Somewhere in Philadelphia. The breakfast joint is packed this morning. I’ve been on the road for several days. I’m running dangerously low on saturated fat. I coasted into the City of Brotherly Offensive Driving on fumes. I need steak and eggs. Stat.

I slide into a booth. I’m carrying a paperback mystery novel and my reading glasses.

I always travel with paperbacks because you never know when you’re going to be stuck waiting somewhere. Like right now.

I am waiting for my server to notice me. There is only one waitress in this crowded joint, and she is currently dealing with a thousand-and-one tables. So I read.

The waitress finally approaches my table, she looks tired. She is lean and her wiry arms are covered in intricate tattoos.

“Choo readin’?” she asks.

I put the book down. “Oh, it’s a mystery.”

“So, you sayin’ I gotta guess?”

“No, I mean it’s a mystery novel.”

She nods, then removes her pen. “Well, how about your order? That a mystery, too? Or are you gonna hurry up and tell me?”

This is exactly why I visit diners. Nobody banters like this in franchise restaurants. In fact, in most fast food joints they don’t even have the courtesy to smile at you after they spit in your food.

I order a T-bone-and-eggs plate and a coffee. That’s when the real show begins. My waitress calls my order to the kitchen using genuine Philadelphia diner speak. Which sounds something like:

“Yo! Pull a cow bone! Drop a hash! Three eggs bullseye, and I want’em lookin’ at me! Burn a couple shingles, grease the trousers, light up the pig, and gimme a cup’a mud!”

She returns to me. She rests an arm on my booth seat. “So what’s it about?”


“Your book, Sherlock, what’s the big [bleeping] mystery?”

“Well, it’s complicated. And I don’t want to spoil it for you in case you read it.”

She nods, then tops off my mud. “Well, I don’t read much no more. But my youngest, he’s a huge reader.”


“Hell.” She laughs. “He’s thirteen, I just had to buy him new glasses. Eye strain, reading too much, only reads adult-level books. What’s the name of that book? He loves mysteries. I’ll buy it for him tonight after work.”

I show her the cover. She makes a note on her pad.

“I’m always telling my son to keep reading. ‘Cause if he keep up his reading, he can do anything, more opportunities, you know? Reading is key. Reading is key.”

“Good advice.”

“I know what I’m talkin’ about. I couldn’t read till I was eighteen.”


“I just said so, didn’t I?”

Pure Philly.

“Yep. Taught my ownself to read. Quit school when I was a kid. Bad situation. Trust me. I could tell you stories. I could tell you a long [bleeping] story.”

Personally, I’m hoping for more of this story, but I never get it. All she adds is, “You do what you gotta do, right?”

She leaves me momentarily to deal with a table of workmen wearing neon vests. She makes them laugh a lot. They like her because she makes them like her.

When the workmen rise to leave, I notice they have covered their table in fives and tens—which says a lot about this waitress.

My food is ready. The waitress slides a full plate before me and asks if I’m all right. I look up from my book and flash the okay sign. “Thank you,” I say.

“You ain’t from around here, are you?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Where’s home?”

I start destroying my steak. “Florida.”

“Really? Florida. Always wanted to see Florida. Maybe go see the beach someday.”

“You and about 6 million other Americans.”

She balances a herculean stack of plates on her skinny arm. “I ain’t never been nowhere. Ain’t never done [bleep] in my life.”

“You should visit.”

“It’s pretty, huh?”

“It’s Florida.”

“Maybe I will.”

She falls silent doing more busywork. The woman is tireless. I watch her single handedly keep this ship afloat. I see her wash dishes, sweep floors, clean counters, and restock fridges. She burns hundreds of calories for each blessed dollar.

“Wouldn’t mind sitting on a beach,” she says, wiping down a nearby table. “My kids would freak if I took’em.

“I tell my kids, ‘Hey, you work hard, you can do anything you want in this world. You the same as anyone else. You save your money, be smart, treat people right, you can have the life you want. You ain’t need big money to be successful.’” She taps her temple with a finger. “You need this.” Then she taps her sternum. “And this.”

After her mini sermon I say, “They’re lucky to have a mother like you.”


“I’m serious.”

“You don’t even know me.”

Maybe not, but I know her kind. I was raised by one.

When I finish my meal I leave my appreciation on the table in dollar form. I wish it were more. She bids me goodbye. And as I am walking out the door, into the tangled spaghetti streets of Philadelphia, she calls after me.

“Hey, sir! You left your book!”

I just pretend like I don’t hear her.


