Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”
— the prophet prine
It’s late Tuesday at the Whataburger. I just finished my evening stroll and am looking to negate the entire outing with questionable food choices.
It’s Taco Tuesday and I’m 20 feet away from the O food place, but I’m making a half-hearted political statement by getting a burger, which only makes sense if you follow Texas politics. And if you follow Texas politics, watch where you step. It can be messy.
It’s funny. We’re in Arizona. We lived next to this Whataburger forever in a previous life and never visited it. Then we moved to Texas and ate a Whataburgerbythebay as a way of life, that way of life being to place orders that would take the better part of a day to arrive. And, no, we would never get what we had ordered, but that was part of the fun. The other part being seagull attacks.
And then we moved back to Arizona, and we’re now a few hundred yards away from the Whataburger, and we ignore it like the guy on the corner with the sign saying he’s trying to raise money to bury his son for the past year and a half.
Now here I am, Order Number 3. I share the small dining area with a couple of snowbirds, a pack of freshly scrubbed high-school choir members in bow ties and suspenders, and two people in the corner.
She’s old, which is a qualitative term I don’t use that much since I hit the point where I started investigating senior discounts myself. She’s sitting in a booth with a guy who must be her grandson. I don’t pay much attention, since I’ve been back on facebook for a few days and god forbid you should avert your eyes from the screen for more that a few seconds for fear of missing a cat video.
My order comes out and they nailed it, which pretty much takes all the fun out of Whataburger. I eat glumly as the snowbird guy quizzes the high school students about their bow ties. I ponder whether it’s better in the scheme of things to stick with Taco Tuesday, maybe beginning a Whataburger Wednesday for the sheer alliteration of things.
And then here they come.
The woman and her grandson are walking out. She moves incredibly slowly, a pace you earn after a century or so. Her grandson walks with her, lending an arm for balance. It’s a well-rehearsed dance they must’ve done a million times. All’s well.
I’m sitting next to the door, and Whataburger is a Texas joint, so I instinctively jump up to open it for them. I figure the guy has his hands full. He’s appreciative. The woman looks at me for a long time as they approach and smiles at me.
I am a Good Person.
I finish my betoburger a few minutes later and walk into the neon shimmer of the parking lot. They are parked just in front of me. The grandson has just packed the woman into the car, a black Mustang that doesn’t seem suited for a centenarian. But I suppose free rides are where you find them. He walks over to me.
“Thanks again,” he says. “She was really happy you held the door open for her. And she says you look just like Fred, her second husband.”
I’m not sure what to say, so I just smile.
“You’re NOT Fred, are you?” he asks.
No, Gary. I say. I don’t know Fred.
“I didn’t think so,” he says. “I think Fred would be 106 now. You don’t look that old.”
I shrug and get in the car. I think back to today’s stroll. Maybe I AM 106. I haven’t looked at my birth certificate for a while. This would explain much.
The prophet Prine said it best:
So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”
I’ll keep the smile she gave me in a safe place. You never know when you’ll need one. Fred must’ve been a lucky guy …