I should be at home curled up in my duvet, but I’ve braved the snowstorm and made the trek through the freshly fallen snow to a window booth at Rapido, right at the corner of Mont-Royal Avenue and Saint-Denis Street.
The waitress, who is tired, has just returned from Montana, where she lived for five years before coming back home to Montreal. She’s looking for a roommate, she tells me.
She’s light on her feet, and even lighter as she flits seamlessly back and forth in English and French to her customers, including a businessman from Calgary who just ordered a double-patty Jumbo Special. He complains angrily that it’s hard to get good service in this city if you don’t speak French, and even when you try, people don’t want to understand. Besides, in high school French class they just don’t teach you how to say things that you need to know, like “Can you put the mustard on the side?” or “What do you have on tap?”
I can see his point, and I can only imagine the looks he gets from surly barmaids here on the Plateau when he tries to order a drink en français. But I’m getting mad at the way he’s treating our waitress, who speaks perfect English and keeps slipping in niceties between his myriad complaints. She tells him that she loves Calgary. She has friends there, she says.
Suddenly he gets upset about the wide-screen television above my booth— the volume is too low to enjoy the hockey game, and he flails his arms in protest as he raises his voice to our waitress. A group of university exchange students from France at the next table watch the entire interaction as if they were on a field trip for Lessons in North American Social Behaviour. They discuss the annoying aspects of the life they’re having here. Quebec is more American than they expected, they say. You can’t smoke in restaurants. The Québécois accent is drôle.
I’m annoyed, too—my chicken dinner could feed four and I’m getting the flu. I push the carrots and rice around my plate, shaping them into little mounds while the snow whirls in waves outside like a flock of tiny birds hurling itself against Rapido’s window.
Out on the street a man with a lawn chair tucked under his arm looks in the window. He is wearing dirty blue snowpants and a fur-lined aviator hat that catches snowflakes like breadcrumbs in a shag carpet. He’s trying to find a place to settle down and watch the game, and he stations himself on the street corner just outside my window, unfolds his chair on the sidewalk and plunks himself down. This gives him an exclusive view of the television screen above me, although it looks like he’s staring right into my plate.
The man is young and unshaven, but when he winces, his face shows a smattering of premature wrinkles, maybe from living on the streets for too long. He looks a bit like Yeti, a grumpy semi-moonman stranded by a snowstorm in the city and killing some time tonight by watching the game.
Poor Yeti. He’s chosen to watch TV outside a diner filled with miserable people from far-flung places. Or perhaps he’s deliberately sought us out, just to be in good company.