  1. Rhonda - July 13, 2021 8:29 am

    Smile of the day for me

    • pk4hand - July 13, 2021 1:45 pm

      Yep, smile of the day!

  2. Terri - July 13, 2021 10:24 am


  3. Virginia Russell - July 13, 2021 10:29 am

    Nice one!

  4. Karen - July 13, 2021 10:52 am

    Her son is lucky to have a hard working mom who encourages reading. Teaching herself to read as an adult is shows a determined lady.

  5. Steve McCaleb - July 13, 2021 10:54 am

    That lady’s mini speech says more about what it takes to succeed in this world than every thing Dale Carnigie ever wrote. Who’s DC you youngun’s ask ? You’re just going to have to trust me on this one. Waay before your time. But the school of hard knocks is a hell of teacher. Sounds like this lady has a PHD. May happiness and success be her constant companions.

  6. Leigh R Amiot - July 13, 2021 11:27 am

    Many times you surprise me at the end of one of your columns, but I saw this one coming.
    Thank you for sharing with us yet another person to love, to pray for, to root for in this life.
    Laughed at this line: “In fact, in most fast food joints they don’t even have the courtesy to smile at you after they spit in your food.” I wish those workers could meet this Philly server.

  7. Steff - July 13, 2021 11:38 am

    Love these stories from south central PA. Spent the first 40 years of my life in a little town called Spring Grove, near Gettysburg. Can’t wait to see where you go tomorrow..

  8. Susan - July 13, 2021 11:45 am

    I once met a waitress in Buffalo, NY with angels on her apron and name tag. I didn’t inquire as to their significance, but I made a mental note of her name. When I returned to Florida the next day, I sent an angel statue to her at the diner. A couple of weeks later, I received a surprise letter in the mail from the young woman. She told me that my note and gift gave her faith in the goodness of people during a bad time.

    A book, a note, or a statue can mean more than you’ll ever know to someone else.

    • Joan Moore - July 13, 2021 11:53 am

      Should have left her your latest, a good read.

  9. jill - July 13, 2021 12:10 pm

    I grew up in NJ, and went to Phila (prounounced Phillie), every year on a bus with my mom. Mostly before Christmas to hit up all the department stores that once graced the main street. Macy’s, Gimbals, Strawbridges, and oh the steak subs, the pizza with grease flowing, the yearly Mummers parade, Horn and Hartarts(spelling) where you put in your quarter and you opened the door and a wonderful sandwich, pie, or salad appeared. Oh my, memories for sure. Thanks for stirring mine this morning.

  10. Doris W Drummond - July 13, 2021 12:18 pm

    Love reading your stories. I was just recently introduced to your southern stories and being an old Alabama girl now living in Georgia, I really love reading them.

  11. Heidi - July 13, 2021 12:26 pm

    Sounds like you’re having a great trip. I wish your waitress friend could know how inspiring she is. Her kids are so fortunate to have her as a mom.❤️

  12. Gayle Dodds - July 13, 2021 12:32 pm

    You Sir, are a good man

  13. Kate - July 13, 2021 12:35 pm

    Hope you send a copy of this column to the restaurant in Philly and ask them to give it to her.

  14. Bob E - July 13, 2021 12:58 pm

    In the story you wrote, “Well, I don’t read much no more.”
    Having read you for some time now your closing gesture was easily predictable.
    You obviously care about people, which makes you a good person.
    Keep writing your ‘lesson filled’ stories and keep sharing. Bless you.

  15. Peggy Thompson - July 13, 2021 1:37 pm


  16. Jane Scott - July 13, 2021 2:25 pm

    You broke my heart …as I pull into a Waffle House just to hear my order called out in “smothered, covered, and …”.

  17. Judy Smith - July 13, 2021 2:29 pm

    After reading your message today …. from now on I will not think of Philadelphia as “The City of Brotherly Love”. I will think of it as
    “The City of Motherly Love”.
    Touching story. Thank You.

  18. Christina - July 13, 2021 2:37 pm

    Yep, the city of brotherly love, Sean!
    I miss those diners!

  19. Wilson - July 13, 2021 2:41 pm

    I wonder if she realizes she met an angel? I wish someone could slip this to her so she can see how her story gives others courage and the ability to know they can do anything.

  20. Lulu - July 13, 2021 2:49 pm

    Sean, this is so touching/sweet. Those kids are blest to have such a wise mom! And she encourages the reading…wow! That woman is a rare jewel and she spreads her wisdom all around. I’ll bet that boy devoured that book – he does love mysteries. Thank you for all the beautiful tales you share. You help us begin the day in a positive, happy, loving way! Hugs ‘n love wrapped in peace and joy!

