This summer, my mom and I went on a road trip across the country. One day, we found ourselves in the tiny town of White Sulfur Springs, MT. We asked the gas station attendant, my first experience with full-service gas by the way, where we could grab a bite to eat. He directed us to the Truck Stop Café, the only place open because it was after 6.
It was a half-block away and there were only two other cars in the parking lot. We went inside where the waitress/hostess greeted us with her dead eyes. The only other people in the café were the cook, who was leaning on the counter, watching us as we walked by, and three men in the back, all wearing slightly grungy looking clothes and talking about farming. I could tell they were regulars by their demeanor. They give us a cursory glance before returning to their food and conversation. My mom and I were the only non-Caucasians there, and I wondered when the last time an Asian person crossed the threshold of the restaurant. I began to wonder if we are the only non-Caucasians in town.
We followed the tall waitress with curly blonde hair to a booth. She looked like she was in her early twenties, doing her best to keep up with pop culture with her black T-shirt with day-glo logo and pierced bottom lip. After handing us our menus, she asked in a monotone, “Can I get you folks anything to drink?” We were “folks.” That was good, right?
We both ordered waters and then bent our heads over the menu when she left to get them. I pointed out the polish sausage soup to my mom and we both laughed.
My mom’s phone rang. She answered. Not only was I thinking about how rude it was to talk on your phone in a restaurant, I knew she was about to go full bore Filipino with her rapid-fire Tagolog. I became acutely aware my “Asianess” and the men in the back of the restaurant. I knew they could hear my mom talking, and if I had to guess, were each in their own minds trying to figure out, and failing, what language she was speaking. I wanted to tell her to get off the phone, but I figured she would have the common decency to end the conversation on her own. She proceeded to talk for a good five minutes or so, ending the conversation shortly before the waitress came back to take our order. I, in the meantime, was actively trying to suppress my fight or flight response.
We tried to make small talk while we waited for our food, and a few minutes later, a family of five came in. I could tell by their dress and their accent that they were from out of town. And, I relaxed.