The smell of french fries crossed the street on its own. It was actually the smell that conjures fries. More like the smell of the fryer. And salt. Not potatoes. The potatoes have no smell.
The lurkers on the sidewalk turned their heads in the direction of the scent. Some looked more plaintively than others.
There were two types of yearners. Some were hungry, either because they didn’t eat dinner yet or because every time they smell fried food they wanted it. There was a subset of this group that were both. They were the most dangerous.
Others looked longingly when the door to the tavern opened. They could almost see the outline of the polished wooden bar. The welcoming stools waiting for a perch. The pours lined up and reflecting off the back mirror. They might be interested in the fries, too. Salt to wash down the spirits.
Yet they remained posted up in front of the dual storefront. There were scores of square feet of glass. There were three short rows of metal chairs closest to the doors of each store. Mostly moms sat in. Mostly dads stood outside.
The moms on the inside might spend time on their phones, but as the weeks of class wore on, they knew each other. They spoke about the trials of homework, mismanagement of time and the concomitant fines, inequities at work/home/country and their pride in their offspring. The dads on the inside were primarily silent but observant. They were tracking the progress of their progeny purposely. They knew the color sequence of the belts.
The few women outside were either sitting in strategically parked SUVs or smoking a cigarette. The outside dads milled around. A group discussed the Redskins practice and hopes for the preseason. The sole–and loud–Cowboys fan was there to be razzed. And he was. The outside moms didn’t track the inside. The outside dads would frequently glance over their shoulders and mark their kids.
The inside parents ensured that all belongings were accounted for, stuffed in backpacks or purses or bags. Most outside moms followed up. The outside dads who limousined the kids every week were on top of it. The dads who were intermittent chauffeurs asked the kids if they had everything. The kids always said yes. Sometimes they were mistaken. Sometimes there was a trip back to the storefront. Sometimes there were later recriminations. Less in the summer. More during the school year.
Just the one dad would take his kid across the street after class. The dad would order a beer he liked. The kid would have orange and cranberry juice with a spritz of club soda, a cherry and a single drop of bitters. They called it his cocktail. The dad and his kid would split a fry. And the kid talked up the bartender and learned to tip, too.