SOUTH PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – also known as South Philly
WORKING AT A 24 HOUR DINER
Just a typical shift at the Rosetta Diner. At least that’s what Lou Pizzario thought when he arrived at work at the diner. He eased his old Cadillac into one of the spots on the side of the diner, then waved hello to one of the staff taking out the trash.
As the doorman to the diner, he was the host who knew the customers, greeted them with a smile and seated them in their favorite seats. It came naturally after almost ten years of being the manager and host at the diner.
He checked the schedule on the wall to see how many employees were on the shift. Maria was experienced. Dolores Ragari, the Italian redhead, always seemed to sell the most Buttercake and pies. He was short two people, but then again, one had retired and the other one was on maternity leave.
A beautiful brunette walked into the diner. She had long legs and wore high heels. Her hair hung down to her waist, she had a smile that could draw the attention of many men, and she wore tight jeans that had sparkles near the pockets.
“Excuse me, I’d like to talk to the manager.” She walked up to him and stared at him seriously.
“I’m Lou. I’m the manager on duty.”
“I need a job.”
If he had a dime for how many times he’d heard that over the years, at 32, he’d be a millionaire. Yet, for some reason, this lady seemed different.
“Let’s talk.” He escorted her over to the curved booth in the corner where he could see the customers going in and out of the diner. He waited till she sat down, then slid into the seat across from her. “So, tell me about yourself.”
“The name is Dina Di Carlo. I’m 24 and I have one kid who is going to be an actress one day. She’s got that type of personality.”
Lou ran a large hand through his blonde hair. He was a writer who saw how things could be in a movie. So he could see this girl on stage as a dancer. Maybe even a singer. Definitely an actress.
“We’re a diner who is open 24 hours a day. You would be a waitress. The responsibilities involve knowing the menu, being polite to the customers, getting the orders right and casually mentioning the large selection of desserts we have in the kitchen.”
Dina nodded, her stare intent as she waited for him to make a decision with her career.
“You got any experience as a waitress?”
“I’d need a few pieces of information, and I would like you to fill out some paperwork.” He knew that the diner needed two more waitresses, but they didn’t just hire anyone off the street. In South Philly, they needed to be extra careful as working at the diner was prestigious as well as in a good location. Most of the waitresses got good jobs at expensive restaurants in Center City Philadelphia once they got a lot of experience. They left here with a good luck card that all the employees signed.
“I’ll do whatever I need to do to get a job, within limits of course,” Dina stated, responding in a serious manner that warned him she was used to dealing with men in a manner that said back off and hands off.
He smiled. “I’ll get you the paperwork.”
As she filled out the paperwork, he took care of seating a few customers. The Pratico family lived nearby and brought their grandmother, Carmella, to the diner often. The old lady enjoyed the meatloaf with mashed potato entrée so the whole family took up two booths on a regular basis.
He went back to the office, a small but cozy place where he could sit down to count money and fill out paperwork. Maria Leonetti finally arrived on duty. She put her long brunette hair up in a bun, then put her black diner hat on top. She turned to greet him. “Looks like we’re a bit slower than normal. The employees from the hospital might not have gotten off their shift yet.”
Yeah. Probably extra busy as I heard that they’re getting a new wing dedicated, so they might be hiring a few more employees.” He eased back in the black leather chair that had been in the office for over ten years. “Maria, I have a potential new employee. Her name is Dina. Can you talk to her before you go on your shift? Give her a few details about working here?”
“Sure.” She put a white frilly apron over her black uniform. “Where’s she sitting?”
“In the corner booth.”
“Got it.” She left to go out front.
Lou glanced up at the photos of the famous people who’d visited the Rosetta Diner. Most had their autograph and the pictures included some of the employees on duty. That one was a rock star, a governor, and his favorite, the TV star who’d made about twenty movies.
He finally found the business card of the people who sent the pies and placed the order for the week. While most of the bakery items were made on the premises, a few of them, like the cannoli cake, was specially ordered from the Italian bakery down the corner.
Lou stood up and glanced in the mirror. Even at 32, he still looked young. His long blonde hair was styled just right. His wide shoulders matched his six foot five frame. Luckily, he’d taken up acting rather than football in high school and college.
“Lou. I need your help.” Lisa Westano yelled from the kitchen area. Her hand was full of soap suds and she was scrubbing the kitchen sink like it was her white marble steps on Snyder Avenue.
He walked into the kitchen that had six employees busy preparing dinners.
“I wanted to talk to you about my vacation next week, but I think I smell smoke.” Lisa stated, dropping the scrub brush into the aluminum sink.
