The next morning I woke up hungry. Early and hungry. I’m pretty sure Tommy was starving, too, because he was in an all-fired up hurry to check out of that motel, and get on down the road. I’m sure the excitement of the trip itself had something to do with it, as well.
When we walked out the door of that room, and let it slam behind us, it was still o-dark thirty. There was a decent looking cafe across the street, but we would have had to wait another hour and a half for it to open. Anyway, Tommy assured me there was a place he’d read about not far away, and they served a top-rate plate of food. At least, that’s what the reviews said, according Tommy. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure he even read the reviews.
I wasn’t too concerned about the food, anything would do at that point. Coffee, though, was another thing altogether. As you can imagine, that dirty water we made in that grungy pot in the room was just that, dirty water. I wanted something that would open my eyes, and stand my hair on end.
You’re right, Danny, I am bald. But, that’s not the point. It was just an expression. I wanted something that would remind me of my ex-wife. The first one, not the second. You know what I’m talking about. I wanted my coffee hot, bitter, and strong enough to kick my ass down the road.
Danny, I should have bailed on the adventure right there. We were only a day into the trip, so not much time would have been wasted, and I’m pretty sure I could have caught a westbound bus. I might have had to wait several hours, maybe even a day, but—I’m getting off track. Let me tell you about the cafe Tommy was intent on eating at while it’s still on my mind. Hell, I’ll probably remember it like it was tomorrow for as long as I live. It made that kind of impression.
The sun had jumped into the sky, and was right at that spot where it shined directly into your eyes as you drive down the road. You know what I’m talking about. You can’t get low enough in the seat, and the visor won’t come down far enough to block out the intense light trying to burn itself through your retina into your brain. Hiding behind the steering wheel is not an option. I think we’ve all been there.
We were at the end of a long straightaway when Tommy pulled into the parking lot of one of the sorriest dumps I have ever seen.
“Tommy, we’re not eating here,” I said to the big man.
“Jimbo,” he replied, “it’s like Miguel’s back home. Looks bad on the outside, but the food is fantastic. Tell me I’m not wrong when I say that Miguel serves the best enchiladas around.”
Danny, Tommy’s right. You’ve eaten at Miguel’s. It’s great food. So, I figured I’d give this Roadkill Cafe a try. What did I have to lose? I should have just sat in the pickup.
There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot that I could see. It was a green Ford F-150, ten or twelve years old, with a mashed-in frontend. The windshield was spiderwebbed on the passenger side, as though the passenger wasn’t buckled in when the driver hit whatever he hit to cause the kind of damage that was evident. Anyway, the pickup was parked in the space on the left side of the front door. We took the spot on the right side.
Let me tell you about this building so you have an idea as to my trepidation. The roof was sagging, and it looked like it was missing about half its shingles. The big plate glass window on the right side of the door was so dirty you couldn’t see through it. The window on the left side was boarded over. From all appearances, it appeared to have been in that condition for several years. Someone, maybe kids, had spray-painted foul words across the plywood, and someone did a poor job of painting over them. It doesn’t matter what the words were, but they were not kind in their assessment of the establishment in question.
The front door? It was just some old cheap-assed door someone had nailed up. My guess was that they never locked it. It wouldn’t keep out a five-year-old, much less a man intent on getting through it.
We pushed our way into the small dining room—if you can call it that. It wasn’t much on the inside. The room was a dingy white, in needed of a fresh coat of paint. There were three booths against the far wall with cracked vinyl seats, four tables in the middle of the room, and a counter that took up most of one side. You know the kind of counter I’m talking about. It separates the kitchen from the rest of the room. And there’s a big window where you can see the cook doing his thing.
Anyway, there were a couple of old guys sitting at the counter. They were each dressed in jeans and work shirts. They had beat-up cowboy hats perched on their head. The guy on the right had a bandage wrapped around his head, causing his hat to sit up high. They both turned and looked our way when we walked in. Then they refocused their attention back to their coffee.
“You boys sit wherever you like,” the lady behind the counter yelled.
Let me tell you about that voice. She sounded like her vocal chords had been drug over 200 miles of gravel road. She looked okay, if you didn’t look too close. The jeans and white t-shirt she wore were tight, and had a heavy smell of cigarette smoke. It must have taken her at least 30 or 40 minutes to get into those Levi’s she had on, and that t-shirt was about two sizes too small. I didn’t mind at all. She had a great figure, and a butter-face. That voice, though. Man, something like that could give you nightmares if you heard it very often.
