Jubilee (1)
The early morning hour was the most pleasant of the day. King would arrive first at the coffee shop with his full set of keys, which were attached by a leather thong to his belt loop. Once, one of the waitresses had seen him dancing on a Saturday night at the Cheetah Lounge, and later told the girls laughingly about how she had watched that set rock and bump against his juicy butt as he whirled his date around. At 55, King did still like to dance.
He also liked opening up the shop. Upon entering, he would head over to the alarm - slide step step, slide step step, shuffle ball change - and turn it off first thing. Then he would flick on the fluorescents, checking the tubes to make sure none were going dim, and turn up the thermostat. Next, he attended to the coffee pots. Although there were two machines, one on each side of the dining room, he got just the one going that was nearest to the cash register. "I'm doing this for my girls," he liked to tell himself. "Gotta take care of them first."
King's girls ranged in age from 23 to 62. There were eight of them, spread out over several shifts, and they all lived a short distance from the Jubilee Coffee Shop, 4851 N. Ravenswood, open 6 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week including holidays.
Ronnie, a 43-year-old divorcee with four kids who was named after Veronica Lake, would get there next, like clockwork at 5:45 a.m., and this day was no different from the rest.
- Good morning, King, she said as she scurried in, half out of her coat already as she closed the door.
- Ronnie, baby, how you doin', morning girl? Rise and shine. Let me pour you a cup. Did you put your feet up like I told you yesterday? Mmm, mmm, mmm, don't want none of them corn dogs.
King, a good-natured man who wore his pants low and kept his belly full, ambled over to the other side of the room, carrying Ronnie's mug filled to the brim.
- Here you go, he said, with sugar for my sugar.
Each girl had amug of her own with her name inscribed on it, compliments of King, who owned the coffee shop. Although he served as a short-order cook during the morning shift, he saw his real mission as keeping his employees happy. He only hired women.
Ronnie was already tending to the second coffee machine. An old hand at this routine, she quickly washed two pots and filled them with water, one for regular and one for decaf. She poured the pot's contents into the percolators, and set the pots under the filters as the coffee started to perk.
The first customers of the day, a couple of electricians from a nearby building site who had been coming in often, arrived stamping their feet and shivering. Ronnie raced over to serve them.
King, full cup still in hand, finally caught up with her at the condiments station, where she was filling salt and pepper shakers and ketchup bottles.
- Whoa, your highness, slow down. It's a long life.
- And there's a lot to do in that life, Ronnie said, not stopping her work as she spoke. But she finally accepted the mug that King pressed on her, smiled, and took a sip.
Perfect temperature for drinking. I don't know why you give me this coffee, King. I'm wired as it is.
She then gave him the electricians' orders, oatmeal and whole wheat toast for the young one and bacon and eggs for his partner. King asked her to please come in the kitchen a minute and keep him company while he cooked up the orders. He wanted her opinion on a little problem he was dealing with.

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©1997-2000 by pisalou