Monday, January 9, 2006
Puttering Around the Pantry
There's one place in my town where you can go to find out what's happening at any given time. It isn't Starbuck's, even though we have a couple of them. Starbuck's is full of young mothers gathering during their child-free moments between nine and noon, or senior citizens hanging out, talking about their hip replacements, or people who work from home who need a break and bring their computers to check email or work on their screenplays. None of those people is tied into the buzz.
You wouldn't learn anything at the dozens of restaurants or even the fast food joints because most of them don't get rolling until lunch. Besides the restaurants are full of people in suits and dresses from other burbs or the city -- people who work in the office buildings nearby. They have no idea what's going on anywhere, except where they work. And nobody speaks English in the fast food places.
Oddly, the place to go to put your finger on the percolating pulse of my scintillating suburb is, of all places, White Hen Pantry. When you run out, run out to White Hen. That place.
Two blocks from the train station. Six blocks from the high school. Right smack dab on the main road through town. The place hums with all that's happening.
When they open at six in the morning, the parking slots fill up with contractors, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, tree people and the like, loading up on coffee, donuts, and frightening replicas of McDonald's Egg McMuffins with a side of hash browns. If nothing else you can fill up your Rolodex with phone numbers off the sides of their pick up and panel trucks for future reference. Standing in line at the counter you can hear who's got a wet basement, a sick tree, a new addition, a bad garage door, etc.
A little later commuters get their coffee. Usually they're talking about golfand their kids. Nothing earthshaking. But occasionally I run into a neighbor and find out what they're up to.
One morning there were news reporters, news trucks,and cameramen taking up a lot of spaces. They descended on White Hen's coffee pots by the dozen on their way to the high school, after reports of a hazing incident that sent some students to the hospital. That became a story that went all over the world. [My daughter in London even saw a clip.] I heard all about the story early in the morning standing in line for my yogurt. So did anybody near me. We got the scoop hours ahead of time.
The wrestling team stopped by on their way to a meet. Somebody got hurt in practice. Somebody didn't make weight. Somebody's parents were getting divorced.
A group of students is always in there after football, soccer, and basketball games and meets. If you missed the game and don't have kids, you can find out the scores and not have to wait for the paper.
My suburb's most famous retired Super Bowl quarterback was in there with a friend around 11:00 one night buying Mountain Dew in an effort to arrive home semi sober. A really tall guy in a hip hop outfit was in there after meeting with a sports agent. Or so he told me. He acted like I knew who he was. I didn't.
People who come into White Hen seem to have no problem carrying on a conversation about stuff they'd ordinarily not discuss with strangers. Like it's Vegas or something. Something about walking into the place loosens their tongues. What happens in White Hen stays in White Hen.
The other night around ten o'clock, there was a black Crown Victoria with M plates parked outside.It might as well have a neon sign blinking COP COP COP. Lots of our local police are in there all day and all night. Surprisingly all they ever do is shoot the breeze. Can't get anything out of them. But undercover cops are rare.
Inside there was a baby-faced guy pouring himself some coffee. Instead of pouring it the way most people do with his back to the door, he was on the other side of the counter watching the door as he poured.
He was so young looking at first that I thought he might be a high school kid in his sweat shirt and jeans. Until he put his wallet in his back pocket and revealed a holstered revolver and handcuffs. Undercover cop, hmmm. Someone's being investigated. But to my chagrin he started talking to me at the counter, so I couldn't wait for him to leave and then follow so see if he was on his way home or on his way to "investigate."
Rats.Now I have to wait for the breaking news.