I saw him when we walked into the diner, the Gold 'N Silver Inn, in Reno. I could only have missed him if I were blind and even then I probably would have sensed his presence.
He was in the corner, refilling salt and pepper shakers and he looked unhappy. He was large: tall and of great girth and his skin was dark brown. I said good morning to him when we walked past. He kind of grunted a hello.
He brought us menus and then asked what we wanted to drink: coffee, water, water. I asked him, "What is your favorite thing on this menu?" He named all of the things I can't eat anymore, but he did it with enthusiasm.
"Cream?" he asked as he was walking away.
"Oh God, yes," I told him.
"Can you imagine what he would say if I asked him if they have gluten-free bread here?" I whispered to Nate and Coco.
He brought the coffee and the waters and asked me if I was a photographer because I was fiddling with the camera I had. "Not really," I said. "I used to be. Are you into photography?" I asked him.
"No," he said, "but I saw that you were using that camera."
There was an item on the menu called the Giant Milkshake. I liked how they made that really clear: make no mistake, this is going to be a really big milkshake.
"How giant is the Giant Milkshake?" I asked him. And he described it to us. A few minutes later someone on the other side of the room was being served the Giant.
"What is your name?" he yelled across the room to me. I mean, he yelled. Across a room that was filled with other people.
All of a sudden we were all family there in that diner.
"Melissa," I yelled back.
"Melissa," this is the Giant Milkshake, "he yelled back across the room, pointing to the thing the man there was about to drink.
When he came back to our table I asked him what his name was. Jason.
Are you from Reno?
No, I grew up in Detroit.
Oh, Detroit. I hear it's making a come-back, people are moving there again. What was it like growing up there?
It was all about family. You knew everyone, you did everything together. But then, you know, when they take jobs away people get desperate and they do desperate things.
How did you end up here in Reno?
Family. My family came here for work. I came to be with them.
I'm here to visit my family. My boys live out near here.
Where are you from?
No one ever knows where Vermont is.
Jason was the delivery guy, mostly. We had a waitress who took our order. The food was sublime, huge portions. Go there the next time you're in Reno. Every single time Jason passed our table after that he called me by name: "Everything OK, Melissa?" "How's the omelet, Melissa?"
I didn't want to leave. Jason was smiling and we were laughing together now. I wanted to give him a hug on the way out, but I offered a handshake instead. We were friends now. I knew a little of his life, he knew a little of mine. I thanked him for taking care of us.
"You take good care, Melissa," he said as we made our way out, "You have a beautiful family."
It was all about the family.
I came here to be with my family.
I am here visiting my family.
You have a beautiful family.