The kid is an artist. He stands behind the flat top grill, flipping eggs.
I am at your quintessential American eatery. It’s raining. But it’s warm inside. And I’m happy here.
The kid wears the emblematic tiny paper hat. He is maybe 25. He cooks my breakfast with thy tender care, treating my bacon like it’s made of spun gold.
Meantime, he is responsible for the meals of 11 other customers. I don’t know how he does it. But he never misses a beat.
He plates my eggs and fatback. The steaming platter arrives in perfect form. My eggs are just right.
And belive me, I am funny about my eggs. The yolk of an over-easy egg should not run, it should merely creep. This kid nailed it. On a four-star rating system, I give the boy 13 stars.
“How’d you learn how to cook like this?” I ask.
He shrugs. “My mama showed me. First thing she taught me was how to make eggs. I learned to cook eggs every single way.”
“I can only think of four ways.”
“Oh, no, there’s more than that.”
He starts counting fingers. “Yep. You can cook them sunny, over easy, over medium, over hard, scrambled, omelets, poached, hard boiled, soft boiled, and you got some other weird ways.”
“You got eggs shirred.”
“Google it, man. You also got basted eggs.”
“What’s a basted egg?”
The young man is now cooking waffles with his right hand, preparing hash browns with his left, and using his feet to stir the grits. He’s a real talent.
“Basted eggs,” he goes on, “are what all the old timers want. It’s how my mom liked her eggs best.”
In his limited spare time, he demonstrates a basted egg.
The cook removes a skillet, tosses a pat of butter into the pan, then cracks an egg, one-handed. Then, he walks to the ice machine and removes a single ice cube. He places the ice cube into the sizzling skillet with the egg, then covers the pan with a cookie sheet.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“It’s the steam,” he explains. “The steam from the melting ice cube cooks the egg so you don’t have to flip it.”
When the egg is finished, he places the culinary treat before me and urges me to eat. It’s delicious. The yolk is just right. The white is not too dry.
“Your mother must be proud of you,” I say.
“Yeah, I think she was.”
The kid lets a few beats go by. Then he speaks as he flips a slab of ham that is roughly the size of a grown man’s thigh.
“She died last year. My mom was a single mother. Kidney problems.”
She raised him and his little brother in a fifth-wheel trailer. Their family had nothing, literally. A lot of people say they grew up with nothing, but this kid really did. And still, his mom made it work.
“She pulled our little camper around the world in her truck. I’ve lived everywhere. Texas, Tennessee, West Virginia.
“After my dad left my mom, she bought a trailer with her savings. She parked at campgrounds. Rent was cheap, and Mom started saving up her money for a house someday.”
His mother got a job cooking at restaurants. She was a short order cook for years. She worked double shifts. Sometimes triple.
“She always told me, she said, ‘Robert, if you know how to cook in a restaurant, you’ll never go hungry.’ So she taught me and my brother to cook.”
“Sounds like good advice.”
The kid smiles.
“When my mom died, she left me and my brother a bank account. We were shocked when we looked into it. My mom had saved her money for so long, she had a fortune. She never spent a dime on herself. She had hundreds of thousands, man.”
“Because of her, I’m gonna be a homeowner for the first time in my life in about a week. You belive it?”
“Congratulations,” I say.
His eyes are bright. His nose is running. His face is lit with a pained smile. I know that smile because I see it in the mirror sometimes.
“How are the eggs?” he asks.
Best eggs I ever had.