06 February 2011

$.97 for Unleaded

“Would you like something to drink with that?” The waitress stared at Mike with a really strange look in her eyes...a look that on a very, very hot day would melt really soft chocolate at the very least – maybe even wax.  No, probably not wax, on second thought.  It was less of an intense gaze than it was something of a look of nausea. Nausea or maybe ennui with a touch of indigestion.

“Umm...no...thanks,” he replied, “I'll just have the eggs. Maybe a piece of dry toast.” he thought about Dan Ackroyd's line in “the Blues Brothers” about the dry white toast, and he laughed aloud...just a little bit of a laugh. It was enough to make the waitress look back at him as she walked back to her station. Her gum chewing slowed down to a steady grind, and a little bit of saliva glistened in the corner of her mouth. It picked up light from the overhead fluorescents and blinked on and off at Mike as she chewed. On. Off. On off on off. On. Off. On off. Mike looked away and stared across the diner at the really large fellow whom he took to be a truck driver – the guy was wearing a t-shirt that was far too tight and was emblazoned with the words “I 80 Truckstop – Walcott, Iowa.”

Mike remembered getting a cup of coffee at that truck stop in Walcott. He was a freshman in college at the time, and he was on some kind of crazy spring break trip to somewhere in Iowa – a trip to a destination he and his friends never reached. It was in Walcott that the harmony in the car had broken down...all due to a disagreement over who was paying for the next tank of gas. Mike and his roommate from Colby, Wisconsin sat in a booth and drank coffee while a few others walked around the truck stop, complaining and looking at porcelain statuary – the sort of commemorative art that depicts a miniature Harley Davidson with a bison painted on the gas tank and being driven by a miniature naked Sioux warrior queen or something like that. The evening ended with a stolen coffee cup being thrown through the windshield of a semi-truck and a mad drive through the streets of Walcott. They turned around after that and drove back home without ever reaching their destination, and Mike and his roommate never really saw much of their other travelling companions the rest of the semester.

“How dumb,” thought Mike, as he thought back over the intervening years, “how really dumb that whole trip was.” It had been a good chance to learn something about how fragile friendship can be, and about how easily feelings can be hurt. It was also a good chance to learn about how relatively easy it is to break auto glass with a coffee cup.

The big truck driver-type got up and started making his way out of the restaurant before Mike ever got his food. He walked right toward Mike and tipped his hat as he passed.

Mike's hand flexed around his coffee cup. He watched the man exit. “The World's Largest Truck Stop,” in inch-high letters sprawled across the back of his t-shirt.

“And the world's worst coffee,” thought Michael.

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