Road Stop – Part 2

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. 

Upon entering the dining area, we were greeted with blank stares and the unsettling sensation that we were interrupting something. A secret meeting, perhaps. Maybe they didn’t get the raise they were promised. Something was awry. More employees, outfitted in white shirts and green aprons, stood around in odd corners and crevices than there were people sitting at tables eating.

The lunch hour had passed long ago, but these employees looked put out and at a loss as to why we were there. They appeared to be guarding, on watch. Like gargoyles set in stone, they stood frozen, although I saw their eyes twitch back and forth between them, a coded language muffled waiting for a cue.

“Four, dining in?” A woman in her late twenties, too thin to be attractive, lunged forward from the ranks.

Tabitha, it said on her name tag, assumed the post as our hostess, prompting us out of our belabored reverie. Our stomachs were growling. We needed sustenance. We followed her to a red, padded booth.

“Paul will be your server.”  She slapped menus on the table and was gone before we could ask for water.

We breathed a collective sigh of relief as we scanned the menus with delightful approval. They were lots of possibilities here. There was every kind of sandwich, hot or cold, most with a roasted garlic sauce. I suppose it may have something to do with the agriculture in the area. Otherwise, salads, pizzas, burgers of many varieties, steak and potatoes, and a full breakfast menu available all day. Even the pickiest of eaters could indulge here.

It didn’t take long to make our decisions and we spent the next ten minutes playing what was labeled as an “I.Q. Game.”  I’m sure you know the one. The objective is to move the pegs across the board in any direction, except diagonally, removing each piece as you jump over it, in an attempt to narrow it down to one piece on the board. It helped pass the time initially, but our patience waned as we noticed only four tables with patrons, and an assembly of workers milling about. A couple of workers sat in a booth in the far corner fighting sleep and drinking coffee.

Finally, our server Paul made an entrance. He was short and stocky and his face reminded me of clown, only without the makeup. He had a bulbous nose, and two rosy cheeks, and protruding lips that sagged as though he had a permanent frown on his face. To complement his sad demeanor, he spoke nary a word.

Was he a mute performing in a fun house of mirrors sideshow? You must admit this is an odd trait for a waiter. Perhaps, he didn’t care about his tip. He merely nodded and scribbled every detail on his notepad.

First my mother Betty, “I’ll have the chicken sandwich plate with the small salad. But no onions on the sandwich, please.” It came with carmelized onions, which we all thought would taste wrong.

A nod from Paul to my sister Kristi. “I’d like the pepperoni pizza, but without the roasted garlic sauce. Just the normal sauce. Does it come with tomato sauce?” Paul nods twice. That must mean yes.

Now for my son Alex, “A hamburger, with french fries, everything on it except mustard and onions.”

A nod to me, “For me, the ham and cheese sandwich melt with french fries. No mayonnaise. Actually, just the ham and cheese. Nothing else on the sandwich.”

Paul turned abruptly and left in silence.

Kristi turned to me, “Susan, do you think he got it all? ”

“It wouldn’t have hurt to repeat it. Maybe he lost his voice. He seemed to understand it. I mean he wrote it all down.”

Cars in the adjacent fast food parking lot were emptying out. A bell rang a few times as people left, bringing in a waft of fresh cow manure. I hope it wouldn’t take much longer. We needed to get back on the road after all.

To be continued…

Dear Reader: There will be two more parts to this story. I hope you will join me for the remainder. Thanks for reading. 

photo credit: Caitlinator via photo pin cc

Road Stop – Part 1

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…

photo credit: Fergal of Claddagh via photo pin cc