CENTRAL & RIO GRANDE SW--It had been a year or two since I had gone to Lam's Chinese Restaurant for lunch. Yet last Friday that was where I found myself. The place was empty except for a table of men sitting in one corner. They sounded like state workers. Lam's has been a landmark for a working person's lunch for maybe twenty years. It is on Central Ave. just west of Rio Grande, housed in the old A&W Root Beer stand. It felt good to be there again.
The owner came over with a menu, but she already knew what I wanted. "I'll have a Number 6," I said. "And a glass of water." She nodded. Although it had been a long time since I had been there, in my decade-long history of going to Lam's I had never ordered anything else. It was on the Luncheon Menu, a list notable for everything being the same price: $5.75. Number 6 was the Schezwan Chicken.
A young blonde woman came in and sat down at a table near the door. She was followed by a older gentleman wearing a black sweater. A chain with a small silver cross dangled from his neck. He talked on his cell phone while she ordered their lunch.
The table of men started talking louder. There were four or five of them. The conversation covered most of the topics working guys like to talk about at lunch: drinking, trucks, stupid bosses, the Old Days. They laughed a lot and that mirth wafted through the sun-filled room over to my own table. I smiled to myself, remembering all the similar lunches in my own past.
Outside, a homeless man stood on the sidewalk looking in the window. He was having some trouble standing up straight and seemed a bit dazed. He walked around the side of the building and eventually ended up inside. His long hair was dirty and wild. He had a big beard. His dirty pants were falling off, and it was pretty obvious he was wearing no underwear. He was clutching two rolled up blankets to his chest. I don't think he was over thirty.
He was standing near the table of men when the owner came up to him with an arm full of menus. "How many in your party, sir?" she asked. Then she looked at him again and just said, "Oh."
Almost instantly, the man sitting closest to the dirt-covered stranger told her, "We're going to buy him lunch." Everyone at that table had money out and started putting it in a pile. That older gentleman in black said, "You beat me to it!" He took out two dollars and gave it to speaker who was getting the lunch money together. "Don't leave me out," I said. I got out a buck and the leader came over to my table, took it and smiled.
The man with the blankets ordered teriyaki chicken. Then stood there confused. He held onto the menu and looked for someplace to put it.. "Sit down mijo," the older man said. "She'll take it when she brings your order." He sat down. The gang of workers, after advising the young man on where to spend a warm night, stood up and left. The young stranger who was now waiting for lunch could not bring himself to say anything, or even nod. It seemed to be hard for him to do anything at all.
I got up and left as well. As I passed by the older gentleman he reached out and we shook hands. "People are so good, he said." The cross around his neck caught a little of the light.
"Yes Father, they are." I opened the door and walked outside.