It’s safe to say that Gloria Ware does not like change. Someone who likes change does not spend decades bussing tables and delivering bread at the Backstreet Cafe, which Gloria has been doing since … 1983, was it? In the autumn?
“I came two weeks after she opened,” she says with a nod to Tracy Vaught, who owns the River Oaks establishment. “It was the 27th of October.”
Since then, five days a week for the last three decades, Gloria has ridden the bus 90 minutes to and from her home, which she shares with her husband in Greenspoint, to Backstreet. She has a certain ambivalence about this, because the routes change frequently and Gloria does not like change. Also the fares don’t stay the same.
“It used to be only 20 cents,” she says. “Now it’s a dollar and a quarter!”
Gloria herself hasn’t changed much either in 30 years. She is now 60 but hardly looks it. Her frame is still slender, her face still kind. The no-nonsense attitude is eternal too, now signaled by bright magenta hair and a simple ponytail. Small wonder that at Christmastime, Backstreet’s patrons bring their children to the restaurant so Gloria can see how they’ve grown. She is the one constant against which all of the world’s changes can be measured.
Chatting with Gloria and Tracy on wicker chairs in Backstreet’s sunny upstairs dining room, it seems—on this day at least—that spending 30 years together has served to wear away many of the women’s differences. Both wear white button-up shirts, both find themselves nearing retirement age (Tracy is two years Gloria’s junior), and both miss Tracy’s uncle—Jack Blalock, the charming rogue of a businessman who started the restaurant with his niece—although to the immutable Gloria, he isn’t really gone. She becomes acutely aware of his presence most mornings, she says, when alone at the restaurant doing cleaning and prep work.
The women lost Jack, who was like a father to Gloria, the day after September 11, 2001, the result of complications following surgery. “Jack was watching the TV and said, ‘Our lives have changed forever,’” recalls Tracy. Gloria nods.
“I just loved everything about that man,” she says wistfully. Gloria saw Tracy through that difficult time and has kept her steady during most every life-changing experience since. There was Tracy’s romance with former busboy Hugo Ortega, now owner of the namesake Mexican restaurant, whom she married in 1994. Then, there was the birth of Tracy’s daughter, not to mention the recent renovation of the old two-story home where Backstreet resides.
“I liked it the old way,” says Gloria of the renovation, which for some reason comes as a surprise to Tracy.
“You never told me that before!” she laughs.
In five years, Gloria plans to retire. Maybe. Neither she nor her boss seems ready to think about a time when Gloria won’t be at the restaurant.
“I love her,” says Gloria, lightly clasping Tracy’s shoulder. “Jack and Tracy. I love them both.”
Tracy smiles back. “We’re going to grow old together,” she chuckles, nudging Gloria. “Can you believe it’s been 30 years?”
“I wish I could turn it back around to 1983,” Gloria sighs. “I wish I could turn it back around and start all over again.”