6:30 AM. The city has barely begun stirring, but the Busy Bee restaurant is already packed. Many of the customers eat in silence, each in his own separate universe. A woman in a green-and-white “Winos and Italians” T-shirt occupies one stool. A man with salt-and-pepper hair, mustache, glasses, white shirt, and tie sits next to a businesswoman type clad in khaki skirt and blouse. Both sip their coffee and stare glumly ahead. A reporter plops himself on a stool and orders steak and eggs. A few minutes later a middle-aged waitress, without being asked, puts out bottles of catsup, hot sauce, and steak sauce. Then she delivers a plate with steak, eggs, and hash browns. An accompanying dish contains whole wheat toast and a packet of mixed fruit jelly.

Large black-and-white photographs of stately Wicker Park houses line the Busy Bee walls, including one of a house with a cannon in the front yard. Some of the men who buy, renovate, and sell these houses congregate here before starting their day’s work. One, a large man in bib overalls and with tattoos on both arms, sits with a husky curly-haired teenager in glasses and a plaid shirt, presumably his son. Their partner in conversation is a man about 50, balding with a rim of gray, curly hair around the sides and back of his head. He wears a loose pullover shirt with thick blue-and-white horizontal stripes and white pants. If you can imagine former Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion at the yacht club, you get the idea.

Tattoo complains loudly about “foreigners that come over here and take our money.” Curly rails on about Walter Jacobson. “That Jacobson. He’s nothing but a stool pigeon. He doesn’t do nothing but send out his flunkies to get the dirt.”

Ben-Gurion asks to borrow the real estate section of the reporter’s Tribune. “I want to see if my ad for a house for sale is in today.” He can’t find it. “What is today, Thursday?” he remembers. “It was in the Herald today. It won’t be in the Trib until Saturday and Sunday.”

Tattoo returns from the john and borrows someone’s newspaper. Ben-Gurion asks, “Don’t you ever buy a paper?”

“I do just like you,” Tattoo shoots back. “I read other people’s. I learn from the aged master.”

Other customers enter. A slim, orange-haired Puerto Rican woman orders coffee and toast. She slices the toast ever so precisely into four exactly equal pieces, then measures part of a thimble-sized container of cream into her coffee. A 30ish woman with glasses and a blond ponytail sits on the other side of the counter. Ponytail doesn’t even bother to order, but instead starts working her newspaper’s crossword puzzle. The middle-aged waitress sets coffee, a glass of water, and a doughnut in front of her.

All the while, a parade of humanity comes in to request take-out orders. The orders hardly put a dent into a mountain of baked goodies behind the cash register–sweet rolls and pecan rolls, poppy seed rolls, crescent-shaped rolls with icing, hard rolls, crullers, rolls with pineapple, rolls with cheese.

An acquaintance of Tattoo and Curly enters. The three of them leave. The departure makes no difference to Ben-Gurion. He shouts to the Puerto Rican woman, “Did you see the Sun-Times profile section? The dancer? I thought it was you! It looks just like you!” Puerto Rican woman smiles back without saying anything. She’s examining a Tribune, long finished with her quartered toast.

A sheriff’s policeman sits down. He takes a cup of coffee and puts a heaping teaspoon of sugar into it. As he sips the brew, Ponytail pays her bill and leaves exactly 65 cents in change. You get the feeling she leaves the same 65 cent tip every single day.

It’s news-discussion time with Ben-Gurion and a handful of newly arrived friends, who are sitting at stools near a front window. Iraq invaded Kuwait only hours before. One sentence is devoted to the story. Then one of them asks, “What’s the Vegas odds on the Bears? Ninety to one?” That spawns several minutes of talk.

The sheriff’s policeman orders poached eggs on toast. Middle-aged waitress gives him a knife that looks sharp enough to dissect a frog. He asks for a different one. “Sure thing, Dennis,” the waitress says.

