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Small town longings

A Friday morning, the last in January this year. In the predawn darkness, I drive a variant of my usual traffic-avoiding route along Rock Creek and through quiet, wooded residential side streets in picturesque Chevy Chase. Last week, I noticed a short commercial block with a grocery store, pharmacy, barbershop, realtor, dry cleaners, and a café on the edge of one of those neighborhoods. This chilly morning, I turn back after driving past it, to slow the pace of the day, for a cup of coffee.

Inside the warm café, a counter with old swivel seat vinyl padded barstools on metal columns bolted to the floor, a handful of four top tables, a long chalkboard with breakfast and lunch menus stretching above an open griddle. A few customers waiting for breakfast, the sizzle of bacon and eggs. A small middle aged Korean woman, hair tied back under an indigo dyed cotton kerchief, busily cooking orders while her six foot tall son makes coffee and mans the cash register. No blaring TV. Something tugs at my heartstrings. I’m going to stay for breakfast.

I leave my silenced iPhone in my coat pocket and look around. A big sixth grade class picture outside of Chevy Chase Elementary School, and a poster for an upcoming local event hang on a wall. The woman deftly cracks eggs onto the hot griddle, popping two yolks with the edge of a jagged shell, leaving mine intact. Reaches up on a shelf stacked with melmac plates, quickly but carefully slides eggs, homefries, bacon and buttered toast onto them and sets them on the serving counter. I eat my breakfast and watch her work. Drop a tip in the jar by the register and place my used plate and silverware in a plastic pan next to the door on my way out. Back in my car, I drive the last mile to arrive, still early, at the office on bustling Wisconsin Avenue.

Working in Washington is a big adjustment for me after twenty years of designing in solitude in my airy studio. I enjoy my colleagues and clientele, and the projects are a welcome challenge, but the big city is, for me, cold and foreign. I long for the familiarity of farm country and small town. Today brought back a hint of what I love and miss.

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