She calls me sweetheart. She calls me honey. She calls me sweetie. She asks if I'm Pakistani.
"No," I say, "I'm Indian."
"Well, I have all these Pakistani friends, and you look just like them."
She's Kerry, behind the counter at the Burger King in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Just speaking to me, asking me what I'll have, she appends endearments to every sentence. I've had it happen before, but not for years now, so I'm taken by surprise. They are just a manner of speaking, of course, but Kerry is genuinely curious and friendly.
She's from Michigan.
"Really? So what brought you down to Georgia?"
"Hey, I married my highschool sweetheart, and his grandparents were here. So we came!" And she's been here 25 years. "And now I've got grandchildren. Three already, two more on the way!"
I'm startled. She looks sort of generically middle-aged, in some ways the kind of older person you'd almost expect to see in a Burger King. But a grandmother?
"No way I'd have guessed!" I say. And this lady who has called me sweetie almost preens, almost shyly.
"Yeah, my Pakistani friends can't believe it either. They say, 'you're a granny? so you're over fifty?' Truth is, I'm not even close to fifty yet!" And she laughs and laughs.
So she's sort of ... my age. This grandmother of three, with two on the way, she may even be younger than me.
"And where are you from in Michigan?"
What she says sounds like "Winedot", and she repeats it. "Winedot. Winedot. Here," and she holds up her left hand, points with her right to just next to the "V" between thumb and forefinger. "Right there. Detroit's here, Grand Rapid's over here to the left, Winedot's here above Detroit." She jabs at the spot with her finger.
When I am home later and I open up my Michigan map, I understand why the hand. The state looks very much like a left hand held up, palm outward. I search and search just below the "V" for Winedot, or anything that might sound like it when said by a Michigan native transplanted to Georgia. Wilmot? Watrousville? Waterford? Owosso?
Ah, I see it, Wyandotte. But below Detroit, and nowhere near the "V".
Never mind. Back at the Burger King, Kerry says "Gotta go, honey. Gotta get back to work." Minutes later, she sits down with another employee, an older woman, at a table across the restaurant. It's near closing time and I'm now the only customer. Their conversation floats clearly in the air. At one point, the other woman says to Kerry, "If you do it on the Web, you're not caring. And you want to be caring."
The family who sat here for half an hour eating without one word exchanged among them is outside the window, solemnly piling into their truck. On my glass of Coke, I've just read "Maybe you want your top securely fastened. Maybe you want to go topless. Hmm?" On the sheet of paper in my tray, I've just read "Some Guy's Lawn" and "King Krump Twista" and "The Crown-Shaped CHICKEN TENDERS". And I'm done with my Whopper with Cheese, time to leave.
Kerry reaches out her hand as I walk to the door. She says, "You come back and see us soon, OK?" And I think, I really would like that.