One morning not long ago, Ariel and I were having breakfast in a very small cafe in a very small town in west Texas. The waitress brought our coffee, and suddenly Ariel’s face lit up. The coffee had arrived in old-fashioned mugs like the ones that used to be common in small cafes: extra-thick white porcelain slightly flared at the top and bottom, with a fat C-shaped handle. As it happened, Ariel’s mug was identical to one that had been stolen from her desk at the office years before, leaving her somewhat traumatized. (If you’re not a full-blown caffeine addict, you may not realize how harrowing it can be to find your favorite coffee cup missing at 6 am.)
Ariel turned to our waitress and said brightly: “May I buy this cup?”
Now within two seconds, I could think of all sorts of reasons not to ask that question. Selling coffee cups isn’t something a waitperson is normally required to do. It might create a dilemma for her: displeasing a customer versus displeasing the cafe’s owner, who might view dealing in used tableware as an unprofitable side business. It also required her to decide on a value for the cup, which wasn’t her job either. I pictured her slipping into a back room to check out the prices of used coffee cups on eBay, while some other hungry customer pined for his breakfast. Ariel would have pointed out, with the devious logic that reckless extroverts always have at their disposal, that there were no other customers just then. But one might arrive at any moment.
My ability to think of objections like this is why I go through life not saying much, not doing anything very unexpected, and not meeting nearly as many nice people as Ariel does. What happened next was typical: our waitress – well, her name was Karen. Ariel had established that earlier. I mean to say that Karen broke into a big smile.
There are parts of far west Texas where the people are so friendly that it almost makes me nervous. Once you get west of the Pecos River, you can approach even the most formidable-looking stranger, let alone your waitress, and say that you think it might rain, or that it might not rain. Usually that person will react as if you had just returned their lost wallet, with all the cash still in it, and you will have a new friend. Everyday manners in these places seem to have been suddenly petrified on some mild, sunny day in the 1950s. I’m not going to tell you the name of the town where we were having breakfast, because I don’t want to get that one disgruntled e-mail about its dark, meth-fueled underside. The town I’m writing about is the essence of plain, Dwight Eisenhower American automated friendliness, and we will refer to it here simply as the Twilight Zone.
As I was saying, Karen broke into a big smile. Of course we could buy the coffee cup. Somewhere, she implied – perhaps in the dirty, degenerate cities of the East – there might be restaurants where attempts to purchase the crockery are met with cold, foreign-accented derision. Let’s all be thankful we don’t live there. Before I really knew what was happening, the deal was done.
When we had finished breakfast, Karen brought us the check. It was not itemized, but the total amount seemed pretty small. I asked Karen if the price of the coffee cup was included in the check, and she assured me it was. She knew that I knew that she was fibbing. The best I could do was to leave her a really nice tip. I hope that’s how they do things in the Twilight Zone.
Continued here: Extroverted Before Breakfast (Part 2)