Inspired by true events. An account of four weary travelers on their journey from Southern to Northern California up the I-5 corridor and their stop at a diner somewhere along the Grapevine.
After endless hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic in mid-day sun, gravel and dust steaming off the asphalt, tempers and nostrils flared. Motorist climbed out of their cars and were on their feet on the highway, swearing and pumping their chests and arms, as if this would magically propel the traffic in forward motion.
It won’t buddy, get a grip. What makes you think you’re special? Sit and sulk like everyone else, and piss in your own car. My son Alex wanted to go the bathroom over an hour ago, and we were almost at that point, looking for disposable cups, or maybe a bag would do, if only we had something to keep it closed.
Our seats felt like concrete slabs with the limited space closing in on us, littered with garbage, unwanted candy wrappers and cracker crumbs, our tidy piles of movies and books handpicked for the trip abandoned, scattered randomly. My mother and sister argued over whose back was worse, with aches and pains deepening by the minute.
Once we were actually driving above 10 miles per hour, we were cruising. I immediately took the next available exit, following the massive hoard of cars that shared our very same thought. Let’s get the hell off this freeway.
Besides a couple of fast food joints, the Roadside Diner was our best option. The line in the McDonald’s was teaming with hungry mouths. I’ll admit I didn’t want to spend any more time than necessary in a McDonald’s, especially in a line to the bathroom. The Carl’s Jr. was equally busy with a host of cars making a bee line for the same coveted parking spot.
The Roadhouse Diner was our only choice, but on second thought, why wouldn’t it be our first? Here was the promise of a comfort meal with mashed potatoes and gravy. None of those greasy, stale fast-food fries. While there was nothing remarkable about the outside structure of the building, just your everyday brick with a few scattered rose bushes, and a neon “Open” sign with a steamy coffee cup, the inside was, well, dark; but a welcome darkness.
Our time in the glaring sun was now marked by melted chocolate pretzels and sticky, warm coke, a source of excitement early on in our excursion. We were in the mood for a real meal, one that would settle our nerves, provide nourishment, and give us courage to continue our journey which at this point wasn’t even half over. Was this too much to ask from a diner? We would have settled for marginally fair.
The bathroom, which we all used immediately, looked normal enough, one that had a table in the corner with pretend flowers, a lacy tablecloth, the scent of apple pie, a montage of a fake home. I noticed a gift shop at the entrance. What would that carry, pray tell? Stuffed animals of cows, pigs, chickens to remember with fondness the stench of manure, little spoons and plates of the Roadhouse Diner? Junk we don’t need, but still I was reassured. Usually, when there was a gift shop it was a sign that people wanted to have a memory of the place, of savory food, and inviting and warm customer service.
To be continued…