It's 7 in the morning and I am sitting in the cafe in Middleburgh that my parents used to stop at for breakfast on the drive from Cobleskill to Brewster. My mother still occasionally stops in when she drives down. The pancakes are good and the owners would always come by the table to chat awhile with my parents. Everyone liked to chat with my parents. I used to join them here for breakfast now and then, and I enjoyed seeing how warmly welcomed they were, whether here or anyplace- always a smile and some amiable conversation, my father's deep laughter filling the room.
My apple pancakes arrive, with a side of applesauce and crisp bacon. Each pancake is plate-sized. My coffee is topped up. My car is parked across the street, and I remembered to put a dime in the meter. A dime for an hour! Outside, the sky is brightening gradually, in that half-mast November way. The morning will be clear, with a few distant low-lying clouds, and then by mid-afternoon the shadows will lengthen as the light begins to fade. The last bright leaves always seem to fall overnight, as if someone has pulled them down over the ground like a blanket. A few patches of color remain and now the light catches them, makes them glow for a moment against the surrounding bare branches. In a little while I'll be driving southeast again into that morning sunlight, driving too fast over the gray ribbon of road because there are never any cops around and it's too tempting to speed. Fields and farmhouses flash past and I'm as close to flying as I could be. I slow down as I pass through the little towns. After years of driving this route, each turn of the road, each hill and speed zone is familiar. With my eyes closed- if I'm not behind the wheel- I'd still know where I was at any moment. Though with my eyes closed, lulled, I'd likely fall asleep. I watch through the window as the sun fades and reappears.
I pay my check and fold my remaining half-pancake into a styrofoam box. My coffee is refilled again. I am still the only customer in the restaurant so far this morning, though the easy chatter in the back continues. Someone has heard the temperature is going to drop soon. Yesterday was warm for mid-November up here. Last night I moved a few loads of firewood into the garage for my mother, so it would be easily within reach. It had been stored in the bigger detached garage for the summer and was very light and dry, so I piled the wheelbarrow high each time I rolled it across the driveway. There has been so little rain this fall that even the wood in the yard is drier than usual, which makes it easier to move, especially when I have to wheel it across an uneven lawn or carry it in armloads up the steps to someone's deck. The weather will not stay this agreeable for long, so I appreciate it now. I remember very well the rains that render peoples' yards muddy and rutted and the unlikely snowstorm that blew in last November to strand me, shivering and sodden, at a customer's house after my truck fishtailed all over the slippery roads. There's no doubt that winter will arrive eventually, bringing with it the snow and cold we expect, but I am glad enough to wait a while longer.
A tableful of large men in plaid shirts and work jackets has come in and ordered pancakes and omelets. They lean back in their seats chuckling, their big hands wrapped around coffee cups. An older couple sits quietly nearby. These are the regulars. I crane my head around, waiting for change. I'll have to put another dime in the meter, or else get back on the road. I recall the gas light is on. I'm driving so much these days, it seems that light is always on. 60, 50, 40 miles left, then just a dotted line to notify me it's not kidding around. Once, for no reason, I pushed it too far, and suddenly found myself stopped dead in the middle of a 3-lane interstate at rush hour. Cars and trucks veered around me, honking, as I frantically called triple A for an emergency gas delivery. I'd like to say that was the last time I let the tank get so low, but I had another close call a couple of weeks ago. It's the time of year when I find myself hungrier and my car thirstier. At the same time I'm making enough money to meet these needs, at least for a few months. I imagine, as I often do, what it might be like to have a steady cash flow all year round. I gather my change and leave a tip, tug on my jacket amid the hum of conversation and head out into the street.