I tend to give myself more leeway on the road--when I travel for work or a cappella event coverage or vacation. I’ll pop a multi-vitamin in the morning and not worry so much about hitting all the fruits and veggies I should. If there’s a local delicacy that’s come highly recommended, I’ll indulge in some exceptions and order dishes the likes of which I wouldn’t have at home. Still, I try not to overdo it.
January 2012, I found myself seated in The Breakfast Club, a renowned diner in Boston. It was the morning after an a cappella competition, but also the morning of The Super Bowl, in a year when The Patriots had made it to the big dance.
I rolled in around 10 a.m. and the place was packed. One of the luxuries of traveling alone—I was able to find an open stool at the front counter, order myself up a cup of coffee and scan the menu.
I had settled on something in the neighborhood of a breakfast burrito. Not exactly health food, but about as low cholesterol as I expected to get away with from a greasy spoon. I propped up my copy of Best American Short Stories and set to reading, sipping coffee while I waited for one of the overworked waitresses to make her way back to me.
Across the way, I heard laughter. Loud enough to draw me from my book. On the opposite end of the counter, a middle-aged man pointed at something or other on a television screen over head while two blond-haired boys, presumably his sons, followed the trajectory of his finger, wide-eyed and smiling. They were talking football of course, all three of them clad in blue Patriots jerseys, the boys’ bright and new, the father’s, thread-worn in spots.
And when whatever was happening on TV finished, or the boys lost interest, the bigger of the boys returned to his plate. He folded his pancake in his hands, dripping with thick, brown syrup and bit into it like a sandwich, hard enough so a bit of butter squeezed loose from the opposite side and dropped to the plate.
I remembered being around that boy’s age. Just about the only times in my life I cared about football were the points in the 1990s when The Buffalo Bills made it to the Super Bowl, only to fall short each time, contributing to my life-long love for underdogs and also-rans. We never made a big deal out of the game in my family. No jerseys. No special order of pizza and wings. Just another Sunday evening, only differentiated for the fact that we had football on the TV screen.
We didn’t have hot breakfasts more than once a week growing up. Sitting on that stool, letting the book rest on my lap, cradling my cup of coffee, I remembered how it wasn’t so irregular for my father to make pancakes on a Sunday morning. How there was every possibility that some of those pancake Sundays coincided with Super Bowls. I remembered the sticky sweet taste of it. My father wasn’t a very creative cook, but his anal focus and attention to detail paid off in those instances, when the pancakes were never burnt or blackened. Always the perfect brown.
A waitress came from behind me. “Let me warm that up for you.” She hardly waited for me to put the coffee down before she sloshed my refill. “Have you decided what you want yet, sweetheart?”
I handed her the menu. “Tall stack of pancakes,” I said. “With blueberries.”
Though I was tempted, I did not eat my pancakes by hand like the boy across the way. I sliced them to pieces, soaked them in syrup, propped by book open behind the plate and shoveled forkful after forkful of that goodness between lips.