As that first sip of chocolate milkshake caressed my taste buds, I smiled and remembered "the girl in charge." Wasn't it yesterday that the 1953 Buick pulled into the diner's parking lot?
"Hellooo, handsome," I whispered, looking at the Buick. In the chrome refrigerator, I checked my reflection from my saddle shoes to my ponytail as he walked through the door. Every hair of his crew cut stood at attention. His senior letterman sweater radiated.
"Where's Red?" he asked while I mixed his cherry Coke.
"He's not here," I answered, trying to sound casual. "I'm in charge tonight."
This was not a complete lie, just a little embellishment. Red, my boss, said he would be gone for 45 minutes. Since I was 16 and my co-worker a mere 15, I was to be in charge. In charge. What an all-powerful phrase.
The bell on the door jingled, and in walked the two spinster sisters for their routine ice cream sundaes. They discussed each flavor and after much thought decided on one caramel sundae and one butterscotch sundae. My co-worker gave me a look of panic when she realized our butterscotch-syrup container was empty. Winking at her, I quickly put the same caramel syrup on both sundaes, covered them in whipped cream, and topped them with a cherry.
"Remember," I said sweetly, "the butterscotch sundae's the one on the right." As both sisters began eating, I realized that being in charge came to me naturally.
A car door slammed. I didn't even need to look at the out-of-state license plate. The loud shirt and the camera screamed "tourist."
"Hello there," announced an elderly gentleman. (He must have been at least 50.) "The last time I was through your town, I had the best burger and chocolate shake here. Think your boss could fix me another?"
"Sure thing," I replied. "But the boss is gone, and I'm in charge tonight." It just felt good to say that.
My co-worker went to the back to catch up on the dishes as I smoothly slapped a burger on the grill. I nonchalantly picked up the milkshake container, put in two squirts of chocolate syrup, three scoops of ice cream, and added milk to the line on the container. Without missing a beat, I put the container on the milkshake maker and clicked it on. Turning around, I deftly flipped the burger and began to assemble the lettuce, onion, and tomato. "Nothing to this," I congratulated myself.
My success was rudely interrupted by an unsettling sound. My suaveness began to fade as I realized that I had not thoroughly hooked the container to the milkshake machine.
Science has never been one of my strong points. But that evening I saw the effects of centrifugal force clearly demonstrated. Yes, I now understood the force that tends to impel a thing outward from the center of rotation.
Fortunately, the sisters and Mr. Handsome ducked as one scoop of ice cream came flying toward them. Unfortunately, Mr. Tourist was not as quick. He took it in the head. The second ice cream scoop also hit the target - this time the loud shirt.
The third ice-cream missile landed on the ceiling above Mr. Tourist, along with the remaining milk and chocolate syrup. Terrified, I jumped up on the lunch counter, grabbed the cleanup rag, and began to mop anything within my reach (the ceiling, Mr. Tourist's head, his shirt, the counter). All this did was further spread the sticky mess.
I sounded like a stuck record, saying, "I'm sorry" repeatedly. Then the burning smell reached my nostrils. Climbing down from the counter, I saw that the "best burger in town" now resembled a smoking hockey puck.
It was then that the debonair person in charge was replaced by a totally frazzled teenager. Could I have been the inspiration for the term "soda jerk"?
In the middle of all this chaos came a loud, rumbling noise. That laugh started deep in Red's belly and came roaring out. As he stood in the doorway, I could see that his face now matched his hair and tears rolled down his cheeks. He soon was joined by the twittering laugh of the Sundae Sisters, the deep laugh of Mr. Handsome, and the giggle of my co-worker. Mr. Tourist started to smile, and soon he and I joined the group in a laughing marathon.
My "in charge" title was happily relinquished to Red. I cleaned up the mess while Mr. Tourist cleaned himself up in the bathroom. Red volunteered to have the shirt cleaned, but Mr. Tourist said he never liked that shirt anyway. The loud shirt was donated to the trash can.
The sisters left and thanked me for the wonderful evening. Mr. Handsome left and said that he would see me at school. (At least I knew he would remember me!) Mr. Tourist, in his undershirt, ate the burger cooked by Red and drank the new shake carefully made by me.
After Mr. Tourist left, I found a folded piece of paper under his plate. It said, "For the girl in charge." Inside was a sticky, chocolate-stained $5 bill - the largest tip I had ever received.