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“I pulled up Google Maps on the computer, looking for the best route from north central Minnesota going south to Augusta, Georgia. This route would take me south on I-35 through the Minneapolis/St. Paul, then down through Mason City, cutting down diagonally through Waterloo, Iowa, then over to Cedar Rapids and the Avenue of the Saints, etc.
Because I had to stop in Superior Wisconsin, I decided to just go south on Highway 53, catching Highway 63 south at Spooner. Knowing that highway runs to Waterloo, I would follow this route and it would take me within a couple blocks of my daughter’s house. I knew she was home alone that evening so I would stop and visit.
While en route driving through some small town in Wisconsin, I came across a small playground area on a side road. To the south of it was what appeared to be a city garage of sorts. Between the two was a very large grassy, field. It looked more like a well-manicured lawn. There was a straight section of chain-link fence between the playground and the field that seemed odd and out of place.
June had been in the car for quite a while and this was a good time and place to let her run. I threw her tennis ball as far as I could. I am still amazed how fast that dog can run, at nine-years-old. I threw the ball several more times, each time she retrieved it. I called June back by the car, for a drink of water.
After she had a drink, I was getting ready to throw the ball again. A man in a city truck pulled up. With his arm leaning on the edge of his open window, he said, “I wouldn’t stop there.” “I’m just throwing the ball for my dog in the park,” I explained. The man told me, “That’s not a park. It’s part of old man Johnson’s yard. He lives in the house way back there,” he said pointing to a house that was far away on the other end of the lot. “He doesn’t like kids and he really doesn’t like dogs in his yard. He kind of thinks he owns the street, too.” “Thanks for the tip.” I said to the man, then he drove away to the city garage.
Not heeding his advice, I was going to throw the ball again, but there was now an old man marching across the lawn toward us from the direction of the house. He was waving his arms and pointing our direction. With the wind blowing, I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but he didn’t seem at all happy.
Thinking it would be best not to challenge him, I opened the car door and called June, “Come on Bugs, get in the car.” June danced in circles thinking I was going to throw the ball. The man was halfway to us. “June! In the car. Now!” I directed with a stern voice. June jumped in, I closed her door, then quickly got in and started the motor. I gave the man a friendly wave, he was pointing a rigid finger at us. By now I could hear a lot of cussing, so I drove away quickly.
Several miles down the road, I pulled into a gas station lot and parked the car. A girl in a green florescent vest walked toward me and said, “I wouldn’t stop there.” “I’m just going to take a look at my map for a few minutes,” I explained. “We have a transport truck coming, and you’re on top of the tanks,” she said, then added, “The driver gets really upset if anyone is in his way.” I told her, “I’ll only be a few minutes and, if he comes, I’ll move.” She pointed to the sign on the edge of the pavement that read, “No Parking Anytime.” Not wanting to challenge her, I smiled and said, “No problem.” I started the engine and drove down the road.
Pulling into the next gas station I came to, I stopped off to the side to look at my map. A guy fueling his car looked at me and said, “I wouldn’t stop there.” “Why not,” I asked. “Cars come flying in off the street right there. You’re bound to get hit.” Not wanting to get hit, I started my car and drove away.
The route I was following took me right through the town of Red Wing, Minnesota. The GPS was telling me to make a turn that just didn’t feel right to me. I made the turn, then pulled over to the shoulder of the road and stopped the car. I was reaching for my Atlas when a SUV pulled up along side me. The driver called over to me, “I wouldn’t stop there,” she said. “Why not? I’m clear of the road,” I said. She pointed toward a large, fenced in grassy area on the other side of my car. “That’s a correctional facility. My husband works there and they get really nervous and concerned when cars stop on the shoulder. I’d keep moving down the road bit.”
Several miles down the road, I stopped and was finally able to look at the map. It appeared my GPS, as I suspected, was taking me down the scenic route. This far into the trip I decided to stay on course and kept driving to Waterloo.
The phone rang. It was my wife calling. “How’s the drive going,” she asked. “Everyone keeps biting my head off and telling me, ‘I wouldn’t stop there, I wouldn’t stop there,’” I said mimicking the people. “I swear they did it every time I stopped the car.” I went on to tell her the whole story, then said, “I’m going right by Sydney’s house, so I’m going to stop and visit – maybe get dinner with her or something.” Melissa said, “I wouldn’t stop there.” “Why not.” I asked. There was a brief pause then she started laughing. I’ll admit, I can be a bit dense at times, but I finally caught on. “I get it. Very funny!” I said. We shared a good laugh over that and I continued driving to Waterloo.
I asked my daughter, “Where would you like to go to dinner? My treat.” We headed to Newton’s Paradise Café in downtown Waterloo. The hostess seated us and our waitress came by with two glasses of water. “Hi. My name is Kaitlyn and I’ll be your waitress tonight.” I smiled, “Hi Kaitlyn, my name is Tom and this is my daughter Sydney. We’ll be your customers tonight.” We shared a good laugh over that. My humor seemed to set the stage for a pleasant dining experience.
After we placed our orders and were waiting for our food, Sydney told me, “This place has the best coffee! I should have ordered a cup.” When Kaitlyn went by, I stopped her, “My daughter tells me you have the best coffee in the world.” Kaitlyn confessed, “I don’t drink coffee but a lot of customers tell me that it is.” “Well then, I better have a cup.” I said. Sydney and I were going to share one, as I wanted to try it, but really didn’t want a whole cup of coffee.
A different waitress brought the coffee to us and I took the first sip. I wrinkled my face. “You don’t like it,” Sydney questioned. “It’s cold,” I told her. When Kaitlyn passed by, I politely told her the coffee could use a little time in the microwave oven. A little embarrassed, she blushed, “I’m sorry. I’ll go make a fresh pot.” She returned with a fresh cup of hot coffee. I took a sip and agreed with Sydney – it was very good.
I could tell she was fairly new at her job, but Kaitlyn’s service was every bit as good as the coffee. When the check came, I gave her my card and she returned with my total. I don’t know why, but they always bring three copies of the ticket. One is for the register, one is for me, I’m not sure what the third is for, but I often use it to write a note for the wait staff, especially when the service is good.
I wrote, “Thanks for making a fresh pot of coffee for us. Your awesome, friendly service, was both noticed and appreciated. You made dinner more fun for us. Tom and Sydney.”
A 20% tip would be $4, but her service was better than that. I left a twenty-dollar tip on a twenty-dollar ticket. Sydney and I chatted for a while, finished our coffee, then left. When the service is good, I frequently tip well and leave notes for our wait staff. I very seldom get to see their response.
It was dark, when we walked outside to Sydney’s van. With the lights on inside the café, we could clearly see some type of commotion going on. It was Kaitlyn, jumping up and down and dancing. She was smiling as big as I’ve ever seen anyone smile, showing something to the other waitresses. I had already forgotten the note and the tip.
Kaitlyn ran over to the window, knocking on the glass to get our attention. When she saw we were looking, she patted her chest over her heart, then held her hands together with her thumbs touching on the bottom and her fingers rounded, coming together on the top. She was making a heart for us – a sign of love. That made me feel warm inside – really warm.
I thought to myself, I’m sure I glad stopped here.
Tom can be reached for comment at Facebook.com/Tom.palen.98