Monterey Cafe, Monterey, California


A big red neon sign glowing “Put Breakfast First” adorns the kitchen wall. “Take any table you want,” the busboy says. The smell of hot oil, potatoes, and coffee drifts in from the kitchen. “No, I don’t need a menu.” The room is still cold from the night before, but the coffee is hot and good enough as I sip and wait for my hash browns and eggs over medium.

“Steak and eggs and toast with lots of butter, please,” says the British accent at the next table. The only one rushing around is the lone waitress while bits of conversation dip in and out of old Motown songs.

Two kids hanging onto two parents circle the room. “You want to sit here or over there? You want your own chair, or you wanna sit on my lap? Wanna cup of Milk? Pancakes with chocolate chips or French toast with eggs?” Foot-tall replicas of Laurel and Hardy stare down at the whole scene from a shelf.

At least three accents drift through the room. “She said, ‘I’m just going to taste the vodka.’ Haha.” “Freak’n drink’n half the bar.” Obviously, we got a bad reputation.” “Oh well, good times.” As I salt my eggs, I can feel them catching glimpses of me. Maybe they can feel me eavesdropping. And Aretha is belting out, freedom, freedom, freedom.