What? A butter-face? Danny, you know what I’m talking about. I’ve heard you use that term before. That’s right. She was better looking than Delores, but, yeah, she’d fit in that category.
Tommy and I plopped down in a booth near the hallway. I’m assuming it led to the bathrooms, but I wasn’t about to check it out. It looked a bit intimidating. It was dark and foreboding. I just wanted to eat, and get out of there before any crawling critters decided to hitch a ride with us.
“I take it you boys want coffee,” gravel voice said to us.
Before we could answer she sat two coffee cups in front of us and poured some of the blackest liquid I have ever seen out of the pot she had carried to the table.
“We’ve got all the usual, listed there in the menu,” she growled, and pointed to the dingy things secured in a holder against the wall. “Our specials are listed on the board.” She hooked her thumb towards the chalkboard on the wall above the cash register. “My name’s Hillary if you need anything. I’ll be back shortly to take your order.” She winked Tommy’s direction, and then she followed our sight to the counter on the other side of the room.
“Fred, Billy, you guys want anymore of this before I put the pot back?” she inquired of the two men at the counter. They both pushed their cups her way, and she splashed coffee their direction.
Like I said earlier, I wanted coffee more than I wanted food. First things first, I picked up the cup in front of me and took a tentative sip. I’ll tell you right now, Danny, it was the best-tasting coffee I have ever come across. It was like heaven in liquid form. I let that first taste linger on my tongue. Then I took a second sip to prolong the ecstasy of a good tasting cup of coffee.
Tommy slid a menu my way, and said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m having that first special on the board.”
I looked to where he was pointing. What I read about made me gag. “Are you crazy?” I asked. “Who in their right mind would eat something like that? Gopher and grits? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Oh, it’s just a way to get people to buy something. You know, a marketing ploy. It goes with the name of the restaurant. And I’m going to get a couple of big eggs on the side.” He had a menu open on the table in front of him, and was looking through the dried-on foodstuff at the breakfast selections.
I put my coffee cup down, and tried to open the menu he had slid in front of me. The two sides of the plastic affair were stuck together. I peeled them apart. Our gravel-voiced waitress was right. It was just your usual affair, but with odd names. Eggs were listed as big eggs and little eggs. I’m assuming the big eggs were just extra large chicken eggs, and the little eggs were normal size. They had sliced pig, smoked pig, and ground pig. Must have been ham, bacon, and sausage. The doughy disks were probably their way of saying pancakes. They had a large stack, and a small stack.
I looked back to the chalkboard above the cash register. There was no way in hell I was going to order Gopher and Grits. But, the other thing written on the board intrigued me. I thought that might be something I should consider. It sounded intriguing. Disgusting, but intriguing.
“Have you boys decided what you want to eat?” The voice startled me. I had not seen Hillary walk up to the table.
“Yep,” Tommy said. “I want the Gopher and Grits. Toss a couple of big eggs on the side, over easy, if you don’t mind.”
“Good choice,” Hillary replied. “Day-old bread okay with you? Or, you want to be special and order something I’ll have to work at?”
“Day-old’s fine,” Tommy answered.
“How ‘bout you, baldy?” she asked me.
“I’ll try that second special. What’s in it, anyway?”
“What’s it say?” she replied.
I nodded. I figured she was joking, so I said, “In that case, day-old’s fine with me, too.” I was getting into that roadkill stuff. “What do you put into your coffee? This stuff is great.”
“Oh, just a secret ingredient we get from out back. Makes it taste good, don’t it? You want them brains scrambled regular, or you ‘em extra crispy?”
“Regular’s fine, I guess.”
What? What do you mean what was the second special on the list? Danny, it was listed as Scrambled Coyote Brains. I’m not sure if it was actually coyote brains, but I ate it, anyway. It was damned good, too. It was some sort of meat stuff, and eggs. It came with hash browns, crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, and toast. And with all the coffee we wanted to drink. We were set for whatever the day had in store for us.
Hillary wrote down everything we said, and sauntered back to the counter. She looked good walking away, and Tommy definitely did his fair-share of staring.
When she got back to the window between the counter and kitchen, she clipped our order to a wheel hanging there and gave it a spin. Then, she disappeared behind the swinging door on the left.
