I was trying to save money on my way to Charleston, because I was taking a trip on the budget of a post-dot com college graduate. This placed me in an economic strata populated by hobos and pitied by McDonald’s employees. One of my strategies was to camp every night, so I had to start early every morning to make it to a campsite while there was still enough light to pitch a tent. Getting started was made easier than usual this morning by the East Kansas air. It was thin at this time of year, which allowed me to take deep, satisfying breaths and gave the summer sun’s rays passage with little impedance. As I maneuvered onto the open road I noticed that my gas tank was half full. America’s highways have a uniformity that may be seen by some as boring, but I find this same characteristic especially conducive to concentrating. However, that morning I didn’t want to concentrate too hard, so I put a Michael Crichton book on tape in the player and was on my way.
When the sun had made about a third of its daily trip across the sky I noticed that the needle on my gas gauge had nearly completed its trip towards E. I soon saw a sign for an exit with a gas station, and checkd my map to chart my progress. It appeared that this town wasn’t populated enough to warrant inclusion on your standard-issue Amoco Road Atlas, which was the atlas I happened to be using. I took the exit anyway, and found the petrol without difficulty. This station’s pumps were all full service – just the sort of luxury I had always tried to avoid in order to save the extra change for purposes I deemed more “useful.” The attendant on duty soon caught my eye with a radiant flash as his entirely bald head reflected all 1380 joules per square meter per second of the sun’s light directly into my eyes. Once my temporary blindness subsided I noticed that this man had something many men would desire, if only they ever stopped to think of it. He had a head that looked good bald.
There was a diner across the street, cozy-looking in its unassuming stature. Wanting to make the most of my time, I decided to get lunch during this stop adn the diner seemed as good a place as any. So I left my car parked at the station and crossed the road for lunch. I entered to hear a lively conversation taking place at one of the booths, but the booth was singly occupied. I sat at the counter and asked the waiter who the man at the booth was talking to.
“Oh, that’s George, George ‘Pray’ Cox,” he responded.
“Pray?” I repeated.
“We call him Pray, because he only talks to hisself, and God, but they have the most delightful conversations I tell ya. At least that’s what I get from listening to Pray’s side of it,” he explained.
“Hmm,” I responded. “May I see a menu?”
As I scanned the menu for their lowest-priced item a woman came in and sat beside me at the counter. She introduced herself with a strikingly genuine smile, which compelled me to offer my hand.
“I’m Dan,” I said as she shook my hand firmly without saying a word.
“Well, hello Tassy!” said the waiter, “The usual I presume?” Tassy winked in affirmation then turned to me and rubbed her hands together and licked her lips. I didn’t know what she’d just ordered, but I knew I wanted some of whatever it was.
“I’ll have what she’s having,” I said.
“Two brisket sandwiches coming up. No one never can resist Miss Turn’s powers of persuasion,” the waiter explained.
Tassy unfolded a newspaper and pointed to that day’s Far Side. I could tell by her smiling eyes that she found today’s strip particularly amusing, and upon reading it I agreed.
As our sandwiches were set on the counter I heard the door chimes announce the arrival of another patron. I turned to see a man led by a seeing-eye dog approaching the counter to join Tassy and me.
“How do you do Miss Turn?” he said as he sat down. “Is the brisket as good as always?’
Tassy squeezed his hand in affirmation.
“Then you’ll be in a good mood when we work through the latest problem I’ve gotten myself into.” Turning to the waiter he added, “She really is the best listener in town, isn’t she?”
“No doubt about that Cy,” he replied.
“Okay then, where was I when this came up?” At that the man with the dog took a book from his bag and began moving his fingers across the pages, apparently trying to find a passage.
“Mr. Tless is the most learned man in town, probably the state, maybe even the country,” reported the waiter proudly. “He reads books as fast as he can get his hands on them, literally.”
I ate my sandwich as I watched Cy read from his book. Occasionally, he would pause and turn to Tassy. She would squeeze his hand, pat his thigh or simply let out a deep breath, but each time Cy would follow with, “You’re right,” “Exactly!” or some equally affirming reaction, and continue with his reading.
When I was done I found myself wanting to stay, but the call of the campground beckoned, so I settled up my tab and left. I drove away thinking fondly of all the people I’d met in that small town. After some time I started my book on tape back up and settled into my highway trance. The road eventually turned into a local highway, and the speed limit decreased. As I passed through a neighborhood I saw a sign that read, “DRIVE SLOWLY HANDICAPPED CHILD.” I then looked down at my gas gauge and noticed that my tank was half empty. I decided I could probably make it to my next campsite without having to fill up again.