Lou went over to the fryer and saw the smoke starting to billow up toward the ceiling. The fire alarm went off about the same time. By the time he was done covering the fryer with a lid, turning off the fryer, pulling the plug and putting out the fire, he knew that his white uniform now looked grey and smudged. He shoved back his blonde hair with a dirty hand, then made sure that everyone was okay.
He glanced inside and saw overcooked food that had been in the fryer way too long. He cleaned the mess quickly.
“Hey, Lou. Maria said to remind you that the potential employee is still waiting for you to get back to her.” Lisa peered at him from behind her wire rimmed glasses.
“Thanks, Lisa. I didn’t forget her, I just got busy.” He went back to the front of the diner where the waitresses were waiting on the content customers. The fire was out, the food was being served, and luckily, the staff here was better than normal. Experience. That made a difference when you had several employees. He still had to talk to Dina, discuss Lisa’s vacation and seat the guests.
It was that type of shift at the Rosetta Diner and he was the manager on duty who made sure everything ran smoothly.
FRIENDS AND FRIENDSHIP
“So, are you married?” Dina asked that question on her second day working at the diner.
Lou had two plates of raviolis with meatballs in his hands, so he just glanced at the new waitress.
“No, came close once, but she was the executive type who traveled a lot.”
He delivered the food to the elderly couple in booth three, then went back to get two cups of coffee.
“So, what happened to her?” Dina asked as she buttered two pieces of toast.
“Beth was the type of gal who liked fancy dinners, trips down the shore, and gambling at the casinos.” Lou replied, “She dressed in expensive clothes, drove a fast car, and liked her executive boss a bit more than me. So she married him and got a divorce a year later.”
He waited to see what Dina would say. When she just shrugged, he brought the hot coffee back to table number three.
“My ex-boyfriend was different,” Dina stated when she was in between customers. “He worked as a construction worker, but didn’t get many jobs. We were gonna get married, but he never had the money for a ring.”
Lou had heard that type of story many times, but he just leaned back on the counter and listened. Sometimes, all someone needed was a quiet person to discuss issues. Other times, it was a problem zone that had to be avoided, like an angry ex-boyfriend storming into the diner and asking for money in front of customers.
“I need this job, so I’m extra careful to make sure that I do well.” Dina looked at him. Her dark brown eyes looked very serious. The grim expression on her face hinted at more to the issue than appeared. “I might need more hours so that I can pay the rent.”
“We’ll talk about it later, when I do the schedule for next week.”
She nodded, then went to clean the long counter that could sit almost twenty people comfortably on round swiveling stools.
Guido Santucci came into the restaurant. He sat down at his regular stool at the counter. “Hey, Lou. We’re having a mummers club meeting tonight. Do you want to come and meet some of the people?”
“I get off about five today. What time is the meeting?”
“Starts at seven. Maria might come with me, so you’ll at least know us.”
“Yeah. That should give me enough time to change, eat dinner and get there on time.”
Guido nodded. “Good. You know the address. We’re meeting in the lower level tonight, probably making a few of the costumes while we discuss fundraisers.”
‘Sounds good.” Lou contemplated the invitation. He’d been in several groups in the past and knew that volunteering was a commitment that took up a lot of hours, but might not get him friends. Most were acquaintances who had busy lives, intense jobs, and sisters who wanted dates.
If he got married, he wanted to find the right woman, one who loved him, not just his bank account. He tried to picture the right woman, but all he saw was his ex-girlfriend and the way she’d told him she was getting married. “Oh, Lou. By the way, I’m marrying my new boss, you know the one from Texas who owns an oil rig somewhere.”
That conversation had been interesting, then again, he wished her well.
Lou turned around to see the owner of that sultry voice. There, sitting at the end of the counter was a tall, blonde who wore a low, skimpy black lace shirt. He smiled politely. “Can I help you with your order?”
“So, what are you doing later tonight, darling? I’m free from work and you’re looking very handsome today.”
He noted she wore black high heels and short dungaree pants that showed off her long legs in a manner that drew his attention.
“I’m busy tonight, but why don’t you tell me a bit about you?”
She licked the spoon of her banana split in a way that said she was hungry for more than the whipped cream on top. “Well, my name’s Angie Mc Guire. I am a bartender at an Irish Brogue Pub a few miles away. I enjoy swimming, hiking, dancing, cooking and I rarely date.”
He tried not to smile at that comment. “I’m Lou Pizzario and I rarely date, too. Sadly, I’m busy helping out friends tonight.”
