Saturday, August 30, 2014

Overheard in a Diner: "You Get What You Get And You Like It!"

I walk into the diner and plop into a booth. The smooth red vinyl makes it easy for me to slide over next to the window. I fiddle with the salt shaker for a minute and look around for my waiter. The place is crowded, as usual--plates and silverware clink and clank; a bell rings; people laugh and chatter. I get my phone out of my purse, take a selfie, then post an "I'm eating at Law's Diner!" status update on Facebook. I glance up.
Still no waiter.
I organize the sugar container. Put all the pinks, blues and whites together. Look out the window. Beautiful day. Perfect, actually. Blue sky. Sparrows pop in and out of the sycamore trees lining the street. I can't hear them, but I can tell they are chirping and singing. Their small beaks move rapidly as they hop in and out of the branches.
Suddenly, a plate is placed in front of me. Clink-clank.
It's huge and round and loaded with food. Heaps of it. Some looks Italian, some Mexican, maybe an Asian dish of some sort?...PLOP, down comes another plate. This one has a piece of pie on it. A big piece. I can't tell what kind of pie, but it looks delicious. Then my drink is placed in front of me -- some kind of purple beverage - wine? Grape soda? Kool Aid? I don't know. I look up at the waiter, wide eyed. He's holding an empty tray and handing me some silverware.
"But I didn't order yet?" I say, or rather, ask. "There must be a mistake."
He smiles.
"You get what you get and you like it!He says firmly, but with a friendly tone and a smile. "Enjoy!" he says and walks away briskly.
I look around the diner. There are a few other people eating alone. They seem to be enjoying their food. Some people are talking to each other at tables or to the person next to them at the counter while they eat. Everyone is smiling a lot. Did they order? I don't know. I hadn't paid any attention to them until now.
I look down at my food. Steam is coming off what appears to be some kind of tomato-y pasta dish that is smothered in cheese.
You get what you get and you like it? When did this happen?  I've been here before and I remember ordering. I remember ordering, receiving, eating, paying AND tipping as a matter of fact!  What is this new "You get what you get" thing? What is a plate like this is going to cost me? Probably a lot.
I pick up my fork and cut off an small piece of  what appears to be pasta. I raise it to my mouth.
Wow, this is good.
Really, REALLY good!
I poke at the Mexican entree on the other side of the plate. I take a bite.
Wow again.
Absolutely delicious. What is it? A tamale? If so, it is the best one I've ever had. And that is saying a lot. I buy home-made ones from my colleague Rosa every year at Christmas time. She and her mom spend hours working on them--stay up all night in fact, making enough tamales verdes to feed the whole office full of hungry lawyers.
Looking around, I begin to eat again. My waiter is no where to be found, so I can't ask him about the price or what's on my plate or even find out how I ended up with this order, but I don't really care at this point. The food is SO good.  Every bite is just the perfect mix of salty and sweet--warm, but not hot--tender, but not mushy. Just perfect.
I pick up my beverage. Sniff it. Smells a little fruity, but hard to tell. I take a sip. Sangria? I can't be sure. I only had Sangria once many years ago, when I was in my early twenties visiting Puerto Vallarta with my sister. I take another swig. This tastes heavenly. I can feel the back corners of my mouth vibrating in response. I swirl it around in my mouth and then swallow.
Somehow, it goes perfectly with everything on my plate. The perfect match.
I finish off my meal, swirl some more of the mystery Sangria around in my mouth and then pull the small plate with my slice of pie toward me. I pick it up and look at it from every angle. Peach? Apricot? Mango? I don't know, but the crust looks hand made. It is crumbly and uneven, instead of perfect and flat like those frozen ones. At this point, I know I will be fine with WHATEVER kind of pie this is. Everything else has been great. Problem is?
I'm full.
Very full.
I know I have no room for a piece of pie. I wished I had. I contemplate sitting in the booth for a half an hour watching the birds play and allowing room in my stomach to develop, but the restaurant now has a line out the door and I know people would give me the evil eye if I sat here too long.
So I am going to have to do the impossible.
I am going to have to find my waiter.
"Waiter! Excuse me!" I yell in a polite inside voice.
The waiter who had plopped everything off at my table was now behind the counter pouring coffee. Wait. Was it coffee?  Or was it hot chocolate? I couldn't be sure, but he heard me and trotted over.
"Yes?" He asked. He looked down briefly at the plates on my table and smiled.
"Uh, can I get this pie to go?" I pushed the plate with the pie on it closer to him.
"You're not going to eat the pie?" He asked, sounding a little bit like a mother talking to a small child--not really upset, but loving and concerned.
