In the Suburbs / Sitting pretty, but know your place
Some of you know I frequent various Fairfield diners, visiting one of them each day before heading off to face the troops in classrooms around town. At each diner, I have a regular booth.
It's part of my breakfast routine, and my regular waiter or waitress instantly arrives with my blend of regular and decaf coffee, no cream and lots of Sweet'N Low.
At Penney's on Black Rock Turnpike, a few of us early birds have regular spots. Mine is to the left of the cash register on the right side, two back. I keep a low profile, but I love to listen to the back-and-forth banter between customers and the servers, Bert and Marjorie.
Mark, a dentist, and his wife Barbara, two of my favorite diner friends, take the second booth behind the cash register on the window side. I never have to look anywhere else to say hello.
Tony and Brian are at the counter. I don't think I'd recognize them in a booth. And if you want an opinion, Tony always has one. Since I'm only eavesdropping, I never get into their conversations.
One lady -- I think her name is Jan -- always brings a book to read and usually sits all the way back in the last booth on Mark and Barbara's side. We occasionally say hello.
At Andros Diner on Villa Avenue, my booth is in front and to the left of the cash register. It has been mine for the nearly five years I've been substitute teaching.
One morning about a month ago, I arrived and someone was in my booth. I said nothing, but I think they knew, because I looked over for more than a fleeting glance. So I took the first booth just in front of the cash register. To be honest, it felt a little weird to be elsewhere, but, hey, I don't own that second booth.
At the Circle Diner on Post Road, on the right side of the entrance, third booth on the left. I rarely deviate unless the diner is crowded and someone has beaten me to my booth. My fallback on those days is the booth in front of mine. For some reason, i can't move across the aisle to the window side.
I really don't know how this booth habit began, and I know I must sound obsessive, but I probably picked up the habit when I was commuting to New York years ago. When I rode with my train friends, we always took an originating train, stood like an army of robots in front of the rear section of the second car and when the doors opened we grabbed the facing seats on one side or the other by the doors. Somehow other commuters just knew not to take those seats.
One morning, my old friend Stu entered the train, and a man was in the seat where Stu usually sat. "I'm sorry," Stu said, "but that's my seat, and you'll have to leave."
"What?" the man asked quizzically. "There are no reserved seats. Find another place, pal."
The verbal battle escalated until a few more folks came on the train and stood around the poor guy until he got the message. It was Stu's spot, and Stu had commuter support.
In my very early years of commuting and later, after our train group went separate ways, I moved to the third car from the end. I took the window on the last three-seater facing the station. It became so habitual, I was like a fish out of water if someone took my seat. But I absolutely never made a scene.
I can't explain all this behavior. It's just become part of my psyche, I guess.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: email@example.com.