"Vermont!", he says.
"Montpelier!", she responds.
Then there's a long pause because he see's that I'm paying attention. I'm a new audience to this impromptu sitcom-in-the-making. I'm also slurping my bowl of chicken barley soup.
"You wanna play?", nodding to me from his table. He orders the Lentil soup. "These girls get tired of me after awhile..".
"Sure", I say. "But I don't know if I'm as good as I used to be on this stuff."
"OK - here you go - NEW HAMPSHIRE!"
(I pause, but pausing's a good thing. I just booked a women's retreat in NH, so I know this..)
"Good! See? You're good at this!" (actually he said, "at dis,"), then he laughs.
"No, I cheated. I just talked with a gal from New Hampshire yesterday, so it's fresh in my mind."
"Yeah", he says. "Not a whole lot is fresh in my mind these days. But that's why I play this Capital game. I don't think the girls here like it much when I do it, though."
I smile. Then I get the "look" from one of the waitresses, shaking her head and mouthing quietly to me, "He comes in here all the time and does this stupid little game with everybody. Hope he's not bothering you...".
That would be no. He's not bothering me at all. In fact, I now take the intiative..
"Maine!", I shout out loudly.
(silence) Everybody in the restaurant looks at me..
Then my elderly friend says, "Uh oh, that's a toughy. I sometimes get all those New England states mixed up. Wait a minute, I'll get it........ (long pause) (I wait)
"Augusta!", he shouts.
"YAY!", I respond and clap. "You got it!" Now both waitresses walk away and shake their heads at us.
Then he says, "Do you know that the nickname for Maine is the Pinetree State? Did you know that Maine is the number one producer of blueberries in the US? Did you know that about 40 million pounds of lobster is caught yearly off the coast of Maine? (I'm getting set up here..) "Did you know that Augusta is the most eastern capital in the US?"
"Wow. You sure do know a lot about Maine, and here - I thought we were just playing a capital game."
He looks down at his soup, and kind of mumbles to himself, "Yeah, that's what I thought too, until you brought up Maine. I like Maine. A lot. Haven't thought much about Maine until today."
I get up from my table, smile at my new friend and thank him for a wonderful conversation. As I got to the register to pay my bill, I hear him yell from the back of the room...
(I shout back, turning my head) "Nashville!"
Then his quieter voice says, "I figured you should know that one - I saw the tag on your car. You don't talk like somebody from Tennessee."
"I'm from Jersey."
"And you don't talk like somebody from Virginia either."
"Yeah, I know. I grew up in Maine......... HEY - VIRGINIA!"
What a capital conversation. I had everything to gain. Nothing to lose.