With our bellies full, and our brains firing on all cylinders from the over-abundance of caffeine we had supplied them, we stood to make our way to the cash register. My bladder screamed at me, so I told Tommy I’d meet him outside. I gave him enough money to cover my share of the meal, and then took a short walk down the dark hall that led to the men’s room. I should have waited until we got outside, then snuck around back of the building.
Danny, that little room was nothing more than a filthy toilet, and an even dirtier sink behind a door that swung from one hinge that didn’t shut all the way. Someone had punched a hole in the wall and installed a fan. I tried the switch. It didn’t work. So, I held my breath the best I could, and pissed a stream faster than I think I have ever done in my life. My aim was a little off, but I got the impression that I wasn’t the first that couldn’t shoot straight. I stood way back from the commode, and looked around for toothpicks. I sure didn’t want some bad-assed insect I couldn’t see in the dark grabbing one of those slivers of wood, and pole-vaulting onto my body onto a place I surely didn’t want them to be.
When I got outside Tommy was just zipping up. “Man, I needed that. You take care of business in there?”
Tommy had left a large wet spot next to the left rear tire. I should have done the same. I think it would have been more enjoyable.
After we got buckled in, Tommy started the pickup and we pulled out of the parking lot, with the sun a little higher in the sky, which made our eastbound journey not so challenging. I rummaged through the stack of CDs we’d brought with us, and shoved a Robert Plant/Allison Krause duet into the player. It was going to be a great day. I was sure of that. But my thinking got ahead of reality, because that took an unexpected turn not far from where we’d ate breakfast.
We only got about two or three miles down the road when we came across an old pickup that looked like it had slid off the roadway. Its ass-end was out in the lane of traffic, so we slowed down. When we saw the old man bent over looking at something in the ditch, Tommy pulled to a stop and we got out.
I asked the old guy if he needed any help. He looked a little on the frail side, and maybe even a bit sunburnt. Maybe a lot sunburnt, like he’d been living in the sun for the past 60 years.
The old man looked up at us, and asked, “You don’t happen to have a cellphone I can borrow, do you? Mine’s dead.”
I figured he was going to call someone for help. I turned to grab my phone out of the pickup when Tommy said, “Here, use mine. Anything we can do for you?”
“Nah,” the old guy replied. “I just want to get hold of Hillary and see if she wants this skunk. There’s plenty of undamaged meat on this carcass.” He began to punch at the numbers on the phone’s screen.
Well, Danny, I about lost my breakfast right then and there. I looked over at Tommy, and he had a green tint to him. I imagine I probably looked about the same. I tried not to think about it, and dug around under the seat behind where I’d been sitting for a fresh bottle of water. I grabbed two and handed one to Tommy.
When the old man finished with Tommy’s phone he asked, “That offer for help still stand?”
We didn’t want to be rude, so I mumbled back, “Yeah, what can we do?”
“Grab that gunnysack out of the back,” he said to me. “Big boy,” he said to Tommy, “you grab that shovel and help me. It’s going to take us both to get this carcass in the sack without damaging anymore of the meat.”
It was all I could do to hold that sack open while the two of them picked up the skunk, and dumped it into the gunnysack. With the thoughts of breakfast running around in my mind, and the smell of the dead skunk, it was all I could do to keep the food I had eaten from coming up. I looked Tommy’s way. He was silently gagging, and trying to do his best to keep from barfing. He was as green as freshly cut alfalfa.
“Son, you got to hold that bag open,” the old man yelled at me. I looked his way. He had his shovel under the mangled head of the dead critter while Tommy was lifting the ass-end.
Danny, the smell was almost more than I could handle. You know what a skunk smells like. I know you do. Remember the one we helped chase from out from under Old Man Thompson’s back porch when we were 12 or 13? That was not worth the two bucks he paid us. His poor dog took a shot to the face, and the smell lasted for a couple of weeks. Almost blinded the poor thing. I swore right then, and there I’d never mess with another skunk.
I know. I know. But, I couldn’t ask the old guy if he needed help, and then not help him when he said he did. Tommy and I both agreed later we should never have stopped to help. The smell stayed with us for two days.
Neither one of us got sick, but we didn’t eat again that day. I think we were both afraid of what might happen if we added anything to the churning mass in our bellies.