One of Ben-Gurion’s friends, meanwhile, is solving the world’s problems. “Now, when somebody commits a first offense, they put him on probation. The second time, it’s a slap on the wrist. The third time, they see a sheriff’s deputy. The fourth time, the case is continued forever. Wisconsin is the only state where a case will be resolved within 90 days. They should have universal sentences–50 years for drug dealers, 25 years for middlemen.” He switches to the subject of race relations. “Nike. They want money from Nike. It’s extortion. They want an hour on TV for the United Negro College Fund. But if we wanted an hour for a United White College Fund, they’d call it racism.”

Ben-Gurion chimes in. “You’ve got gangs out there in the ghetto. You see them dealing drugs. If you drive by, they’re waving–waving! Nobody will do anything to them. You know why? You’ve got no place to put them. If you locked up every single user, it would take eight states to hold ’em.”

The sheriff’s policeman doesn’t bother to join the conversation. He shows more interest in joking with the waitress. “Earlene, let’s run away from here. Where are we gonna go to?”

“I don’t know,” she answers. “Anywhere away from here. I don’t want to go to Mexico or nothing. But I’ll cross a state line.”

:15 AM. Two older men, each in yellow-and-white-striped shirts, enter the restaurant and sit down next to a friend of theirs–who, amazingly enough, also wears a yellow-and-white-striped shirt, but with a blue sweater over it. By now the restaurant is a (pardon the expression) beehive of activity, with a predominantly male clientele. You see men in ties, men in sport shirts, men with microscopic ponytails.

Yellow-and-white Number Two orders a jelly doughnut. Number One asks, “Is he going to share that with me?”

Earlene answers, “If it was me, he’d share it with me.” Then she addresses Number One. “I’ve got a book at home, real estate in Ohio. You could buy buildings out there with the spare change in your pocket–$50,000 or so. We could go there, me and you.”

A small waitress with large eyes and short dark hair serves a studious-looking man engrossed in a Chekhov book. Then she approaches the trio of striped shirts. Number Two takes her hand and says to Earlene, “I don’t know. I think I’ll hold on to Maggie over here.”

The yellow-whites play check poker to see which one of them will pick up all three tabs. “Winner pays,” notes Number Two.

“I’m good. I’ve got a pair of zeroes,” claims Number Three.

“Then you’re not good. The winner pays,” Number Two says. A discussion erupts. Number One asks Earlene to mediate. “I don’t care who pays. Your money is all good,” she tells them.

Number Three pays the three checks. “Alex, I’m gonna get my hair cut just for you,” Earlene tells him. “I’m gonna lose weight just for you. I will wait breathlessly till you return tomorrow, Alex.”

9:30 AM. A blond woman drops off copies of a magazine called Circa. It’s the magazine of the Old Wicker Park Committee, the local civic group. She places the copies next to a man plugging away at a portable adding machine at the counter.

“It’s been a couple of years since we’ve come out with this magazine,” says the blond. “It’s too time-consuming. We have a regular monthly newsletter. We’re getting this out in time for our upcoming Greening Festival.” She points to a poster on the wall advertising the festival. It calls Wicker Park “a small town community within the city . . . 8 minutes from Chicago’s Loop.”

The Circa contains all sorts of articles glorifying Wicker Park. Two of them mention renovator Bob Vila’s plans to rehab a local home on his PBS television series. Another profiles a Wicker Park favorite son, author Nelson Algren. One talks about a proposed new history book on Wicker Park. Still another discusses the area’s booming gallery district.

And on page 13 is an article, by Candice Hadley, headlined “Sophie’s Busy Bee Celebrates 25 Years.” It gives a quick history of owner Sophie Madej and the restaurant. Actually, a restaurant has been on the Damen Avenue site since the early 1900s. Sophie, formerly a worker at a meat packing plant, sold her home in Pilsen to buy the restaurant, by then called the Busy Bee, in 1965. Six years later, she bought the building. When she took over the business, the Busy Bee had only one room, with a counter and seven booths. Later she added on a dining room north of the main room. The Busy Bee plans to open another dining room immediately south of the counter room by the end of the year.

