Lunch Counter

Road houses. Gas pumps. A quick stop for a sandwich and a Coke. Maybe you let the radiator cool down, check the pressure on the tires. You’d raise the hood and take a look around under there because it was something you could figure out by feel, by sound. The screen door would jingle when you opened it but the old man wouldn’t even look up from his paper, not because he was rude or indifferent, but because his hearing was almost gone. There was a lonely feel about the place but it sure wasn’t empty. There was some kind of energy there, as if a little bit of each life lingers on, like some fossil essence that makes an imprint on a space the way that people’s shadows were burned onto the walls in Hiroshima. There was that smell of cigarettes and fry-oil that spoke of the pathos of our desires; mouth-pleasing fats and the ten minute respites of tobacco smoke you’d take twenty times a day just to have something to do with your hands, something to kill time and calm the jitters for two hundred minutes out of the nine hundred you’re awake. You’d walk over to the machine and drop your quarters in and you could hear them fall through the mechanism like a Pachinko ball until they dropped into the coin box, one, two, plink, plink, and then the recoil of the spring-loaded lever as you pulled on the knob below your brand’s insignia, let’s say it was Chesterfields, and the sound the fully wrapped pack would make as it slid out and banked off the side of the aluminum tray. You’d turn and order your ham sandwich, packing the smokes pop pop pop on the base of your palm like your dad always did and peel the wrapper off, pry up the little foil triangle with your fingernail and wait for that first earthy aroma to hit you, the best part of the whole trick, almost worth the lung cancer that smell, and you’d light up with a cardboard match you held to the tip that was so expertly concave because you packed them so there’d be a quarter inch of paper to burn and then you’d wave the flame out with a deft flick of your wrist. O, that first drag. If you could only be satisfied with just that. Cigarettes should be an inch long, you’d think. They should all be first drags and then out. It’s all you really need anyway, the rest tasted like crap, but the first…How did they do it? Was there a chemical in that top part? A special perfume? A flavor enhancement? Oh well. The sandwich is up and the old man hands it to you wrapped in wax paper and in a brown bag because you ordered it to go because the road is waiting and you have miles yo go before you sleep.

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2 thoughts on “Lunch Counter

  1. Been there. Every delicious word of it. My favorite meal on the road is breakfast. Runny eggs, hash browns, crisp bacon, toast with butter and marmalade. Strong black coffee in a heavy mug. Early chill of dawn. Nothing but me and the truckers. A whole day stretched out before me. Thanks for the memory. Beautiful photo.

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