I first met Linda any place you meet someone with their name embroidered into a shirt: a small diner right off the highway on my way to another destination. I'm sure it was beautiful outside, but my car radiated heat so thick it clogged my ears. My last turn was 54 miles behind me and Google Maps said my next turn was 148 miles ahead. Having realized I hadn't even heard the last chapter of my audiobook, I take the next exit and end up in front of an aged diner, desperate for a break. There were posters plastered on a wooden bulletin out front advertising lawn mowing jobs, community center kickball tourneys, and an old warning that the diner was closed last Tuesday because the weather was nice and they had a picnic.
Opening the doors of this place did not present the rush of cool A/C I was hoping for and in a state of exhaust, said yes to every offer the hostess made. I ended up at the counter, bag set at my feet and my travel notebook shut next to me. The menu was long and plastic with five heavy pages stuffed in - the kind of menu that only the obnoxious or naive would lift in the air. As I failed to decide what I wanted, my waiter appeared before me. The counter was just low enough to show the band of her high wasted jeans - the stylish rival of her mustard short sleeve polo that brandished an entirely unremarkable diner staff name in black thread: Linda.
That was about as much as I ever saw of Linda. In a rush to tend to other customers or end her shift or maybe just pee, she was in and out of my reach within seconds. Linda was a woman on a mission and I clearly should not try and get in her way. I quickly picked something on the menu and ordered it in as few words possible so as not to slow her down.
I ate my decently prepared all-day spinach and feta omelette, stretched my legs, and headed out to walk around in the sun.
There were some trees and a stream a little ways down the road that seemed extremely inviting to my tired gaze. Looking around, there wasn't much to notice, but so much was there. Power lines carved the path toward simple two-story homes each surrounded by short chain link fence. Beyond them, I could just make out mom and pop shops through the thick highway mirage. This diner, just outside a small town I've never seen, was as average to its locals as it was strange to me.
As I get closer to the trees, I see someone crouched on the ground picking flowers. She hears me behind her and immediately swivels into a stance in front of me. I see the familiar image of high waisted jeans, a mustard polo, and an embroidered "Linda", only this time she had several wildflowers in her hand.
Linda halfway laughs to show I'm not a threat to her nor she, me. She recognizes me from the diner and - intuitively knowing I'm not from here - wishes me a good visit. As I turn toward my car I say, "Thanks, Linda. Enjoy your day." She stops, a little puzzled, then her eyes get just slightly wider as her lips curled up to say she made the connection.
She then quickly explains that this is Linda's shirt, she doesn't work at the diner usually, she borrowed it while Linda is out sick. I say that's quite nice of her and ask if she is picking flowers to bring Linda. Not-Linda sheepishly looks around at all the wildflowers surrounding us both and tells me that it's pollinating season and Linda has a really bad allergy. Not-Linda knows it's kinda bad, but is picking as many flowers she can and tossing them so Linda can come back to work, being out of work in her town can be really hard.
In a moment of surprise from the simple, brilliant, yet potentially useless scheme designed by Not-Linda, I commend her for her efforts and walk to my car. As I pull out of the parking lot, I sit in silence before playing my audiobook. I think about Not-Linda as I drive past fields of wildflowers, bending in the breeze.