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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Different Diner, the Same Daughter, More Deliberations

Athens, Ohio, just off campus of Ohio University

It's a dreadfully humid August day in southeastern Ohio. Spicy Food Guy and Intellectual Eldest Daughter of Spicy Food Guy (IEDOSFG) are visiting the campus of Ohio University, where IEDOSFG will be matriculating as a freshman in the Honors Tutorial College in just a few weeks. We are taking a break from the heat to have lunch at the Court Diner.

The diner is old school; a trailer style New Jersey diner with chrome fixtures that have rounded edges. SFG's booth sags in the middle and is partly held together with duct tape. Right next to SFG's left leg, foam sticks through a fist sized hole in the seat. The Court Diner has clearly fed thousands of OU students at all hours of the day and night through countless sleepless semesters. If the diner was a car, it would be a run-down jeep with 190,000 miles. It would qualify for Cash for Clunkers.

But Spicy Food Guy digresses.

It is a serious conversation, between Dad and Daughter, here in this diner. There are some upperclassmen milling about campus. IEDOSFG is only a couple weeks away from living here.

It's getting real.

IEDOSFG is contemplating her decisions. She wants to love it here, she wants desperately to have a joyful and rich experience. She doesn't say that in so many words, but her eyes scream it.

The waitress is here.

SFG orders the four cheese mac & cheese on penne pasta with breadcrumbs and garlic toast. At $7.49, SFG notes wryly, this is the most expensive item on the menu. IEDOSFG orders a cheeseburger and fries. The food arrives and it is excellent. SFG wolfs down the mac & cheese. IEDOSFG is more tentative with her food, pushing it around her plate; to match her mood, perhaps.

Spicy Food Guy is not really that worried. IEDOSFG is hardwired to enjoy herself wherever she is. This is the kid who had the "best Christmas ever" every Christmas. She will be fine, here in the Honors Tutorial College at OU.

SFG thoughts are more about time and self-reflection. "I was just here," he says a bit incredulously, softly to himself, "Not this campus, not this State, but I was here, here in a place just like this."

"I was young and strong and scared and delirious. And it was like, only a few months ago. My parents should be dropping me off here. Where in the world did almost 30 years (that can't be right!) go?"

Spicy Food Guy supposes he is not much different than the Court Diner. We both sag a bit in the middle. Some foam is starting to poke through the holes. And Spicy Food Guy has some duct tape on his soul.

But Spicy Food Guy stays silent about all that. There is too much promise in the humid air today. Despite her uncertainty, IEDOSFG eyes gleam. She wants challenge. Demands it. She is eager to move in with her roommate, go to class, embrace the experience. Today, SFG is here as a driver, and this trip is all about his passenger. Today, there is a sense of rightness, of scary excitement, a sense of no limits.

Good luck and godspeed, IEDOSFG. Inhale it all. And if Dad has a piece of advice, it is to savor your food. A good mac & cheese can provide a great deal of perspective if you are paying attention. And a good meal with close friends in a romping college restaurant is a treasure. So is lunch with Dad in some old diner. And to paraphrase a good writer named Luke, "wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

I'll miss you.

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