Sophie, a handsome gray blond woman in her 60s, arrives wearing a purple floral-print skirt and jacket. She plugs in a neon light in the restaurant window, then goes over to a booth. A waitress sees her and says, “Hi, mom.”

Sophie has more relatives on her payroll than a Chicago alderman. The Circa story says that son Hank manages day-to-day operations, son Bob manages weekends, daughter Liz waitresses and does the books, daughter-in-law Theresa waitresses, and some of her six grandchildren help out after school and on weekends. The reporter asks her how many of her family members work for her. “All of them,” she jokes.”They come and go.”

For the first time in the morning, there’s a lull in the action. Earlene scans the magazine article. “Sophie, you didn’t say anything about moi immigrating from Ohio, a hillbilly. What is this?” “You don’t have your accent anymore,” a customer responds. “Maybe that’s it.”

A woman dressed in black comes in and picks up a New City. She orders a soft-boiled egg and coffee. While eating, she scans the film section, removes a page from the rest of the paper, and places the rest of it back on the pile. As she leaves, she nearly bumps into a small Asian girl in a bright pink party dress who has come in to get some coffee for her mother.

10:30 AM. Frank, a tall, big-nosed man, comes in. “Some patrons,” says the Circa story, “such as Frank, Alex, Tony, and the three Wallys, eat every meal, every day at the Busy Bee’s counter.” Frank goes up to the wall calendar, which says Wednesday, August 1, and tears off the out-of-date page. He does that every day, says Earlene. “He gets real disappointed if somebody else does it.”

Frank comments on the nice write-up. Sophie agrees, but says she wishes it hadn’t mentioned a car accident she had when she was learning to drive, in which she confused the gas pedal and brake and drove right into the building. “It was a nice new car. I still have a scar from that,” she moans.

Frank and Sophie go back to her earliest days at the Busy Bee. Recently, though, they realized they have another place and time in common–Germany, 1945.

“When the war was over in Germany, we were what was called the army of occupation,” Frank says. “We were there until Japan surrendered–three months in 1945. We were right on the border of Bavaria. It was beautiful country. In fact, Hitler had his hideaway there. I remember Bavaria. All the churches were on top of hills. They stood above everything else.”

Sophie was there for different reasons. “I was brought to Germany in 1943, from my home in Czestochowa, Poland. Forced labor. I didn’t have any choice. I was only 13. I don’t know how many of us they brought there. We were carried in freight cars–like cattle. There must have been thousands of us. We were near Buchenwald, the concentration camp. We knew what was going on. But we played dumb, pretended we didn’t understand German.”

Despite their 25-year friendship, the common German experience never came up in conversation until this spring, when Sophie returned to Germany for the first time since the war. “I didn’t get to see any of Germany. Just worked there. It was all bombed out then. I went back this spring. I couldn’t believe it. All built up.”

Frank turns to Sophie. “Maybe I passed by your house. Did you ever go to any of the dances? I was 23 and you were what, 16? Just think. Maybe if I’d have met you, I’d have married you.”

“We can still get married if you bring the bank books down,” Sophie jokes.

Frank lives in an apartment upstairs from the restaurant now, down the hall from the one Sophie occupies. Before that he lived in the Elm Park Hotel, a single-room-occupancy hotel across the street. But his roots in Wicker Park extend back decades.

“Years ago, this was a lively corner,” he claims. “You know that newsstand that closed? You could go down at midnight, it would still be open. You got that Northwest,” he says, referring to a recently closed Milwaukee Avenue pharmacy. “It used to be so popular you could go in at 3 o’clock in the morning. Wieboldt’s over on Milwaukee was a big shopping spot. They had live models in the windows. Mondays and Thursdays were busy nights.

