Road Stop – Part 4 (Conclusion)

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. 

All the soda in the world wasn’t enough to wash the french fry grease out of my mouth. Alex evidently felt the same way.

“I’m going to check out that gift shop,” he said, rising from the table.

“Finished?” I asked. He had only eaten half of his hamburger.

“Yeah.” I wanted to join him.

My mother read my mind. “Maybe we should all leave,” she pleaded. “Let’s get the hell out of here. We can pick up food in a drive thru. Get back on the road.”

“You want to?” I said, eyeing my mother.

As soon as we rose to our feet, the wait staff was pushing their way toward us. Jessica, Paul, and the old woman, all carried a plate for our table.

“Here you are, ” Jessica gently set the plate down before my mother, “Chicken, no onions.” A then a nod from Paul. Now to my sister, “Pizza with tomato sauce, no garlic. And for you, ham and cheese, no mayonnaise.” A nod now in unison from our delightful wait staff.

“Enjoy,” Paul said, in groveling, muted voice. He lives, I thought.

Looking down on my sandwich, I see an indentation in the shape of a fingernail. “I can’t do this.” I imagined my sandwich dissected and manhandled, the white cheese swapped out for yellow, still coated with some thick, white glue sauce. “I don’t want this.”

“Excuse me?” Jessica says, tilting her head.

“I don’t want this,” I whispered to myself. “How hard is it, for Christ’s sake?”

“What honey? I can’t hear you.”

Maybe it was her feigned, childlike innocence, but I wanted to blame her. I wanted to break her.

I lashed out at her, “How hard is it to make a sandwich? You have enough time to do your little dance. Can’t you make a simple sandwich? Is it really that hard? How hard is it?”

Anger engulfed me and I seized the plate and dropped it, smashing it into a thousand tiny shards. The sandwich lay on its side, unwanted and speckled with dirt. All eyes in the diner fixed on me in stony silence.

Jessica gasped, cocked her head. She was tugging at her hair, smiling slightly. She couldn’t hide that from me. With calculated force, I swept my arm across the table, sending the I.Q. game and its contents crashing to the floor. Yellow pegs rolled in every direction.

Trying to regain her composure, Jessica spatted, “Was that really necessary?”

Several employees flooded the area, scurrying on their knees trying to undo the damage.

I heard a thin wail from across the diner. Recognizing Alex’s voice, I rushed over to the gift shop with my family trailing behind.

Various trinkets and souvenirs  lay strewn across the concrete floor. Magnets, hats, glass figurines, bumper stickers, snow globes, stuffed animals, picture frames, all touting a different location and theme. A few were labeled with the Road House, but there was also the Cliff House, Lake Forest Cafe, and Rosie’s Steakhouse.

Alex stared wide-eyed out the window, his body tense and shaking. “Where is it?” he yelled. “Look, look, look,” he pointed and stammered.

We stood by his side, transfixed and motionless. Staring out the window, we saw nothing but a barren wasteland. A howling wind erupted, blowing tumbleweeds, rocks, and sand. There were no cars. No fast food restaurants. No freeway. Everything, gone.

Stunned into a speechless stupor, we watched the vision in horror. Choking for breath, I could not form any words. We began to cry, tears streaming down our face.

Jessica and her crew caught up with us, and waited in the gift shop entrance. Slowly, Jessica inched her way closer to our line at the window.

She peeked over our heads and said, “Uh huh. Looks like you’re staying with us for a while.”

“What? No way. We’re out of here,” I said.

“You can leave, but you’ll be back. You won’t get very far. They never do. They always come back,” she reasoned.

“We’re stuck here forever?” Alex asked.

“Not necessarily,” the old woman piped up. “Some of us are here longer than others.”

“Sometimes people, they go back. They’re only missing you see. Your best bet is try to work really hard here. Food can be quite good. Sorry, today some of the food you got was old. Our cook was sleeping today.” Jessica was rambling now. Paul looked to her to stop.

