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  • "What's the big deal about these pancakes?" she asks, the girl in a brown-pleated skirt standing near the back of the queue and directly in front of me. "There's a bakery at the other end if the market. We could just get a cupcake or something."

    Her friend shrugs and stays the course while skirt girl wanders off to reconnoiter.

    The line feels short to me. Wholly inside the market instead of winding through the hall by the bathrooms into North Hall (currently hosting a dance recital), it really is nothing. This line makes me happy.

    Beside me, my brother rolls his shoulders and moans. Yesterday, he helped friends move. Stairs. Boxes. More stairs. More boxes. This morning, we rose at a half past five to watch the sun rise over the Cherry Blossoms and Tidal Basin and walked a few miles between now and then, there and here. He is tired and sore.

    "Do you want to go and sit somewhere, North Hall, outside? I'll wait in line."

    I don’t mind. I planned to wait. The line is part of the experience, as much as the pancakes and gruff man behind the counter. Cash only. Order ready. Don't hesitate.

    "I don't think I can sit in there alone," he says, motioning toward the hall. Young girls in sparkly leotards count and miscount along with the music, moving alone together through their routines. Clapping parents ring the floor.

    "Creepy," I say.

    "Creepy," he agrees. "With the camera?"

    He heads outside while I invest myself to being here now, feeling more than hearing the buzz of conversation, the whir of a blade from the butcher, and shouts from behind the counter. "Order of blue bucks!" Sweet, floral scents blend with bacon and fish, raw fish, as we inch closer to the counter and I feel peace settle over me. This feels like home.

    Behind me, a baby grunts and reaches out, passing from arms to arms almost in time with a lively conversation.

    "Potato, egg and cheese sandwich, I think... Are you voting this summer? ... Way down in southern Maryland... What do you see?"

    Skirt girl returns with a shake of her head. Not a suitable substitution. She wears a mask of disapproval as she joins the line.

    My brother comes back and leaves and comes back again. We still have time. I smile at the baby whose grunts have turned to whines. I make faces, distracting him.

    “He’s just hungry,” his mother explains.

    “I feel the same,” my brother says with a smile and wave. The baby smiles and waves in return.

    We all smile then.

    “Good job!”

    The baby beams.

    We round the common table and make our way to the counter. A half hour has passed, a hair more by the time we get our food and I feel victorious. The woman in the skirt continues to frown. The baby gurgles happily.

    We take a place at the common table. The ones outside are full but will turn over soon. Somehow, it works. There’s always a place to sit by the time food arrives but you cannot buck the system, leave someone to get the food, take a seat, and save a place until food is in hand. It throws everything off.

    The pancakes are hot, fresh and consistently good, but that’s not it. It is the line and the wait. The anticipation. Growing hunger. It’s the whir of the blade and buzz of conversation, the smell of flowers, bacon and fish. It’s the gurgling baby and the frowning girl, the gruff man behind the counter and the man clearing trays. It’s the common tables with people sitting shoulder to shoulder, sharing conversation as well as the space (and occasionally unused utensils and butter). It’s the butter, served in hearty scoops, and syrup in cups.

    All of it, together, gets poured on top of my blueberry buckwheat – blue buck – pancakes fresh from the griddle. It’s the place I want to go after long trips abroad, when I’ve been sick, or after an early jaunt to see the sun rise. I take my guests and I go alone. It feels like home, and that’s “the big deal about these pancakes.” I just can’t explain it, not to skirt girl, not to somebody who doesn’t want to be here.

    I hope she enjoys her pancakes, though. I hope she likes them enough to come back.
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