  21. creativedolan - July 13, 2021 3:25 pm

    I Love this story! I’m originally from Philadelphia, and now live in Georgia. You nail her accent very well. Lots of cursing and and broken syllables up north. And a strange underappreciation for the letter “a” and “t” in words. I get called out for it all the time in the south.

  22. Gayle Wilson - July 13, 2021 3:27 pm

    Sean, thank you for paying it forward – financially and intellectually

  23. Candice Fall - July 13, 2021 3:40 pm

    I am so thankful that God sent you to us! Thank you for showing us how to truly notice and love people in our everyday lives.

  24. Stacey Wallace - July 13, 2021 3:41 pm

    Sean, thanks for starting my days off right. May God bless you as much as He does me.

  25. Tom Wallin - July 13, 2021 4:13 pm

    You are a good man. I want to be like you when I grow up. If I were with you somewhere, I would see angels also (like your recent story). Have a great day my friend.

  26. Shelton A. - July 13, 2021 4:58 pm

    You’re a good man, Sean! God bless you, the waitress, and her child.

  27. Linda Moon - July 13, 2021 5:06 pm

    Breakfast joints on adventurous roadtrips are among my favorite discoveries. One of my favorite diners while on a girlfriend mountain-roadtrip was Big Jim’s. And he was…. BIG… and loud. We girlfriends were also loud, especially the girl named Sue. I think I know what the hard-working waitress was tapping at there, just behind her sternum. And you know, too, Writer, because you were raised by a big-hearted mom. And her son is a big-hearted guy.

  28. WKevin Dougherty - July 13, 2021 5:22 pm

    Once again, a tear. Thanks

  29. Thames - July 13, 2021 5:34 pm

    LOVE this one.

  30. Peggy ALEXANDER - July 13, 2021 5:34 pm

    Oh Sean this grandma would love to meet you. You made me have compassion Von the waitress and I nearly cried when you left the book 😢Bless your heart ❤️

  31. MAM - July 13, 2021 7:16 pm

    The book you left was the best tip you gave her! I hope she, too, finds time to read it, but I’m sure her son will devour it. Yes, Sean, you are a good man, God sent, to help us recognize the good in just about everyone!

  32. Debbie g - July 13, 2021 7:51 pm

    Love. Is all I can think of. Enough said. Love to all

  33. Shirley - July 14, 2021 1:09 am

    The day you stop writing will be a very sad day.
    I’m a very young 77 but I hope I’m I already in heaven when you stop writing.

  34. Sonja Overstreet - July 14, 2021 1:46 am

    Amazing..I love this story! Thanks for sharing! You make a lot of people smile! You have a genuine appreciation for the simple things in life! The little blessing that are all around us are the best! The ones that go unnoticed most of the time.

    Sonja Overstreet
    Salitpa, AL

  35. Nancy M - July 14, 2021 12:36 pm

    I enjoyed reading about this Philadelphia waitress. A good woman and a good mother! You were very generous to leave her your book, especially if you hadn’t finished it. I would have to think long and hard to leave a book I was still reading!
    Did you know there is a website and internet community devoted to leaving books for strangers to find? It’s called

  36. Barbara Walls - July 14, 2021 1:19 pm

    You always make my heart soar with stories about hardworking people.

  37. Tom M - July 14, 2021 6:28 pm

    Well Sean, I have been a long time reader, but this is the first time I have posted a comment. As a not-quite-there-yet life-long resident of Philadelphia, I felt the need to comment on this post. You conversation with the waitress pretty much nailed how people in Philly talk, along with there attitude. Folks in Philadelphia see themselves as scrappy and gritty. They may occasionally be rough around the edges, but their heart is in the right place. In fairness though, the scene you .portrayed in the Philly diner could have been played out in hundreds of towns across the USA. I like to think most people, rough around the edges or not, their heart is in the right place. Cool move in leaving the book; I hope it doesn’t remain an unsolved mystery!

  38. Jackie Cooley - July 16, 2021 12:39 pm

    We love Mom and Pop diners when we travel. I KNEW you were going to leave her your book. I love it.

  39. Anita Johnson - July 17, 2021 8:12 pm

    You have the “highest” heart!

  40. Anita Johnson - July 17, 2021 8:14 pm

    Grrrr I typed hughest not highest! Grrr autocorrect

  41. Bill Harris - July 22, 2021 1:13 am

    Thank you Sean


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