“There were gangs in those days. I remember one–the Bald Headed Gang. They were a lot of trouble. But no guns. Those gangs only used what they were born with–hands, feet, knees. There was a story that one gang found somebody with a knife. They kicked him out and called him a coward. Now you have a shooting at the White Castle at Armitage and Milwaukee. Cops were there, they caught the shooters. The shooters had kids in that car!”

Frank recalls some of the neighborhood’s more famous residents. “That Jack E. Leonard, he used to crack me up. He used to tell jokes about when he was a lifeguard in Humboldt Park. Clean jokes, though. People wouldn’t stand for any of this dirty stuff. Saul Bellow, Mike Todd, Nelson Algren–all of them were from around here. Knute Rockne went to Tuley High School. Paderewski, the pianist, lived on Pierce. When word got around that he was going to give a concert on his porch, they had to bring police in to control the crowds.”

Sophie remembers some not-so-happy moments from the early days. Back in the 70s, “they tried to bomb us out of here–threw bombs in the windows.” She never found out who did it. “I think it was jealousy,” she says. “Other people were jealous that we made it.”

11:45 AM. Business starts to pick up again, although the restaurant is never really empty. A man with thick tinted glasses asks Earlene, “Is this hunter’s soup good?”

“It’s a lot of sauerkraut in a red sauce. With real potatoes.” He orders the stew and glances through a Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, a stack of Readers is dropped off. One customer abandons his coffee and, armed with a handful of flyers for a local picture-frame company, proceeds to insert one into every paper.

Glasses gets his stew. “It’s good,” he tells Earlene.

“Could be,” she responds. “I’ve never had it. I don’t recommend what I’ve never had. That’s why I don’t recommend the kiszka or the czarnina.”

“What’s that?”

“Duck blood soup. I don’t like the looks. It’s real dark and thick.”

Glasses makes a face.

“But a lot of people like it,” says Earlene.

She goes to another part of the restaurant, and Glasses comments, “She has to be honest. I know. I used to bartend. If you’re not honest, you don’t get a tip.”

“You could make a movie, a regular Peyton Place, about what happens here,” Sophie says. “Everyone in here has a story.” She points to a customer in the dining room. “He used to be a count in Poland. And Frank Petowski is descended from Polish royalty. He’s a 17th-generation count. Or take me. I was born in Poland, then moved to Germany. In 1951 we went to Virginia. We came to Chicago in 1952 because my husband wanted to be with Polish people. My ex–don’t forget to mention that!”

Sophie’s son Bob, a tall, friendly looking man with a mustache, joins the conversation. The reporter asks to hear about the craziest thing that ever happened here.

“I met my wife here,” Bob answers. “She came here to pick up her sister. She sat in a booth. I asked her ‘Coffee or tea?’ She said coffee. You can ask her. She’ll be in later.

“We had a fire next door, about 1977 or 1978,” Bob mentions. “Our customers didn’t leave. They stayed in line, waiting to be seated. We served them by candlelight.”

“It’s a family here,” Sophie says a short time later. “We all know each other’s business. I remember, I wanted to have a granddaughter so bad. I was betting on it, and I lost $500.

“I was young when I came here. And pretty, too. I used to get a lot of whistles. But I used to be shy.”

“Don’t believe that,” says a long-haired graying man entering the restaurant with a bearded, gap-toothed partner. “You can’t stay in business and be shy.” Sophie recognizes them: both work at the Wicker Park welfare office, which used to be located nearby.

“I miss you caseworkers,” she says. “It’s too bad your office moved.”

“Me too,” replies Longhair. “All we got now is McDonald’s.”

The long-haired caseworker and Sophie talk about the Iraqi invasion, then about Supreme Court nominee David Souter. The gap-toothed caseworker asks Sophie what politicians have visited the Busy Bee. “Oh, they all come in,” she answers. “Rostenkowski loves our grilled pork chops. Terry Gabinski–he eats everything. Mell always came for the parties. Harold was here twice. He ate oxtail soup with his fingers and said it was the best he ever had.