She slid a business card out of her pocket and handed it to him. Her long red nails emphasized her delicate yet strong hands. “Here’s my number. Call me when you get a chance.”
The Irish Brogue Pub was near Second Street, where a lot of the mummers had their club houses. This business card seemed shiny and fancier than most. Then again, what was a waiter to know about such things?
“Thanks.” He slid the business card in the pocket of his white shirt. “Would you like more coffee?”
Angie shrugged. “I’m used to drinking chai tea and more elegant drinks, but a cup of black tea would be good.”
Lou quietly got her tea, then Maria called him about needing change for the cash register. By the time he got back to the front of the diner, the lady in the black lace shirt had gone. Her bar stool was empty. Yet, he had a business card in his pocket with her phone number. He seated a few more people, then glanced at the clock to see that he had at least another hour till he was done his shift.
“Lou.” Dina looked upset. She stood there wringing her hands. “I hate to tell you this, but I think someone is having a baby in the women’s bathroom right now.”
WHAT’S FOR DINNER?
Lou knew that the day had been wonderful when the lady in the bathroom had a baby girl that she named Rosetta. Such was life that a doctor from one of the nearby hospitals ate at the diner regularly.
“The mom’s okay. The baby girl is doing well.” Doc Holiday rolled up his white sleeves as he exited the bathroom.
“Dinner’s on the house, Doc.” Lou smiled as the doctor walked back to his booth.
Lou was glad that Dina and Maria took care of everything related to the bathroom while he answered questions about the menu. “Yes, the ravioli and meatloaf are homemade here at the diner. Yes, the chef has been an employee for over ten years.”
By the time Lou got to the mummer’s club house, he’d changed into dungarees, combed his long blonde hair, and felt comfortable leaving the diner in the capable hands of Dominic, who handled the night shift at the diner.
At the club, they had hoagies, pizza and lots of stuff to drink. Lou mingled with the few people who were volunteering to help make the mummers costumes. He talked to Guido and Maria, as the three of them glued sequins, feathers, and decorations on the costumes that would be worn by the members of the string band.
“I enjoy being a mummer but would have liked for the parade to be on any day except January first.” Guido worked on a headpiece that would be worn by one of the members. He added gold and silver beads to the front of the piece.
“It’s too cold to stay outside for long, but thousands of people go to the parade every year.” Maria had glue all over her thin fingers. “I enjoy watching it from the comfort of my sofa. The TV station captures every moment including the performances in front of the judges.”
Lou took another bite of the vegetable pizza. He enjoyed the friendly banter, yet worried just a bit how things were running back at the diner.
Guido discussed being the string band captain and the responsibilities he had with so many marching members and club volunteers.
A thin brown haired woman sat down next to Lou. She had long hair that was cut with bangs. “I’m Gwen. I’m a relative of Mama Genardi. She’s the one who takes care of the club house.”
“I’m Lou Pizzario. I’m here with Guido and Maria.”
Gwen talked about her nieces, nephews and new job as a news reporter for the Philadelphia Enquirer. Seems she was looking to date, but wanted to date the right guy, possibly one who liked sky diving.
Lou was used to beautiful women finding him handsome, so he just nodded and allowed her to tell him another story about her newspaper articles. She also liked dog walking, he learned as she leaned closer to him to get the extra bottle of glue several times. Finally, he got up and got her a new bottle from the craft table.
Two more slices of pizza later, he walked out of the club house with Maria and Guido. Gwen waved goodbye, so he returned the wave. They all decided to go to the diner for dessert and coffee. Once there, they sat in the corner round booth and told stories.
Lou saw Dina cleaning one of the booths. So far, the new waitress was working out well. She didn’t mind working odd hours, didn’t complain, and took very few days off. Then again, she always seemed to need money. A young mother who was raising a kid on her own, she probably needed extra hours on the schedule.
Dina smiled as she saw Lou glancing in her direction.
Lou just smiled back. The girl was beautiful, yet the ex-boyfriend might reappear at any time to claim the kid and a date. He’d seen it too many times not to know how it happened. Lou finished his cup of tea, left a good tip, then followed Guido and Maria out of the diner. He was working tomorrow morning early, so he went home to his apartment, fed his Golden Retriever named Caesar, and slept with the Maine Coon cat named Merlin curled by his bare feet.
HELPING OUT WHEN NEEDED
Lou looked over the invoices and knew he was missing at least three to balance the check book. The phone rang but since he officially didn’t start work for at least another hour, he hesitated to answer it. Finally, he tossed down the invoices and picked up the phone. “You’ve reached the Rosetta Diner where the food is always memorable. Lou here.”
