CALERA, ALABAMA—the Cracker Barrel off I-65 is busy this morning. There are people in the dining room from every walk of life. Lots of noise.
An elderly man with military patches on his ball cap. A young couple with loud children who test the limits of the known sound barrier. An old man in a cowboy hat, sitting with his grandkids.
My waitress is Tamba. She is pretty, middle-aged, with cropped black hair, and a smile that sets the room on fire.
“How y’all today?” she says.
Her smile makes me smile. Which makes my wife smile. Which makes Tamba smile. Which makes me grin so hard my cheeks are sore.
She fills my coffee mug. She takes my order. And there’s that smile again.
My cheek muscles will never recover.
I watch her weave through the chaotic dining room like a ballerina. She takes orders from grumpy parents, over-caffeinated children, and flat-faced out-of-towners who woke up on the wrong side of the hotel bed.
She greets each customer with sugary words and that patented cheek-crippling grin.
She takes orders by memory. She listens
when picky eaters specify exactly how they want their eggs. Before she leaves tables, she recites orders to her customers without flaw.
And I sincerely hope that John Q. Customer notices how remarkable she is. Her personality is brilliant, her sense of humor is refreshing, and her memory is the Eighth Wonder of the World.
If I were a betting man, I’d bet she could memorize the Jefferson County phonebook in one sitting and recite it with her eyes closed.
On her way to the kitchen, people flag her down.
“I need mayo!” hollers a man.
She’s got it covered.
“Ma’am!” says an impatient woman from the back. “I NEED some pepper sauce.”
Pepper sauce. Check.
“Ma’am, can I get some more biscuits?” says a little boy.
“‘Scuse me, Miss?” says a woman. “We’re…