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Truckers often talk of “white-line fever,” and I had a bad case. Weaving from lane to lane, alternately dodging and then smashing the “road turtles” that live on the white center lines, I managed to bring my 18-wheeler to a stop at a small, roadside eatery. Though I'd been down this road many times, I don't ever remember seeing the place before. As I slid out of the cab, I felt a sense of impending doom.
“Mom's” was the only sign over the door. Usually there would also be a neon “Budweiser” or “Coors” sign in one of the windows, but there weren't any. Not even an “Olympia.” Only faded, red-and-white checked curtains adorned them. The front of the building was weather-beaten, and there was evidence of a porch that once existed long ago. As I approached, I noticed that my rig was the only vehicle in the dimly lit parking lot. Off to my left was a rusted out hulk that may have once been a '57 Ford pickup. When I opened the front door, strains of an Elvis tune greeted my ears, something about “...and now, the end is near...” My common sense was suggesting that I leave, but the rumbling of my stomach drowned out any rational thoughts.
The room was hazy and dimly lit, much like the parking lot. Not a soul was in sight, save for a plump, old woman behind the counter.
“Howdy, Sweetie,” she said in a high-pitched, raspy voice. “Haven't seen you 'round here before. You new in town?” One look at her smile told me that her dentist was probably a jackhammer operator, and definitely nonunion.
“No, not really. I drive by here often but I just haven't had the time to stop in.” Through the haze I could see a small jukebox against the far wall, obviously where Elvis was hiding. But that odor! Where was it coming from?
“Jes' tell me when yer ready to order, Honey,” she wheezed.
Each table had two chairs, one salt or pepper shaker and a faded, red-and-white checked table cloth that matched the curtains. Right in the center of my table was an old candle-in-a-glass; only it was burned all the way down, with dust and cobwebs where the candle should have been.
“You lookin' fer a menu?” she asked. “Looky over yonder on that table.” I smiled and rose to get it. Suddenly without warning, the chair gave way and splintered into a thousand pieces. The plump one didn't even flinch.
“Oh, that's ok,” she said as she wiped a glass. “They's always bustin' down like that. Orville never would get new ones.” Common sense once again prodded me to leave, whether gracefully or not. However, the ever-increasing feeling of hunger kept me glued to what was left of my seat. After dusting myself off, I found another chair and finally had the menu in hand. It took three tries to open it, but finally I peeled the pages apart. Totally illegible because of the grease, I decided to keep it simple.
“I'll have a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke.” Surely there was something as simple as that on the menu... somewhere.
I tried to put it down but I couldn't get it unstuck from my fingers. As I worked on removing the offensive literature, I felt something brush past my leg. “Don't look, don't look,” I said to myself. “It's probably just the pet cat,” at least I hoped that's all it was. As I sat thinking about the rest of my trip, I was snapped out of my daydream by a large splatt! She was killing flies with the spatula! My only hope was that she had cooked my burger before committing “insecticide.” At last, she brought the food out.
“Bone Appy-tite!” she squeaked.
I had to admit, it did look half-way appetizing. The “burger” was cooked, at least it was brown. The french fries smelled ok, though they looked like they were boiled in motor oil. Then there was the Coke. Now, how could she possibly screw up a Coke? Whether canned, bottled or fountain, Coke was Coke, right? I took the “burger” in both hands, and with fear and trepidation, moved it towards my mouth. A trickle of sweat rolled slowly down my forehead. My mouth was watering, but then so were my eyes. Finally, I took a bite.
If you took a hamburger patty dipped in sand and deep-fried, it would be very close to the experience of that “cheeseburger.” My stomach, which only moments earlier had been screaming for a bite, was now screaming to return that bite from whence it came.
“Good, ain't it?” the plump one asked.
I managed a weak smile and a courteous nod of the head. My stomach screamed for some relief. The fries! The fries! No, not the fries, the Coke! I'll try the Coke first! One mouthful told me there was a way to screw up a glass of Coke.
Noticing that I hadn't swallowed yet, she squeaked, “Oh, the ice maker's busted, so we just put cold water in instead.”
My head was spinning, my stomach was churning and my mouth was watering. I could think of only two things; getting out, and getting out now! I reached for the check on the table, but it was stuck to the menu. I left a dollar tip—it also stuck to the menu—and made my way to the counter.
As she rang up the total, she asked, “Would ye like a mint?” Before I could respond, she reached into her apron and pulled out three small, unwrapped blobs of chocolate.
While she was picking off the lint, I left a $10.00 bill on the counter, mumbled something about “keep the change,” and made my way to the door. As it opened, a bright light blinded me so much that I had to shield my eyes.
Sweat was pouring off me as I gripped the wheel tighter. I was shaking like a leaf! Then I realized that I had fallen asleep at the wheel. Other truckers were flashing their brights at me, sounding their horns and calling to me on the CB. I couldn't believe it! The whole thing was a dream! Now that I was once again awake and alert, I decided it would be a good idea to find someplace to eat and maybe get some coffee into my system. Up ahead was a small, roadside diner. When I pulled into the empty parking lot, I thought to myself, “Gee, this place looks familiar.” As I slid out of the cab, I felt a sense of de-ja vu.
“Mom's” was the only sign over the door...