It was a wet afternoon. It had been raining since early morning and the forecast called for rain the rest of the day and through the night. Anamary's restaurant on Main Street in Upper Port Jefferson was crowded and the ambience lively with no trace of the damp cold that was outside.
About a dozen bronze-skinned, dark-haired men sat at the few tables across from the counter where hot food simmered in steamer trays behind glass. The men were cheerful, drinking sodas and the occasional cerveza. Many were landscapers given an impromptu holiday by the wet weather. To reach the lunch counter a few steps to the rear, I had to push past a couple of the men who suddenly jumped up from their wooden chairs and rushed to the jukebox that hangs on the wall. An upbeat Mexican tune with soulful lyrics about a chica who is linda already filled the air, and the men picked more songs. At the counter, I found an empty stool. The place was clean. A landscaper with a winning smile was enjoying the idle afternoon. He is from Honduras, a bit south of Tegucigalpa, he said, and has been in this country for eight years.
Raquel handed me a colorful, laminated menu en español. I was not surprised at how much I understood, for although I never took Spanish in school, the language is all around us.
Later I noticed brief English translations on the menu. Raquel suggested the chicken stew with rice and beans. She brought a generous portion of tasty and tender chicken, and placed a red plastic bottle of hot sauce on the counter in front of me. Lunch was great: home cooking with a Spanish accent. The Telemundo channel was airing a Spanish-language soap opera on the flat screen TV behind the counter. A second monitor on the back wall displayed digital images from a series of security cameras.
When I tried my Spanish out on Tomasina, the other woman behind the counter, she immediately began addressing me in her native tongue. I hastened to stress that I spoke poco, but that only seemed to encourage her. We communicated, and we both smiled when comprehension stalled. After eating, I asked for la cuenta and she called back to me from the register telling me in Spanish how much I owed. I paid and asked if they had coffee. I wanted a cup to go, but here my limited Spanish failed completely. Tomasina thought I wanted decaf and I understood her to say they did not serve that option. Café colombiano she said with pride. Finally, when Tomasina asked if I took sugar, I only said no, my Spanish not nearly good enough for that corny line men have been flattering waitresses with for decades: If you pour it, it'll be sweet enough for me.