“Lou, it’s Dina. My date dumped me out of the car. He was too drunk to drive so I told him to let me walk home.” She sounded angry. “The guy just opened the door of the car and told me to get out. I don’t know where I’m at, but I’m probably going to be late for my shift at work.”
She was alone, worried about getting to work, and in a place that could be any part of the city.
“Are you still in Philadelphia?” he asked casually, paying close attention to her response.
“Yeah, more like North Philly, or a poorer neighborhood rather than South Philly. It’s dark outside, so I’m trying to just hang out by one of the abandoned houses. It’s boarded up and the smell here is really not as good as I would like. I could call for a cab, but I’m not sure how long it will take for one to get here.”
He made the decision carefully, aware that she was alone and in need of help. “Would you like me to pick you up?”
Her pause might have been from the fact that she was trying to find a street address, or she could have been walking quickly somewhere. “Would you believe that I don’t see a store anywhere here? The one store I passed was barred and gated closed. Graffiti is sprayed all over the walls.”
“I can leave immediately.”
“That would be nice, Lou.”
He grabbed his car keys. She found an address. He didn’t recognize the street name, but wrote it down quickly. “I’ll give you my cell phone number. Better yet, I’ll call you back on my cell phone so you have it.”
“Okay.” She sounded very serious.
“I’ll see you soon.”
“I’m in front of an old home without windows. It’s a row home that might have had a fire in the past. I’ll just stand quietly near the corner, where there’s a street light.”
“That’s fine. I’m leaving now.” He didn’t even look again at the invoices. Instead, he told Lisa that she was now in charge of the diner. He’d be late for his shift. Lisa immediately went into manager mode with a lot of orders given out to the crew. Make extra gravy for the meat loaf. Clean the tables quickly with a smile.
He sat in his car, grateful that the June weather was warm and that it wasn’t raining tonight. He hoped that the city traffic was better than the rush-hour traffic from dinner time. Each red light he encountered seemed to take forever. He turned on the radio to the rock station and tried not to notice that his hands were gripping the steering wheel too tightly.
He searched for the streets Dina mentioned, but while driving, he could have passed it effortlessly. Finally, he stopped an elderly gentleman who was wheeling a cart with groceries and asked for directions. The man might have been from the country.
“Go five blocks that way, then make a left at the place with the empty lot where the elementary school used to be located, then go a mile or so up the road, and make a right at the church. Oh, and there are several churches there, so I hope you find the right one.” He nodded as he wheeled the cart with the squeaky wheel away.
Lou finally gave up about a half hour later. He called Dina, who sounded very calm. “I’m fine. Then again, I had three propositions for dates from several gentlemen. They must have liked my black shorts, or at least that’s what one of them mentioned as he waved a hundred dollar bill at me.”
“Did you take the money?”
“No. I did not.”
“Interesting.” Lou tried not to smile as she went into detail about the encounters. Okay, so she could have been a comedian as she tried to make him laugh. In the process, she laughed too. He was glad she was in a good mood. She walked a block further, to a main street, then she described the street intersection.
He knew that Broad Street was one of the main streets in the city. He finally saw her, looking gorgeous in a pink tank top, black shorts, and black boots. She had her long brunette hair flowing down her back and she was leaning up against the street light as if she owned the block.
“Need a ride?” he asked as he slid his golden Cadillac to a stop by the corner.
She bent over to stare into the car. “You’re an angel.”
He’d been called many things, but an angel wasn’t on the list. “Get in.”
It may have been his imagination, but it seemed she’d been drinking. She slumped in the passenger seat of the car, then began to sing to the music playing on the radio.
‘Do you have a tissue?”
He reached into his pocket and found a business card. “No, no tissues.”
Lou drove down Broad Street, then at a red light, he glanced at the business card. The pub wasn’t that far away.
“I need to use a ladies room.”
“It will take about fifteen more minutes to get to the diner. Or we can stop at a pub nearby where I know a bartender.”
“I can’t wait fifteen minutes. The pub will be fine.” Dina groaned as she slid down the seat in the car. “I shouldn’t have had that fifth beer.”
“The Irish Brogue Pub it is.” He saw the place lit up with a green sign. Luckily, there was a parking spot two doors down from the very emerald green door with the four leaf clovers all over it. “And the luck of the Irish to ya, Dina.”
“Thanks. You, too, Lou.”
He almost carried Dina into the Irish Brogue Pub. For some reason, she liked singing and found the music in the pub to be very entertaining. Lou walked over to the bar and slid Dina down onto a stool. “Where’s the ladie’s room?”