"No, not right now; I'm too full." I said and dropped my eyes to my empty plate. "Everything else was so good, I just couldn't stop eating. But I really want to have my pie.I just need to take it to go, so I can enjoy it later."
"Sorry, you can't take it with you."
"I can't?" I was confused. Had the diner run out of doggie bags? Styrofoam containers? Were they implementing the same policy as the buffet across the street?
"No, sorry. Everything we serve must be eaten here."
I cocked my head like the RCA dog. "But I didn't even order this pie!" I said. I tried to soften my voice so it wouldn't sound like an accusation. In other words, I tried NOT to sound like a lawyer. I pointed at my pie and forced a tight smile. "I didn't ask for it. You just gave it to me."
"And there's a problem with that?" He asked. He looked like he was trying to hold back a laugh.
"Uh, well, no, but it just seems weird that I have to eat it here. I mean don't you have to-go boxes?"
"No, we don't actually. We expect all our guests to get what they get and like it."
"And eat it here." I said.
"Yes, exactly!" He agreed. He pointed at me like I had hit in on the nose. I half expected him to sing out, "Ding! Ding! Ding!" I was glad when he didn't.
"Well, OK," I said and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. "You have a bathroom?"
He nodded and pointed at a door to the right of the counter.
"Oh, good. I just want to make sure I have somewhere to go if I get sick." I patted my stomach.
"Oh, you won't get sick. Go ahead and eat it all. Really. You'll be fine. Enjoy it!"
I smiled weakly. I could still feel the last bite of Italian surprise sitting dangerously near my esophagus.
I picked up my fork as he turned and walked away quickly. He was whistling, and for a moment I thought I saw him skip.
I took a small bite of my pie.
Not surprisingly, it made my mouth water. A LOT. I grabbed my napkin and dabbed the corners of my mouth. It wasn't peach. Or apricot. Or anything I could was PIE MAGNIFICENCE.  Heavenly. Incredible. Other worldly. Like an orange meets a peach meets a Hawaiian vacation meets my mouth.
Little by little, bite by bite, I ate it. All of it. And somehow, my stomach found room for it. I didn't feel sick--at all, just very, very satisfied. My stomach felt full, but not Thanksgiving dinner full. And my head almost seemed to hum with pleasure. I felt warm and welcomed, safe and satisfied, giddy and grateful all at once. What was this confectionery creation? This perfect pie?...And this meal? This whole thing? What an unexpected, unbelievable treat! My compliments to the Chef! I wanted to curl up with a blanket and just lay there against the window, stretch my legs out along the vinyl seat, rest my hands on my full belly and smile.
But then I remembered.
The bill.
How much was this going to cost me? Sure, I had money, but still. I didn't order any of this and now they were probably going to slap me with some big bill figuring I'm some fancy lawyer who can afford it, so why not. I mean what am I going to say? I didn't order it, so you can't charge me? I ate EVERYTHING! Even my glass was completely empty! I had slurped out the last drop of purple nectar with a straw after my last bite of pie.
I waved at my waiter to come over.
"I'm ready to pay now." I said. I braced myself.
He smiled and folded his hands in front of him. Here it comes, I thought. He'll get my big check out of that little pocket in the front of his apron and slap it down on my table. I had a feeling I was going to hear: You get what you get AND YOU PAY FOR IT! 
"Oh, no need to pay for anything. The bill has already been paid." He said.
"No, actually I haven't paid yet." I said, confused. I started to reach for my purse. This whole situation was starting to feel like the Twilight Zone, only with Rachel Ray as the director.
"I know you haven't paid, but your don't owe us anything!" He said. His smile was wide and he threw his arms out as if to say: Surprise! Isn't that GREAT!
"So let me get this straight." I said, plunking my purse down in my lap. "I come in. I don't order anything, food just shows up. Food that I have not ordered. Oh, and I get some strange drink, which was very good, don't get me wrong, but I didn't order that either. I also get a piece of pie, once again, that I didn't order, which I have to eat here--I can't take it with me because that isn't allowed and even though I am really, really full, I manage to find room for it and then when I go to pay for all this food I haven't ordered, you tell me my bill has already been paid? I mean that is really nice and all, but what kind of diner is this?"
I noticed he hadn't stopped smiling throughout my entire rant. He pointed toward the front door. I looked in that direction."Didn't you see the sign when you came in?" He asked.
"What sign?"
"The one with the name of this restaurant." He said.
"What do you mean? This is Law's Diner, right? I've been here many times. I work at the courthouse right up the street and get lunch here all the time. In fact, I posted on Facebook that I was here at Law's Diner when I first sat down in this booth."
"No, this isn't Law's anymore," he said.
"It isn't?"
"Nope. It's under new ownership."
"Whose?" I asked.  He smiled. A big, broad, good news smile.
"Welcome to Grace's."

