Bob’s Advice Diner

I arrived at Bob’s Diner at 8:07 in the morning. When Pastor David had recommended the Diner, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But when I stepped inside, I wondered why I hadn’t seen this coming:

From the looks of it, I’d accidentally stumbled onto a breakfast for retired people. The entire restaurant was filled with old Southern fogeys who were probably named Elmer or Leroy and little Southern ladies who were probably named Gladys and Gertrude. I scanned the elderly populace for David, a lean man in his early thirties—he would stick out like a sore thumb in Bob’s Diner, which made me wonder why he’d picked this place. He waved at me from the back corner of the restaurant. I nodded and started to wade through the pool of elderly couples who were happily occupied eating their bacon and eggs and pancakes.

I’d almost forgotten David’s one stipulation for being able to make our appointment: he had to bring his five-month-old with him. Ian’s booster seat occupied half the table, and Ian occupied all of David’s hands.

“How’s it going?” I greeted him as I reached the booth, not sure if I should go for a handshake or not.

“Good!” David shifted Ian to one hand and enthusiastically reached to shake mine.

I sat down and we exchanged formalities: I asked him how things were going at the church; he asked me how things were going at work. He told me things were busy, and I told him the same.

I was glad that he’d been able to meet me: He’d recently taken on more responsibility at the church, and we hadn’t been able to talk in months. I’d taken on a lot more responsibility at my job as well—being part of a startup is no small undertaking—but I wanted to get Pastor David’s insight into my thin, frenetic existence in hopes of bringing some sanity back to my everyday life. He’d mentored me when I was in high school, and was always able to offer a voice of reason. So when I planned to be back in town for the day, I gave him a call.

“Yep, this is Ian. He’s five months old. Can you say “hi,” Ian? Say hi to Kurt. Say hi to Kurt!”

Ian didn’t really want to say hi to me. He was much more interested in how his fingers tasted. David smiled and looked up.

“He’s learning.”

I smiled.

“I can tell.” I tried to sound encouraging, but somehow my response only made Pastor David coax Ian more.

“Come on, Ian! Can you say hi to Kurt? Say hi to Kurt!”

Our waitress, the true personification of Southern hospitality, interrupted—or should I say, encouraged—Pastor David’s speech-coaching lesson:

“Oh, what a sweetie pie. What can I get for you two this mornin’?”

We ordered our food, the waitress brought us sweet tea and we delved into catching each other up on our lives: his church life, my work life, his home life, my roommates, his baby, my insane schedule. The waitress arrived with our meal and the conversation lulled as we started eating.

I’d been hesitant to arrange to meet him from the very beginning—although we met consistently throughout high school, I wasn’t certain if he was the right person to offer the voice of reason I needed to quell my uncertainties and inject confidence in my life. They say advice is what we ask for when we know the answer but just need someone to tell us.

I needed someone to tell me that I was going to burn out if I didn’t stop pulling 120-hour workweeks. I needed someone to tell me that working for this startup was unreasonable. I needed someone to tell me that I should settle down and try to save a little bit of money. I needed someone to tell me that I should pay a little bit more attention to my health, that I should get a little bit more sleep. I needed someone to tell me that nothing I was doing was a sustainable way of living, that I needed to buy a car, and that I couldn’t get everywhere I needed by just asking for rides everywhere or borrowing my roommate’s vehicle.

These fragments of advice stewed in my mind, bubbling over, until I finally decided that maybe Pastor David would be able to tell me some of them—and then I could justify them. They were crammed into my head so tightly I could hardly wait to let them out. The lull in our conversation was the first chance I had:

“So,” I started, “I wanted to ask you about some things and get your thoughts.”

“Sure,” He said, glancing over at Ian, who was starting to cry in his booster seat. “What’s going on?”

“I figure that everyone has times in their career when they don’t know what they should be doing, right? Everyone has times when they start to question whether or not they’re doing what they should be doing. Sometimes, I just feel so uncertain—”

Ian started to cry loudly and squirm, as if my words upset him. Pastor David reached over and started to rock the car seat, gently, but Ian just got louder.

“Sorry. I’m listening,” he nodded to me. Some elderly folks at a nearby table glanced over at us. I hesitated, then continued.

“Yeah, I mean. I’ve had a number of times in the past month where I just thought to myself ‘this isn’t sustainable’. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this up, and—”

Ian started bawling. Pastor David scooped him out of his car seat and cradled him in his arms. Several more elderly couples turned their attention from their bacon and eggs to us as Ian wailed. David reached for a bottle and some kind of powder and started to unscrew the bottle with one hand.

“You want me to help with that?” I asked.

“Uh. Um. Sure.”

He handed me the bottle with water and the small container of powder.

“Pour that in there.”

He turned his attention to forcing a pacifier into Ian’s face, and I analyzed the situation. Clearly, the water should be mixed with the powder. Not rocket science. So I poured the water into the powder and handed it back to him.

“Here you go.” I said.

He looked at it, slightly confused. He paused. Ian spat out the pacifier.

“Did I do it wrong?”

“Uh. No. Um. No, no, that’s fine.”

He looked around almost frantically, and our waitress, the personification of southern hospitality, showed up at our booth.

“Oh, I’m so sorry for the disturbance…” David started.

“Don’t mention it, Sweet Pea, this is a family restaurant, the whole family is welcome. What can I do to help?”

David looked around, as if searching for an escape route through the sea of elderly, retired breakfast eaters.

“You know, let me just step out for a second.” He looked at me. “I’ll be right back.”

“Sure.” I said.

He lifted Ian with him as he stood, and carried him outside.

The waitress looked at me, offering me a refill from her pitcher of sweet tea.

“Are you alright?”

I paused.

“Yeah,” I lied. “I’m fine.”