“You know Judge Sodini, one of the judges they sent to jail? He married my son Frank and his wife here. He was a real nice guy, but he put a little too much trust in his friends. When he lost his son in a bus accident, he’d have a couple of drinks and sit and cry.”

When Sophie walks away, Longhair asks the reporter how long he plans to stay at the restaurant. “You’re going to eat three meals here? This is a place for people who eat only one meal all day. They serve a lot of food.”

He nods toward a nattily attired older man sitting in a booth. “Even the guys that are retired, living on a pension, they come here in style. They sit in the dining room in the evening and drink an aperitif. On the other hand, some come in here with their ladies on the side.”

1 PM. Somebody once said the food at the Busy Bee is so good that even cops pay full price. In any event, the restaurant on any given day sees more than its fair share of Chicago’s finest. “Blues” tend to sit at the counter or in a booth, while plainclothes cops gravitate toward the dining room.

“It used to be all blue in the morning,” Bob states. “If you needed a policeman, you just walked in here. When you had the 13th District around here, we had the shift changes. There was a real close-knit group of cops–Walter Dudycz, Richard Brzeczek, George Gottlieb, that guy Maner who’s a deputy commander now.”

Of course, cops aren’t the only habitual visitors. On any given day, a thousand get-rich-quick schemes pass through these doors. A ruddy-faced man in a pink shirt tries to sell one to a short, pretty waitress, who made the mistake of telling him about her vacation plans, a trip to Rome and Warsaw. “There’s all sorts of possibilities, Ala, all sorts of money-making possibilities. What do they have over there that you can sell here? They don’t have any money over there, so don’t bring anything from here. How about artwork? They have artwork over there, don’t they?”

3 PM. Customers reappear at the Busy Bee more often than characters in an English romance novel. Many of those who showed up this morning have returned. Frank is back. So is the Puerto Rican woman. A television perched atop a cigarette machine by the front door shows Tom and Jerry cartoons. One of Sophie’s grandsons, a chunky blond four-year-old, is the only one watching.

A wiry senior citizen wearing a green shirt seats himself at a corner stool. “There’s Louie,” Frank shouts. “I’m Louis Filipecki,” he introduces himself to the reporter. “Four eyes there in my name, but I only got two in my head.”

Louie knows a lot of Busy Bee history. “This restaurant is older than 25 years,” he states. “This restaurant was built about 1901. I used to come here in the 20s when the el station was here. I drove a cab here. We had a garage right down the street. It was a Polish restaurant then–or maybe it could have been a Greek.”

Sophie pats her grandson’s head. “I bought it from a Greek. The Greek who owned it died in here. If he saw all the business here now, he’d die again! It wasn’t easy, though. There were a lot of sad stories in the beginning. I didn’t know how to run the place. My cook quit on me right away.”

Her daughter-in-law Theresa, the blond waitress with blue eyeliner, elaborates. “No cook came in. I had to cook. My husband, Bob, doubled as waiter and cashier. But I don’t know how to cook. I don’t know how to make over eggs–eggs over easy. I found more eggs on my shoe than on the griddle.”

Louie continues his one-man oral history of Wicker Park. “I’m 80 now. When I was growing up, the Jews lived in Humboldt Park and the Poles on Milwaukee Avenue. Now it’s the coloreds. Used to be, if we saw a colored kid, we chased him with a rock.

“Now they call it Schiller Street, but it used to be called Fowler Street. The janitor in that building was Jewish. He had a couple of drinks, and his daughters called the cops. They locked him up, he hung himself in jail. I’ve often wondered how those daughters felt all their lives.”

“We ate pigeons in those days,” Frank recalls. “Everybody did. Everybody in those days had pigeons in their garage.”