-Hope A. Horner, 2014
Follow on Twitter at
Feel free to forward, post and share online. For offline use, contact author on gmail at hopeh1122

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Top 5 Ways The California Drought Helps YOU!

The situation in California is dire.
The state is in an epic drought.
State governing officials just issued strict water conservation measures for all Californians--absolutely NO watering lawns everyday, washing cars with a hose or allowing sprinklers to spray water on sidewalks. Fines will be issued to violators. The "water police" are making the rounds. "Water wasters" are being ratted out on websites and hotlines.
So what do Californians do in the midst of this crisis?
They buy Evian.
And adjust their sprinklers, put away hoses, time showers and pray for rain. Californians sacrifice to SAVE THE STATE. It's going to be rough, but survival depends on conservation.

If you live in California like I do, you are probably dry, dusty and depressed at this point. You're probably standing over wilted flower beds wondering when, oh when, will they bloom in all their glory? You can hardly remember what a drop of rain feels like on your skin. You reminisce about the good old days when the kids played in the sprinklers.With hopeful, tear-filled eyes, you glance up at the heavens every morning and afternoon wondering, praying...but nope, not a drop of rain in sight. Not even a cloud in the sky! Not one! Oh wait, is that one? Over there on the horizon? Nope. Just smog.

But WAIT! Wipe your tears Californians! Slap a smile back on your sun-tanned, botoxed faces! There ARE some benefits to this drought. Yes! Believe it or not, this drought actually works in your favor!

Top 5 Ways This Drought Helps You:

Your dirty car shows you are committed to water conservation, not lazy!

Your co-workers now consider your body odor as evidence that you are loyal to the "10 minute or LESS" shower rule, not that you have poor personal hygiene as originally thought.

Your neighbors have stopped complaining about your lawn. (Their complaints began in the 90's so this is a great relief!)

No one judges you when you drink in public, as long as it isn't from the hose.

Your backyard pool now provides positive recreation opportunities for wayward teens. 

See! There is always a silver lining to the rain cloud. OK, so maybe in this case, there is only a silver lining.
Hang in there.

-Hope A. Horner, 2014
Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122

#californiadrought #drought2014 #prayforrain

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Jiminy Cricket is a Liar

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are...
When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true!
Shut up, Jiminy! 
You know that ain't true. You're a BUG. You couldn't be a lawyer or a banker or a doctor if you wished on every star in the galaxy! 
Cool hat, though.

I'm sorry. I don't mean to pick on a cricket. It's just that I'm frustrated. Have you noticed how many teens live in Jiminy's dream world when it comes to their future careers? They have no idea what they are good at, are motivated only by money, and haven't the slightest interest in doing the HARD WORK it takes to be successful? And yet they fully expect to be. Think they have it coming.
We can't blame this all on Jiminy. We might be part of the problem. We told them" "You can do anything you set your mind to. "You can be anything you want to be." If they just "believe it" they can "achieve it." Right?
Nope. It doesn't work that way. And we know it.

