shift. Martha’s sharp grumbling voice breaks through the rest of the murmuring early morning breakfast crowd.
I stand in the kitchen taking deep breaths, sweating from the humidity of the August weather, the hot grill, and the lack of a good air conditioning system. The frustration that usually subsides after being on the receiving end of a Lane Lady tirade does not dissipate and begins to form the hint of a migraine behind my eyes. I turn to glare at her from behind the shelves of the back kitchen. She has absurdly arched herself over the surface of the counter, straining to reach the garbage can meant for staff on the other side. As she reaches across the space she tosses each of her used creamers in, childlike, one at a time, watching them fall. These are then followed by her used napkin and her dirty paper place mat. Afterwards she picks up her grocery bags and begins to button up her coat, despite the balmy air.
I have never seen another customer throw out their own garbage and in the lacklustre dregs of a summer job this is a marvel.
As she shuffles away towards the exit, I am reminded of how, upon first seeing her up close, she had seemed so impossibly small and breakable. The frustration slips away then and I hurry to the front cash.
“Have a good morning Martha; it’s a nice day out today”
She turns to me with no spark of recognition in her eyes, and I think for a moment she is going to tell me to “Go get a job you lazy bum!” (one of her favourites). But instead the deep angry lines at the edges of her mouth appear to turn upwards “Yes, yes, yes, yes... very nice day out today, goodbye”.
When I drive home six hours later, reeking of eggs and greasy bacon, I roll to a stop at a red light. I wave to the dirty blue back and angry waiving fist of the figure resolutely positioned away from my car on the grassy knoll a few feet away. I laugh and then breathe out a long sigh, for what is probably the 42nd time that day.