“We had a dog, a bull terrier,” says Louie. “When the punks saw him, they stopped playing baseball on the street. He’d catch a ball in the air, then take it home. He used to sleep on the windowsill, up on the fourth floor where we lived. One day he forgot where he was. He woke up, saw a cat on the other side of the street, and walked off after it. Plop! He dragged himself across the street and died right there.”

Frank tells his own dog story. “During the Depression, we had a dog and left him in the car. When we came back, the dog was gone. We went to the police, and they said there weren’t any dogs around here. They said a Mexican comes around and eats them.”

While they talk, a past-middle-age woman rubs merrily away on some instant lottery tickets. She’s heavily made up, and wears a print dress, a green necklace, and a white floppy hat with a rhinestone hat pin. The reporter gets the feeling she spent an hour arranging her makeup just to come down here.

Sophie’s clean-cut grandson Marty tends the cash register. Louie asks if he is attending college. “I’m going to Triton now, then to Rosary,” Marty answers.

“Studying for the priesthood?” Louie asks.

“No, no, studying business.”

“That’s good,” Louie says. “Churches are dying.”

Marty shows the reporter a photo album. It’s full of baseball cards, each in its own plastic sleeve. He has Jim Palmer, Johnny Bench, Willie McCovey, Carlton Fisk, Dave Winfield, lots of Robin Younts, a page full of various Bo Jackson poses, and even a couple of late commissioner Bart Giamatti.

In earlier days, baseball card collectors studied batting averages and earned-run averages. It’s not clear whether Marty knows a batting average from the law of averages, but he’s an expert on a different type of figure. He shows an embossed card of Oakland Athletics star Jose Canseco as a rookie. “It cost me $70, but it’s worth it. This card is an investment. You get a vintage Nolan Ryan, it’s worth about $1,500–$2,000 if you go to the rip-off stores. But the condition is very important. You can lose 10 to 20 bucks on an all-star’s card if it’s just a little bent.

“I let the collection slide for a while but started up again this March–rookie time.” He points out two cards of Oakland pitcher Bob Welch when he was with the Dodgers. “I got these Welch cards cheap. I’m hoping they’ll appreciate. They’re now about 5 or 6 dollars. But he’s 16 and 3 now. Next year, that should double.”

Next year Welch could go 2 and 14, the reporter reminds him. His face sags.

“What do you think about Pete Rose?” Frank asks.

“Pete Rose? He’s in jail now, but he’ll do all right. When he’s out of jail, he’ll sign autographs. Those guys get four dollars per autograph.”

Frank laments, “The only time anybody wants my autograph is on a check.”

5:45 PM. Two ladies come in and ask to speak to the owner. Sophie converses with them in Polish. It’s obvious they are looking for work.

Meanwhile, a man in a straw hat and a vest strolls over to the bulletin board. Next to the roommate-wanted signs, the for-rent signs, the figure-sculpture-workshop signs, and others for plays and nightclubs, he puts up his own notice. This newest poster reads “Better Days–WYSIWYG Theater.”

WYSIWIG? the reporter asks.

“What you see is what you get,” responds the man in an English accent. He’s Richard West, an English native who has lived in Wicker Park for the last 20 years and is serving as technical director for this production. “The play contains a lot of sound effects, things offstage. It’s the first full theatrical production for WYSIWYG.”

The telephone rings. Marty answers. “Hello. Busy Bee. Yes . . . OK . . . OK . . .” He turns to Sophie. “You know who that was? Martha.”

“The one who sings on the phone?” she asks.

Both Polish ladies leave. “I get some people in here looking for work,” Sophie says. “Sad to say, they run into a lot of con artists–their own people. They promise social security cards, or promise them good jobs but only pay half their wages. I try to help. I’ve been fortunate. But we don’t have much work here. Those in the kitchen have been here eight or ten years. The waitresses, they usually stay around till they marry, but two died on me.

“It used to be there was all sorts of work around this neighborhood,” she says. “Ludwig Drum used to be just up the block. They had 400 people. They’d come in for breakfast, for lunch, a lot even for dinner.”