1) Wish upon a star
2) Believe in yourself
3) Ignore the "haters" i.e. those who tell you otherwise
4) Fall in love - this fixes everything and launches your career as a prince or princess

1) Make good choices
2) Work hard
3) Know somebody (or somebody who knows somebody)
4) Fall in love with someone who makes good choices, works hard and if possible, knows somebody

I throw in that last one, because let's face it, some people just get lucky. They get their foot in the door because of "so and so." They get the internship because their uncle works there. They marry someone connected and rich who says, "Sure, honey, I'll help you open that bookstore slash coffee shop you always wanted." So sure, who you know CAN give you a leg up in the working world, but more than anything--
Dreams come true when you wake up and work hard to make them happen.
They can't be just wished for. And we are not helping kids when we fill them full of Disney fluff and false praise. We create little monsters. You know the eighteen year old, fresh out of high school who thinks that a great job is going to fall in his lap because his Mommy told him he was special? The kid who has no idea what his strengths are, only that his Dad told him "he could be anything he wanted to be." Never mind that he sleeps until 1pm in his parent's basement, his only job experience is flipping burgers at Pappy's Patties last summer and his biggest decision this month was where to get his medical marijuana card.
Reality check, please. STAT.
I'm not saying we dash their hopes, but we need to help them be realistic, get their head out of the stars (and somewhere else dark) and back to earth, and encourage them to ask themselves these questions:

What skills/talents do I have? How can I make a living using them?
What education and experience is necessary to break into my field of interest?
Do I really want to be a _____or do I just want to be rich? What is really motivating me to choose this job or career? 
Where can I volunteer to get some experience in this area?
What is important to me? How do I want to spend my life?
Who do I know that can help guide/mentor/teach me?
What choices do I need to make RIGHT NOW to help me achieve my goal?
What choices could I make that would send my dream up in a ball of smoke?
If I have an idea for an invention, website or business, what does it take to bring it to life? Am I willing to spend the time and energy it takes to make it happen? 
What are the benefits of working for myself? What are the benefits of working for a company or organization?
Is what I want to do in demand or is it hard to "break into"? If the latter, what will I do to set myself apart?

These are just a few. I am sure you can think of more...

I used to run a support group for teen girls. One of my favorite activities was "Dream Killers."  We would write down each girl's dreams:
I want to be a doctor.
I want to graduate from college.
I want to have a good boyfriend/husband.

Then we would talk about what could kill these dreams:
Picking bad friends
Doing drugs or drinking
Getting arrested
Choosing the wrong boyfriend / staying with a bad one

These were some of the typical answers.They knew what could kill their dreams. But did they know the choice was theirs? I would often jokingly tell them, "You are not going to wake up one day in bed, look down and say, 'Oh my gosh! I'm pregnant! How did this happen?" They would giggle. We all knew that pregnancy (with rare and terrible exceptions) is a choice. So is doing drugs. Drinking. Oh, and a career. You may not know what you want to do, but every choice you make either leads you away or toward success. Sometimes it's a short journey; sometimes long. Sometimes you have to "make a left at Albuquerque" (as Bugs Bunny used to say) and take a new path when something unexpected or tragic happens to you or a family member. Sometimes dreams can be dashed by unforeseen circumstances, but what I wanted the girls to learn is - When it comes to me and the choices I make, I will make choices that keep my dream alive. I will choose wisely.

If I were leading the group today, I would add a few other things to the list of Dream Killers:
Unrealistic Expectations
Sense of Entitlement

I meet kids who can barely do long division who think they are going to be accountants. Kids who think they are going to sing for a living because their mom gets verklempt when they belt out a decent karaoke version of a ten year old Brittany Spears song. Others who want to be lawyers, doctors or psychologists (i.e. rich), but who say, "I don't want to go to college for too long." At least a few are honest and will admit, "I want to be rich without having to work too hard. Like invent something cool or start my own website or something."
I know I sound like Debbie Downer here, but a lot of teens need a reality check. I think we need to tell them, for example, that it is a LOT of work to be a doctor--there is A LOT of schooling, reading, studying, test taking and THEN--residency, long hours, late night shifts, etc. It can be a very rewarding and lucrative career, but it's not an automatic, just because you have an MD next to your name. I had a Kaiser doctor tell me once that if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn't. As he checked in my ears and throat, he complained that he was in debt up to his eyeballs with school loans, making a little over 100k and working hours that made in nearly impossible for him to have a social life. And the kicker? He didn't even enjoy his work. I switched doctors.

So let's be real with kids. It's OK to ruin every Disney movie in your collection by pointing out to your kids as the credits roll (and the popcorn sneaks farther into the couch cushions) that lions, mice, princesses, penguins and yes, even crickets LIE. You can wish upon a star all you want, but when it comes right down to it, you have to "whistle while you WORK."
OK, so Snow White can stay. For now.

-Hope A. Horner, 2014
Follow on Twitter at
Free to forward, post and share. For offline use, please contact the author on gmail at hopeh1122.