One afternoon 10 years ago, on a spring day like today, an errand led me to an unfamiliar neighborhood in Oakland. After finishing with business, I wandered the streets and came upon a diner, its name curved in blue paint across a big picture window. Open for breakfast and lunch only, the joint was deserted.
Cupping my hands to my face to shield the glare, I peered through the window, immediately charmed by the interior: brick walls, a slatted wooden staircase leading up to a balcony, and tabletops tiled in eggshell white.
The following week, I returned after their lunch rush to check it out. That’s when I saw the writing on the wall. Scrawled in foot-high letters, yellow calligraphy against a green background, a quote ran the length of space behind the open kitchen, for all the diners to see. I read the beginning of the phrase from the table where I sat, then stood up to follow the words that were blocked from my view:
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away….”
I knew that I wanted to work in this diner. It took a couple months of pestering the manager to ask if he was ready for me yet, until one day, he was.
Ten years later, the writing is still on the wall. I watch as customers read it, walking along to follow the words that are blocked from their view. Often, people ask who is the author, and I answer Henry David Thoreau, and they nod with recognition. Sometimes, if it seems appropriate, I add, “That’s the reason I work here.”
And then they nod again.