Part 11: Teamwork
"Congratulations]" sings the woman at Rinaldi's Bakery. "My uncle just told me you're pregnant! He's a nervous wreck! He doesn't want you to fall!"
The woman insists on lugging a box - the day's supply of fresh rolls for the catering truck - to Wendy's black Volkswagen Jetta for her, because the sidewalk is slippery with snow.
Wendy smiles self-consciously: People are finding out.
Not that she's ashamed of what she's doing for her sister; she's just embarrassed by the attention she's starting to get.
"Oh, my God, everybody's gonna look at me now," she thinks whenever suppliers and customers, having read the Christmas story in the newspaper, steal a glance at her belly to see what's what.
Only a few more weeks, though, and she won't have to endure it. She'll quit the truck, just as she did when she was expecting Rachel.
"You don't ever see a pregnant caterer. Where do you ever see that?"
Being around so much food triggers morning sickness, she explains. And besides, it's just too strenuous.
Bouncing over the rutted roads of South Providence; climbing in and out of the truck at each stop; jumping up to reach its heavy, hinged flaps - it's wearing.
Even before a single sandwich is sold, there's so much work to do.
Wendy and her husband, Andy, wake every morning at 5:30. He makes coffee for the truck's 20-gallon urn and leaves at 6:15 to serve his earliest customers, at which point Wendy showers, dresses their 7-year-old, Rachel, drives her to school (or has her teenaged daughter Nicole take her), then heads off to gather the day's food for the route.
With rock music blasting from the car radio (it revs her up), she dashes to Tony's Meat Market on Broad Street for grinders, picks up the bread at Rinaldi's, then locates Andy's truck at his sixth stop - Quality Beef, off Promenade Street - where she parks her car and joins him.
It's been seven years now that the couple have owned Moose's Catering. Before that, they worked for someone else's truck, and before that, they say, they were "slaves" to their brothers' trucks, which is how they first met.
They'd run into one another regularly at a Providence food-service supply company called Sweet Life, and within the space of a year, friendly small-talk led to dating, then marriage.
They make a good team, with different but complementary styles.
Andy is glib and funny and likes to tease the customers, and doesn't mind getting teased back. Wendy, by contrast, has the shy person's knack of connecting with people wherever their current trouble is; she makes sympathetic comments as she overfills their sandwiches.
Then quickly, they're off to their next stop.
Unless they are running late and have to miss a stop or two, the route is always the same. It takes them to hidden-away factories and maintenance garages, places with names like Capco Steel, Palmer Spring and Salvadore Tool & Findings, as well as to a flower wholesaler and a housing project.
The menu, like the route, rarely changes from day to day. Meatballs, hot dogs, roast beef, chili, homefries, chicken nuggets and grilled Salisbury steaks - unusual breakfast food, it's true, unless you"ve been on the job since before dawn. Wendy herself says she could eat a roast beef sandwich right now, at 9 a.m.
Instead, she has another coffee - she'll drink up to eight cups by day's end, very light, each with three sugars.
"Time-time-time-time-time" is critical, says Wendy, glancing nervously at a wristwatch swinging from the truck's rear-view mirror. Shop workers are only allowed breaks at certain times, and for a brief duration. If the catering truck isn't there, everybody's out of luck.
Today is typically hectic.
The workers gather quickly. Most are regular enough customers that they know what they want. Boom, boom, boom - they tell Wendy their orders, take the food and pay Andy or else put it on a tab. Some people linger long enough to wisecrack with Andy or comment on Wendy's condition.
Over the last few months, more than one person has shared a story about their own struggle with infertility.
Kathy Beaver, co-owner of Ronzio Pizza, off of Atwells Avenue, for instance, where Wendy picks up pizza for the lunch crowd, tells how she almost made a surrogacy arrangement herself, but then adopted instead.
"It's a great thing she's doing. It's incredible. I can relate, so I kind of filled up," she says, recalling how she cried when she first learned about it. "I told her she's a great sister. That's a wonderful gift. That's a great thing."
Wendy, uncomfortable with such compliments, shifts the focus to her sister, saying Kathy "can't wait, can't wait, can't wait, can't wait" for the baby to be born.
A few stops later, when Wendy and Andy are wrapping up at a fire engine maintenance garage, its chief, Stephen T. Day, pauses at Wendy's passenger-side window to offer his own story.
"I don't know if you know it," he begins, a little shyly. "I have an adopted baby girl. I think what you're doing is a wonderful thing."
Wendy smiles, as if touched to hear it. Andy, however, can't resist a quip: "I could've had Wendy push one out for you! I could go into business!"
Wendy grimaces. The customer laughs.