Originally posted on Yelp!, September 2007:
Out on Muldoon, heading toward the Glenn Highway, it gets kind of sketchy.
Colorful tourist traps and seafood places give way to seedy, hole-in-the-wall diners and Mexican and Chinese joints. The Volvos and sporty SUVs are gradually outnumbered by pickups, rusted panel vans, and tricked-out motorcycles. Cute moose-themed trinkets are replaced by real moose dining on the foliage lining the road.
And any sensible swanky restaurant evaporates in the unassuming majesty that is Flo’s Pancake House.
At Flo’s, you park in the puddled lot, take a deep breath before stepping out into the rain, and hope your car won’t be rear-ended by some giant in a hemi or a semi trying to get back on the road, fueled only by coffee, No-Doz, and the pancakes provided by the house in question.
You dodge the raindrops on your way to the entrance at the narrow end of an ordinary-looking, long, thin rectangular gray building. You walk in. And you Seat Yourself.
Inside, it’s your standard greasy spoon: along one long wall of steamed-up windows, a row of red vinyl booths with chipped Formica tables; down the center of the place, another row of booths; and opposite the windows, against the other long wall, an endless gleaming counter backed with stacks of dishes, bins of condiments, and bright mirrored cases displaying pies of dubious vintage and ancestry.
I know I’m in Alaska again as I read the plastic menu. The eggs come with bacon, sausage, ham, or reindeer.
A fifty-something six-foot buxom blonde waitress – perhaps Flo, perhaps not – sails up to me like a galleon and asks for my order in a cheerful, booming voice and resumes her running commentary to all and sundry as she busses the table of three men who just left. It seems they did not unfold their cash: they just left a crumpled fist full of bills on the table, wadded up next to their congealing dishes.
She is not pleased.
I make a mental note to give Flo only my crispest bills.
“Godammit,” says Flo. “Look here, they left tar on the seat. Godammit. How’m I s’posed to get that offa there?”
“Well, they looked like working men to me,” offers a nearly identical cheery blonde battleship in the back of the joint. She could be Flo’s sister. ”I think they were roofers. Roofin’ men. They were real dirty.”
“Godammit,” says Flo again, shaking her head like a mother with a rambunctious but adorable child. ”I’mma charge ‘em for it next time they come in.”
A lengthy conversation among patrons and staff ensues about whether 409 is the best cleaning agent for tar; and if so, where the hell is it.
As I eat my breakfast – French toast and sausage, scrambled eggs, hold the reindeer – a man behind me starts flirting with Flo. I saw him earlier, as he came in chewing on a toothpick; he’s in a ratty t-shirt and jeans and has a handlebar mustache and merry eyes and a trucker hat balanced on top of his head. She’s about to take a day off, it turns out, and is looking forward to some rest.
“You better be rested up,” rasps the man lewdly, cracking himself up.
Flo takes in a breath. I wish I could see her in the pie mirrors.
“What, for you?” she sniffs. “Skinny guy like you, you couldn’t handle me.”
“Oh, sure I could,” he says. ”It’d be just like ridin’ a big rollercoaster.”
The Battleship stops cleaning the counter to applaud and laugh, and the other patrons chuckle. I can’t see Flo, but she must have sent some look, because the laughter dies off fast.
She heads over to another table to refill some coffee. A man there, 40-something, both his clothes and person clean but slightly faded, quietly asks her where the other waitress is.
“The other one? Oh, that’s my sister. She doesn’t work here. She was just helpin’ out.”
“Oh.” He sounds sad. “That’s what she said. I just thought I might see her again.” He clears his throat. “She married?”
This is the funniest thing Flo has ever heard. “Married? Shoot, she hasn’t had a date in 14 years!” She laughs and laughs, great booming sounds of joy echoing off the booths, the pies, the patrons.
Battleship joins the fray: “That’s a terrible thing for a sister to say!”
Flo, wiping her eyes: “It’s true! It’s so true!”
And those two go at it for a time, the lovelorn faded man’s question forgotten, but his coffee cup? Never.
As I pay my tab with fresh, flat currency, Flo, ever the multitasker, is in the middle of telling the room another story. ”So I pulled her ponytail and throwed her…you couldn’t see nothin’ but air and feet.”
Everyone laughs at Flo’s boldness, and no doubt secretly ponders her prodigious upper body strength.
From what I can tell as I look around Flo’s Pancake House, this is not a new story. It’s an old one, a story that these folks – all but the fresh-faced, rapt brunette now behind the counter for the lunch shift – have heard again and again.
But I’m pretty sure it gets a little better every time.