One of the holiday traditions Linda and I have, for one reason or another, developed over the past few years is to go to the Saugus Cafe on Christmas Eve morning for breakfast.
There’s nothing particularly festive about the Saugus Cafe. They don’t serve Panettone french toast or hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks and I don’t think you could get an eggnog there if you begged for it.
What they do serve for breakfast, and not just on Christmas Eve, is bacon and eggs, chicken fried steak and biscuits and gravy. Good, old-fashioned, stick-to-your-arteries comfort food, with heaping helpings of trans fat all smothered in cholesterol.
Yes, they serve breakfast, oh, and beer.
The Saugus Cafe is not without its charm and does have a bit of a storied past. They’ve been serving hardtack, jerky and hot coffee to cowboys, train robbers and various other drunkards since 1887.
Located along the Southern Pacific Branch line the building itself looks much like a rail dining car.
Inside, strong light spills onto the tables in booths along one side, diffused by picnic-basket-checkered drapes as 18-wheelers and Harleys roar past on San Fernando Rd.
Sipping burnt coffee from one of these booths you can almost feel the rocking of the rails and imagine the stands of live oaks and hilly, California countryside rolling by outside the window.
Last Christmas eve morning, Linda and I sat in one of those booths, contemplating the mayhem the next two days would bring over the last crust of a rye toast.
As we debated our own Christmas menu and exactly which brie goes best with Lebanese fig spread and candied walnuts, I noticed a rather elderly couple in the booth next to us.
Though not their real names I’m going to refer to them as Glenn and Lillian.
Finished with their breakfast, Glenn and Lillian sat quietly for quite some time except for the occasional tink, tink of Lillian’s spoon in her teacup.
Lillian was small and smartly dressed with her raincoat buttoned all the way up to her floral, silk scarf. Her pure, white, fresh-from-the-beauty parlor hair was neat and tidy with not one curl out of place and her bright, red lipstick was heavily applied without being smeary. There was a faint scent of Aqua Net.
She kept her hands folded and fingers intertwined as she continuously stared a hole into her teacup.
Glenn was large by any comparison and sat straddling the bench, one leg inside the booth, one out in the walkway. He wore a pair of shoddy, denim, carpenter pants stained by paint and steak sauce. His threadbare work boots were loose and untied, the frayed laces tangled in knots.
A holey, white t-shirt made no effort to conceal his bulbous middle.
Just then, a waitress cleared a few dishes and placed a bottle of Budweiser on the table. Glenn picks up the bottle and takes a long swig from it wincing almost as if in pain as he places it back on the table.
A few minutes pass and he exhales loudly as a way to camouflage a belch.
“Joe’s daughter Mary got married last weekend,” he spouts loud enough to be heard in St. Louis.
Lillian’s response is a speechless and muted, tink … tink.
A few more silent minutes go by save for a breathy belch or two.
Then Glenn picks up the Budweiser and takes another long swig this time recoiling as if he’s just swallowed gasoline as he puts the bottle down.
“Ehhhhhhhhhhh … heefffffffffffft.”
Another minute of silence passes before Glenn asks a question. The question is really more an acknowledgment and a protest.
It’s a question to which they both know the answer, but neither know the explanation.
“Where’s the time go?”
Tink, tink, tink.