Memory Lane

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On Ogden Avenue, Downers Grove, IL

Unexpected memories of times’ past have crept up in the past couple of days, as I (inevitably) wax poetic about the year, my progress, my health, and my relationships.

I was discussing the ultimate fate of a greasy-spoon joint called Omega, with a longtime classmate of mine via Facebook.  This place was one of several in the Chicagoland area, specifically the Downers Grove location.  It was open 24 hours, and I have very vivid memories of it going back to as early as 10 or 12 years old.  

My Mom worked for Ameritech after “Ma Bell” was broken up and bought and sold and bought again, back in the late 80s and early 90s.  She actually worked at the telephone company’s Downers Grove building location for 34 years or something, before they came on hard times in the late 90s, and basically pushed her into retirement…but she used to work the overnight shift in a building filled with rows and rows of switching machines, where she would fix problems that arose with peoples’ telephone lines.  Occasionally, she’d take one or a couple of us kids with her to keep her company, since things were usually slower on nights than days (a fact I found to be true 10-15 years later during my own career, when doing on-call work on airplanes).  She got her work done, and her management didn’t seem to care (or maybe they just didn’t know) that she had visitors.  In any case, many times on her lunch break (at 3am), we would go to Omega and grab breakfast.  It was a thrill for me to be up and eating “breakfast” at three o’clock in the morning as a child, and I have vivid memories of many people being up and either working or taking a break from work at the same time we were — random construction workers, cops, even the waitresses who worked the shift were wide-eyed and functioning.  It was unimaginable to me that these people could be up and still working at that age, since Mom usually had to wake me up before we went to the restaurant.  

The other set of fond memories that I have of this restaurant came later, in my college years.  We used to spend hours and hours and hours at this restaurant until all hours of the night, smoking endless cigarettes (back when I smoked) and drinking coffee.  Very often, we’d be coming back from whatever drunkenness we’d found earlier that night, and equally as often, we’d have a group of us just sitting around and enjoying the free time we had with each other.  One night, we had this waitress named Barb taking care of us — sweetest lady you could ever want to meet.  She got to know us a bit, offered advice when we asked her while we tried to sort out whatever angst-ridden early-20s problem we were entangled with, she was just wonderful.  Since we were regulars and so was she, we grew to respect her like one of our own elders over time.  

Once, I overtipped her by five or ten bucks in a way that was obviously an accident (I don’t recall the specific details after all these years), and the next time we came in a couple of days later, she made sure to give it back.  All of it — she showed me the math.  I told her that I really appreciated it because we were all getting through college and broke as I was, those dollars were much appreciated.  I threw it in with her regular tip that night, and made sure she knew it was for her.  

Having waited tables before (at Red Lobster) to get through college myself, I know the logistics of the job.  As such, I watched out for Barb whenever I could, making sure my friends tipped her well, and always tipped as much as I could for her time rather than for the single cup of coffee I ordered, four hours ago (and that she never let get below half empty).  I made sure we never took up one of her tables when there was a wait at the front door.  And I made sure I had enough to tip before I got my meal.  It was then that an interesting thing happened:  As tight as money was, I was actually saving money to tip her with.  I was not ordering the extra piece of pie or whatever so that I could tip her as abundantly as I could.  I loved knowing I was helping her, in whatever small way I could. 

Tipping culture in our country is often controversial, but the truth is that your local server makes about three bucks an hour, and every dollar you tip does matter.  If you want to be a class act in front of the server (and in front of your family and friends), put away your 18% tip calculator app.  It’s simple:  Take ten percent of the bill, double it, and throw another couple of bucks in.  For example, your bill is $36.72.  $3.67 is ten percent, so that means roughly $7.20 is about twenty percent.  Bump to an even ten bucks to be a class act.  That is a good tip, and your server will remember it the next time you come in.

I digress.  The point is, this restaurant in Downers Grove, IL has taught me a little bit about one of life’s important lessons, and I’m proud to call it one of my own watering holes, despite not having lived there for quite some time now.  It’s nice to have an Omega to go back to a couple of times a year when I’m in town.  

Most of you reading this probably aren’t from the same place I’m from, but I’m sure you have a story about a local place that affected your life somehow.  Feel free to share ’em here.  We get enough of them on here, we can gather a group and go on a treasure hunt!

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  1. Good post, ‘ol buddy. I have some fond memories of Omega as well. It always amazed me how, at four in the morning after drinking all night, we’d get breakfast at that place and join the regular crowd of all-night workers.

    • I agree. Only a couple of other times in my (admittedly short) smoking career did I smoke more cigarettes than at that place!

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