A short story I wrote about a road trip from a year ago:
I’d driven through a tornado in Nebraska earlier that day, though I didn’t know it at the time. The days drive had done its work on me and the moon came out to chide me like a mother, reminding me to eat dinner. There’s a certain feeling one gets when they slow down and drive city streets after a day of going seventy on the interstate. A feeling like you’re gonna get caught. For what I couldn’t tell you, but driving slow never felt so wrong. Probably because you are an outsider, having never been to this town, it doesn’t mean anything to you. The cops are looking for an out of towner, I sometimes like to think. I pulled off the exit ramp and glided by silent shops and brightly lit gas stations. Casually, I speculated about the teenagers in letterman jackets in the Talon convertible in front of me while I tried to find a decent looking hotel. And like a mother, the moon came around another cloud and nagged me again whilst stopped at a red light. My options were an Applebee’s and a McDonalds. Applebee’s has beer, so it was an easy decision.
I parked my Audi station wagon, not exactly a common vehicle in western Nebraska. Before making my way for the front doors, I made sure to gather up my trash because a successful road trip requires a clean environment. If the Audi wasn’t enough of a tip-off, my colorful hat, cuffed pants, and boat shoes certainly wouldn’t match with the college sportsball shirts and bud light tall boys. Aside from the several staring maitr’de’s, it was an Applebee’s like any other. A young lady led me to a booth with a window towards the back of the restaurant. An older woman came and greeted me. With out much deliberation, I ordered a Sam Adams and a BLT.
"Can I see some I.D., hon?"
I already had my license out, expecting the question, and handed it over readily.
She handed my picture back and walked confidently over to the bar. I mostly looked out the dark window, or rather at my own reflection. There’s something uncomfortable about being at a table alone in a restaurant.
She came back with my beer and said the BLT would be right out. She had a real Dolly Parton vibe about her- and I’m not talking about her breasts, you degenerate.
I’m not sure why, but she had a confidence about her that made her more than her outdated make up and hairdo would tell you-dare I say classic. Or maybe I had just driven through a crazy storm and was really looking forward to my BLT and beer. Like a Spartan returning from battle to have one of those crazy, drunken Greek feast-orgy-ancient slip-n-slide kinda parties-except way less cool.
After some awkward waiting she came back with the food and I asked her if she recommended any of the hotels nearby. She sat down in the booth across from me and said she liked the Best Western across I-80. She had rented a suite there for her daughter’s twelfth birthday party. Can’t remember if it was the twelfth birthday, I’m just guessing. She told me a bit about her kids. She asked me if I needed anything and I smiled and told her I was all set.
Now, what you want to read about. A salivating description of the BLT, right? Nope. That sand-o-wich wasn’t exactly the juicy lamb shank Alexander the Great would of been gnawing on. It was some bacon-flavored salt strips, faintly green lettuce, light pink watery tomato, and unmelted Kraft singles on bread that had been toasted so lightly that the toasting method could only be described as the cook breathing on the bread after eating a jalopeño. What I’m trying to say here with my overdone description is that it was a crappy sandwich on untoasted bread.
But the steak fries weren’t bad. And the beer was indeed beer. So, by that day’s standards; nailed it! I thought about leaving a mediocre tip for the mediocre sandwich, but I had just driven through a big storm without dying, so I didn’t want to be that guy and push my luck. After all, this was Dolly Parton’s long lost cousin working at this small town Applebee’s on a friday night with young kids at home. She even told me a story from her life when she recommended the Best Western. She could’ve just said ‘go to the Best Western’, but she didn’t. If anyone deserved a tip for a shitty BLT it was probably her.
When I walked out to my car I looked up the moon-it seemed content with me now. Or maybe I was just full, ready to sleep and the moon and the clouds were really trying to tell me they missed today, but were definitely gonna kill me tomorrow.
Nora laid on the couch trying find the perfect angle at which her arm would keep itself up. Her mother walked into the room and suggested that she get off the couch and go into town. Nora’s arm fell and smacked her in the face. She paused for a moment and then rolled over and stretched out in that tense, early-morning way.
Her mother repeated the same tired encouragement she had been peddling for months. It hadn’t helped Nora figure out what to do for the past 7 months, and it wasn’t suddenly working now either.
Nora went and changed her shirt and braided her hair. She told her mom she was taking the car into town. Her mom was cautiously optimistic as the afternoon sun punched through the closing front door.
Nora had applied for a lot of jobs around town. Not even oil and gas companies seemed interested in her Biology and Geology degrees. She had moved on to applying for retail positions with no luck so far, but didn’t dare apply at fast food joints-she knew she was over qualified for that. She crawled through town in her mother’s Toyota Camry looking through a jaded windshield.
She was hungry from avoiding the sun coming through the window all morning and bought a burger and fries to satiate her hunger. she ate it in the front seat of the Camry while she watched mom’s, elderly men, and unemployed bachelors exercise in the park. She couldn’t help but feel a little weird, a little down at seeing these people walking round and round the park. Nora hadn’t spent time with friends for a while now-she only had the money for an occasional cheeseburger anyhow. Nothing new to share if she did. She turned the ignition and started for home.
There are some small ranches and open fields near her families’ subdivision. At one intersection there is a left turn that goes down a dark back road. It’s beginning is shaded by large trees that frame a view of the road curving off, out of sight. Nora pulled up to this intersection and stared down that road. She was always curious about where it led to and let out a small ‘huh’ when asking herself why she had never explored it. She was shaken from the thought when a semi truck behind her blared it’s horn. She stepped on the gas and turned left down the backroad.
She ventured down the road just past the the first curve which revealed a black top stretching though a deep swath of fields and small farms. She went slower and slower until her foot was off the gas pedal and the car coasted to a stop. She looked at the time and thought she should get home, as if she had anything to do.
Nora turned the camry around and headed to her mother’s house.
WIP to be continued…