This was just a normal turn of events for them. “Maybe with you guys on board, Jessica can start doing the cooking.”

All I wanted was to be on a freeway, full of cars.

“Here you go,” they supplied us with white and green uniforms. “Let’s show you around.”

The End

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Road Stop – Part 3

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 several more attempts to successfully complete the I.Q. game, we declared ourselves idiots. This game is clearly meant to weaken your mind and it has no business being in a restaurant. It did not make the time pass faster. Quite the opposite.

The diner had lulled to a quiet ideal for napping. The waiters cleared the tables, ready for a surge of business. Paul, our former server, was nowhere in sight.

The white double doors of the kitchen flapped open and a new server appeared with what resembled our order. She made our way to our table carrying all four plates. She had tight red curls and glossy lipstick to match. Diamond earrings dangled and she flashed a mouthful of yellow teeth.

“It’s here. It’s here,” she announced to us as if we should be on the edge of seats in wonder.

“I have the hamburger,” Alex spoke up, famished.

“Okay. Sandwich #7, Ham and cheese melt.  A #3, and a pizza. Enjoy. If you need anything, my name is Jessica.” She placed the plates randomly on the table. At least she was capable of speech and was clearly making an effort. She paused and stood with her feet together, wobbling like a human bowling pin, her small head held by an ever-widening body. Without warning, she pranced off like a reindeer.

After we switched our plates of food, we surveyed that our special requests were ignored. It looked as if they made exactly what was offered on their menu with no deviation possible. My mom got onions, my sister garlic sauce, and my son mustard. My son decided he could live with it and scrapped most of the it off his bun.

I detected a thick, gluey substance in one of the holes on the top of my bread. One whiff and I knew it was mayonnaise. There was no possible way I could digest this sandwich without gagging.

Jessica glided into the center of the dining area and began what could only be described as interpretative dance to her own imaginary music. At one moment she was fluid, trying with all her might to showcase her dormant dance ability of a younger age, now brought to the surface by a deeper yearning aching to release itself. Moments of choppy, staccato arm thrusts in the air interrupted her languid motion, followed by erratic hand gestures in her co-workers’ faces. In one sudden swoop, she dropped to the floor, sliding her upper torso to the ground. Her hands splayed shimmering across the surface, her red curls hiding her face.

“Is she going to be all right?” a co-worker mumbled.

“Huh?” a co-worker responded, looking up from his daily paper. A slight nod to Jessica and then, “Oh, sure.”

In the midst of the commotion, I was able to stop one worker, an elderly woman set with hardened wrinkles and a steely gaze. Her head bobbled and she had only a few tiny spikes for teeth.

“This has mayonnaise on it,” I said to her.

“So?” she narrowed her eyes.

“Well, I can’t have mayonnaise. ”

“Oh. This ain’t mayonnaise, honey. It’s swiss cheese. Haven’t you ever had swiss cheese before?” she scolded me like a child.

“It smells like mayonnaise.” I say. “I can’t eat it.”

“Do you need me to put cheddar cheese on it?” she pounced.

“I just don’t want mayonnaise,” not backing down. They made a mistake, they should understand what it is. “Actually, nothing is right here.”

The old woman snapped her fingers. “Jessica. Your table is unhappy. Says nothing’s right,” she says with a southern drawl now.

Jessica lifts her head off the ground, “What?” Moments later, she stood breathy by our table to discuss the problem. They removed every plate except for my son’s hamburger.

He shared his fries with us. While their appearance looked promising, they were dry and tasted like cardboard.

“How could these be cold?” he said, dousing his plate with salt. We nodded, too tired to talk.

Greasy fast-food fries usually aren’t half bad when they’re hot. We stared wantonly at the MacDonald’s and Carl’s Jr. across the street.

To be continued…

Dear Reader: The story will conclude with Part 4. I hope you will join me. Thanks for reading.

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