Breakfast at Denny’s

Posted on December 4, 2007


10 a.m. Dec. 4, Somewhere in Maryland. Breakfast at Denny’s. Across the way, a middle-aged black woman with a Jamaican accent is pitching a business opportunity to a gray-haired man with a European accent. Polish, I think. Sitting in the booth next to the Jamaican lady is a younger Hispanic woman who speaks very good English. She seems to be learning the trade from the older woman. I am not making this up.

I order the second smallest breakfast on the menu. The Latina waitress sets down a platter with what looks like three scrambled eggs, a SOUP BOWL full of grits with a scoop of butter in the middle, and an English muffin. This is the business model for restaurants. Food in America is cheap, relatively speaking, and customers want VALUE. So restaurants pile it on. No customer goes away hungry.

We live in a land of plenty, but we have not traveled far from scarcity. We are all immigrants or children of immigrants, strangers on a journey in a fast-changing world. Seven wet years, seven dry years. Our genes tell us to store up fat against a long winter.

Now, at the booth across the way, there is talk of big money and high-tech. Websites are involved, and cell phones. You can start with your friends and family, the Jamaican lady tells the Polish man. Sounds like multi-level marketing, to me. I eavesdrop shamelessly. Being a reporter gives you license to lie, steal and eavesdrop, within limits, long as you intend to share the story with others. (Don’t take me literally here.)

Have you noticed how many people use McDonald’s and Denny’s as their office? They’ve been doing it for years. McDonald’s and Denny’s don’t discourage it.

Demand for this product is about to boom, the lady is saying. Or is it a service? Whichever, a big, big company is planning to offer the very same thing next year. She names a corporation that everyone knows. The Polish man is not ready to commit. The Jamaican lady prods for resistance. “What would it take?” she asks.

The meeting breaks up inconclusively. The Jamaican lady has an appointment with another client at McDonald’s. Either that or she has to pick up a child at day care.

The scrambled eggs are good, and the grits with butter, excellent! It is more than I wanted, but I eat most of it. I leave the waitress a $3 tip on a $7 check. We’re all in this together. Keep the money moving. Keep the wheels from falling off.  — Bernie Hayden