“When you had industry in this area,” Bob adds, “they rented rooms by the week. A lot of that was our business. For many of them, it was a revolving circle–from job to us to hotel to bar to prostitutes. Later on, we got a lot of artists, young people, bohemians. We drew them prior to anyone else, because it was the only place in the neighborhood. Now there’s a lot of coffee shops. People liked it here because you could come in here for a couple of hours and read a book or do homework. I did a lot of homework here.”

Sophie watches a woman read the bulletin board. “If we would have left here, there wouldn’t be a neighborhood,” she claims.

6:30 PM. “You like pierogis. Come in here before Christmas,” Theresa tells the reporter. “We serve special kraut and mushroom ones.”

Marty chimes in. “The only pierogis I like are potato and fruit ones.”

A red-faced young man with glasses and “Man” tattooed on his arm suggests, “Try the meat ones. They’re good.”

“Was I talking to you, Steve?” Marty scowls at the customer.

Theresa spots a familiar face. “Stanley, are you still alive?” She goes over to talk with a white-haired man in a gray suit.

Sitting in the second booth, a chunky, whitish-haired lady eats kielbasa. “You’re Sophie, right?” she asks. “I used to live in this neighborhood–42 years ago. Remember that drugstore that used to be here? They had a man throwing pizza in the window at the Double Door every night . . .” Sophie joins the woman. Part of the job–and part of her joy–lies in these reminiscences.

Steve–the meat pierogi fan–has found himself a newspaper. He looks through the sports section. “What happened to Whitey Herzog?” he asks aloud, hoping his question will lead to a dialogue with somebody.

“He quit a month ago,” responds Marty, squelching the conversation.

By now the dining room is crowded, the booths packed. A middle-aged man in a Benson & Hedges cap and an unwashed sport coat, smoking a smelly cigar, shows an electric can opener to two young women in the first booth, giving an elaborate spiel in Polish. One of the women shoos him away.

The women continue their conversation. One is having problems with her boyfriend. “Did you know he–” she starts, and then whispers something to her companion. The other woman, who obviously has heard variations of this story a hundred times before, feigns surprise. In truth, she looks like she’d rather hear the Polish sales pitch for the electric can opener.

7:53 PM. It’s almost eight o’clock–closing time–but nobody appears to be in a big hurry to leave. In fact, it looks like some of them have taken root.

Steve has finally found someone to talk to–an old man who listens, although not very attentively.

Another repeat visitor has made her way to a stool, a round-faced woman who’s missing a few teeth. “I’m just in for a Coke. I’m not here to eat,” she tells Theresa. The waitress sets the drink in front of her. Then the woman starts moving her fingers nervously. “There’s a Pall Mall in there,” she tells Theresa, pointing to a drawer underneath the cash register. Theresa looks, but finds no cigs. “Sorry, Ginny,” she says.

Ginny doesn’t give up her quest. If Theresa can’t find her a smoke, then maybe Ala can. Ala looks for a minute or two, and sure enough finds a single cigarette. Ginny waves it in the air. “I knew it. I told you there was one there.”

“We ration her cigarettes,” Ala explains. “She smokes too much as it is.”

When Ginny lights up, Marty immediately complains. “Ginny, quit smokin’. You’ll give me lung cancer, and you’ll live to be about 80!”

“I miss the people,” Theresa tells the reporter. “I used to be here full-time when my first two kids were young, but they grew up and I missed them. With Michael,” she says, tousling the chunky blond kid’s head, “I stay home full-time and only work part-time.

“That man? The one in the gray suit? I hadn’t seen him in ten years.” She sighs. “I miss them.”

:35 PM. All but the hard-core stragglers have gone by now. Waitresses clean off the counters. Sophie sits in a back booth, making changes in the menu’s daily specials. Marty counts change at the cash register, with his back to Steve. That makes no difference to Steve. He babbles away.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Loren Santow.