“Second door on the left.” The bartender didn’t even look his way.
He helped the swaying waitress to the door, then nudged her to go into the bathroom. It was one of those nights where he’d visited more of the city that he’d done in years. Then again, when he’d been younger, he’d gone to the Philadelphia Zoo, the Franklin Institute, he’d seen the Liberty Bell, and even had visited the famous Art Museum which was located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Too many years of working and not enough time dating tended to make a guy boring, he noted.
“Hey, handsome.” The feminine voice sounded familiar.
Lou looked at the bar and saw the female bartender smiling at him. “Hi, Angie.”
“So, you came to visit me.” She looked very sexy in a cut off shirt with the pub name across her very ample chest. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Coffee with creamers, lots of them would be nice.”
Since he was tall, he noticed that she wore worn short dungarees, high heeled black shoes, and a shamrock green necklace. An emerald green bracelet completed her outfit.
“Here’s your coffee.” She slid the big mug toward him on the shiny dark wooden bar.
“I get off in an hour or so, if ya want to walk me home.” She leaned over the bar toward him, smiling nicely.
“Thanks for letting me know, but I don’t have a lot of time. I actually have to work tonight at the diner.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember the place. Good pancakes, delicious pies, and a handsome greeter who is a wonderful waiter from the rumors of the regular customers.”
He sipped the hot coffee carefully, then added more cream. A commotion by the door drew his attention to a young guy entering the pub. He wore torn dungarees, dirty sneakers, and a jacket with a hood. The guy had long dark hair that looked like it needed to be combed. The gun in the guy’s hand made Lou put the cup of coffee down on the bar. His hand tightened around the mug handle so much he was surprised it didn’t shatter.
“Hands up.” The guy in the hood strode toward the bar. “Bartender, I want all your money, including the stash ya got in the safe.”
Angie seemed to just stand there, assessing the situation. Several people left the pub, as if in a rush to get out of the guy’s way. Lou didn’t like the way that the guy kept waving the gun to the left, then to the right. There were too many people who could get injured.
The guy fired a shot, which made Angie duck under the bar. Several ladies nearby screamed. “I want the money now.”
Lou just stood there, one booted foot on the ledge of the bar, one hand around his mug. The guy aimed the gun at him, then snarled. “Give me your money and you’ll be safe.”
In a quick movement he’d learned in college, Lou did a martial arts move that knocked the gun out of the man’s hand. It slid on the bar, where it dangled near the edge. Lou followed immediately with a punch that sent the man flying backwards.
Angie got the phone and called the police. Lou looked at the unconscious guy sprawled near one of the round tables, then back at the bartender. He just stood there, silently, as several of the people in the pub applauded.
A few minutes later, Angie gave details to the Philly police who arrived in a flash of lights from their police car. Lou finished his coffee quietly as the guy was escorted out of the pub.
“Your tab is on the house,” Angie announced, in a very sexy voice as Lou reached into his worn black leather wallet to pay for his coffee.
Thanks.” He slid his wallet back into his worn dungarees.
They talked for a while about her job, the art of mixing drinks, and the fact that both of them liked old movies. Lou finally glanced toward the bathroom door. “Do you think you could go check on my friend? She went in there a while ago and hasn’t come out yet. She’s one of the waitresses from the diner and we have to get her to work.”
“Sure. I’ll get one of the guys in the back kitchen to take over the bar and I’ll check on your employee.”
Dina finally walked out of the bathroom looking okay. Her hair was combed, she seemed to be feeling better, and she was talking to Angie as if they’d known each other for years. Lou took Dina to the car, talking to Angie as she walked with them to the Cadillac.
“So, I hope to hear from you soon,” Angie said as he slid down the driver’s side window of the car.
“Maybe I’ll see you at the diner. We offer a really good deal on pancakes and French toast for breakfast.” He made sure that Dina was buckled in her seat, then he smiled at Angie. “And of course, the dessert is served any time as the diner is open 24 hours a day.”
“Sounds delicious.” Angie smiled as she waved goodbye. “Thanks for visiting the pub. Now you know where I work. Have a good night.”
“You too, Angie.” Lou nodded as he prepared to leave. “And the luck of the Irish to ya.”
“You, too, Lou.” Angie blew him a kiss as he drove away.
Lou smiled as he turned on the radio. Dina was quiet on the drive to the diner. It had been an interesting night. He’d helped a waitress, talked to a bartender, and encountered a guy who should have had better manners. Now, as he drove toward work, he prepared for yet another typical shift at the Rosetta Diner.