Drivers' Corner - Knight of the Highway
Chapter II: Real Potatoes
"I just want your opinion," the hazel-eyed waitress said. "I noticed you earlier in your truck and was wondering what you thought would make a perfect Truck Stop."
I sat there looking at her, wondering to myself what it would feel like with my lips against hers, her warm body held to mine...the softness of her wavy hair between my fingers.
The waitress snapped her fingers in my face bringing me from my trance back to a little cafe on earth. "Oh, sorry," I stammered.
"You are definitely different. Never in a million years would I imagine such a question sending someone into deep thought!" she said, laughing.
"Potatoes!" I exclaimed.
"Potatoes! You know: 'What makes a perfect truck stop?' Well, potatoes!"
"Potatoes makes a perfect truck stop?" she cried out in disbelief. "What kind of answer is that?"
A driver spends his day on the road watching mile markers go by, billboard signs, overpasses and underpasses. Usually he's playing catch up on a load that was behind when he got it. Too busy trying to get the load there that he doesn't realize the landscape around him. Oh, he notices the hills, the cornfields, the skies. Yet they are all blended together into dullness. No time to notice the shapes of the clouds like he did as a child laying in a field--the dragons, lions, giraffes and monsters of the sky. No time to notice the butterflies and birds hovering above the corn like fairies from never-never land. The hills silhouetted one against another in different hues. Vehicles all around you with people inside that seem more like objects than humans. You feel like you can lie down and close your eyes, and not wake for three days straight, but you can't. You won't. You run on, stretching your eyelids to keep alert.
You finally stop to fill your empty belly and fill your thermos, maybe take a thirty-minute nap. You squeeze yourself backward into a parking spot between two cockeyed semis, turning the whines and moans off the two-way radio. You stumble your way through the obstacle course of trucks and trash littered here and there; and the rumble of motors and reefer units blazing, and air conditioner compressors popping on and off. You smell the stench of the stale urine-stained parking lot and the diesel exhaust in the air.
Finally, you open a double door and feel the arctic breeze blast on you through the opening. You feel like standing there for hours. You hit the restroom for the call of nature and wash your hands, drenching your face with cold water and light soap. You make it to the restaurant and your weary body flops into a seat.
A meal is your escape. The tie to a human existence. When you sit down you want to savor the tastes of the food. You want real food. You want food like momma used to make. Not institutional food. Not the type you add water to and let sit fifteen minutes to reconstitute. You want human hands to peel real potatoes. Not potatoes that have their life shredded out of them through machines and freeze-dried for convenience. When you bite into a piece of lettuce, you want crispiness. You don't want to suffer the taste of wilted, stale, refrigerator burned lettuce. Fresh cherry tomatoes bursting in your mouth. Bacon bits crunching. You don't want to guess if it's safe to eat the meat. You want to taste the potato in real mashed potatoes without thinking you're in a rest home choking down puree. You want to taste green beans that aren't wrinkled and overcooked. You want to bite into a biscuit and not have the feeling of choking on it.
"I guess it's true what they say about the way to a man's heart is through his stomach," she whispered.
"I'm speaking for myself," I said. "You'll have to find out what others think themselves."
Time went by quickly. The cafe had closed, yet we sat there in our own little section of the planet. Rehashing childhood memories. My sister playing Sean Cassidy's record over and over until I wanted to scream, "Uh, do-run-run-run, Uh, do-run-run." How the record shattered into fragments as it crash-landed from its wild flight while she was away. My dad taking me to Sambos for waffles and calling the waitress over to tease me, telling the girl that I was winking at her. My face turning all shades of red. My first car. My last car. My worst car.
Her being teased in school. Fighting boys and receiving a swinging belt at home for doing it. Her love for horses. A family trip to California one summer during school break. Her first car. Her worst car.
It was after midnight when we dragged ourselves away from one another. She unlocked the door to let me out. I wanted to kiss her; maybe she wanted the same. I resisted and walked away. Just as I unlocked my hotel room and was about to disappear inside, I heard her voice behind me. I turned around. She had a bag and my thermos.
"I made you a lunch since you will be leaving before the cafe opens in the morning. And you forgot your thermos."
I thanked her and disappeared inside. I looked through the lunch bag. She had two meatloaf sandwiches, remembering the time I told her about my dad and I talking about the birds and bees over meatloaf sandwiches. A bag of potato chips, a bag of homemade cookies and a round objects in gift-wrapping. I unwrapped the package and it was a potato. A real potato! And the words "HA HA" carved in the side. I laughed as I looked into her smile and her hazel eyes inside my head. I fell asleep and slept harder than I had in quite some time.
At four in the morning I woke to the courtesy call. I took a quick shower to liven my body for the miles ahead and started my truck. While the truck warmed up, I turned in my keys and pulled a local paper out of the machine. I looked at the weather forecast and just as I was about to toss it away I pulled it back open. I looked at the job opportunities and real estate in the area. Seeing nothing relevant, I tossed it away.
I jumped in the truck and pushed in the brake supply valves. I put it in first gear and hesitated. I sat there staring at the cafe, wishing I was still in there. I wanted to just go back to bed until later so that I could see her again. Yet I couldn't. The road called me to come. I turned onto the onramp and drove into the crisp morning. Refreshed.