July 28th, 2005


Truck stop

Just before I came up on Albuquerque, I pulled into Loves Truck Stop where I could have had my 16-wheeler washed if I had one, but all I was looking for was a quick lunch. Inside to the left was a small store that sold trucker headbands with the stars and stripes, and cans of oil. To the right was the coffee shop divided by a Truckers Only counter, and booths that held vacationers.

I saddled up to the counter, and after seriously considering the beef on egg noodles, I ordered a grilled cheese. The waitress suggested the all-you-can-eat buffet, but it seemed too much work for steam table chicken and iceberg lettuce. While answering some emails on my blackberry, a tall thin man with miles of road on his face sat down two stools away from me. He wore a snapped cowboy shirt and a lazy smile.

“The buffet is $7.95. $5.49 if you’re over sixty-five,” the waitress told him. He ordered off the menu.

“She just had to say that, didn’t she?” He said shaking his head when she walked away. I chuckled, and went back to typing with my thumbs. A couple sat down at the counter facing us; the man was hefty with thick salt-and-pepper hair tucked in his baseball cap, and his lady had bad acne and an expression that looked as if she were searching for a puppy to blind.

“Where you headed?” My neighbor asked me with a thick drawl.

“I’m trying to make Gallup tonight.”

“Oh, that won’t take you long. Where you coming from?”

“Washington DC.”

He shook his head again. “That is one crazy city.” He told me how he got lost with his rig on Pennsylvania Avenue, and that the police weren’t very friendly to him.

“Where were you stationed?” The man across in the cap asked me while a Marlboro Light hung from the edge of his outer lip. The gay inside me gleefully jumped up and down that he mistook me for being in the service.

“I was there on commissioned work,” I wanted to keep it masculine and slightly mysterious. He took a drag off his cigarette.

Just as I said that, the man next to me chimed in, “Look out for the lightning.” I glanced out the window at the cloudless sky.

“I don’t think I’ll have to worry about that today.” I nodded toward the window when I said it.

“It’ll come up behind and git ya.” I spent my grilled cheese wondering what he meant. I finished my sandwich, stood, and threw a couple of bucks on the counter for a tip.

“Drive safe,” I said to the man on my way out.

He looked at me with grim certainty. “Careful bout that lightning. Strikes when you never expect it.”

I left wondering if lightening had once struck him, or if he saw in my eyes that it had come up from behind and got me.