Sunday, July 9, 2017

Saved by Karaoke

I ended up with 45 minutes to kill and that’s often no good. The day before, I had delivered a load and got my next assignment. Shortly after I let them know that I didn’t have the driving hours to get there yet that night, they cancelled that load and gave me another. This is trucking, no problem, and now I had extra time to sleep. Google told me that my new pickup would be about an hour away in the morning.  

I woke up a little early and had a panicked thought. After checking the Motor Carrier Atlas, as I had suddenly expected, the route Google was sending me along was a state highway not rated for trucks. After plotting a legal route, I jumped up, got some coffee and took off down the road. I was dipping south down onto the bypass around Columbia, SC, crossing over to I-26 from I-77, and then northwest to Clinton, SC. I worried about morning traffic on the Columbia bypass. The truck and I rattled through town just early enough that there was very little traffic. Hence, I was onto I-26 and heading toward Clinton much sooner than I had planned for a fixed appointment. 
Surely how he sees himself.


I’ve been really working hard in my fight against road food. In fact, in the heat of the summer while I’m not exercising as much, I've gotten down to a Slim Fast Shake in the morning and evening with a healthy lunch. There is a bit of cheating here and there, but I’ve been happy with my progress. This morning though, I found myself with some time to kill and the looser the schedule is, the harder it is to keep up my discipline. I saw a billboard for a Waffle House next to truckstop and exited the freeway; hellbent for a deliciously bad breakfast. 

It had actually been quite some time since I had a regular breakfast. Once in a great while, I succumb to coffee and a donut, but I hadn’t had eggs and cheese and potatoes in a long time. That was my thinly conceived rationalization. It is pretty easy to find a parking space in a truckstop about 5:00 AM because several trucks have surely left to start their day by then. I backed into a spot, cast my eyes toward the glow of the Waffle House sign, and hiked across the lot. I could already smell the onions and potatoes. This was going to be great! 

Concho Belt
The Waffle House was on a bluff above the truckstop. I wandered around to the front and stepped up the rise past the tiered landscaping. The restaurant appeared to be fairly recent construction or was at least recently landscaped. There was a short sidewalk in front of a couple parked cars. I could see the grill crew standing at the ready. There were a few customers inside. One guy, at the counter, had his shoulders hunched over like an armadillo curling up to hide. Everyone else seemed to be looking at something, the same something. 

Just as I touched the door handle; just as I was about to burst into the Waffle House Playground of Grease and Salt, my eyes found what everyone but the guy at the counter was looking at. A wrinkled old toothless guy striking an ecstatic pose as if he were wailing before a stadium of adoring fans. In one hand was a microphone attached to a karaoke machine that leaned toward the floor at the edge of a booth. He was dressed in black adorned with sterling silver; silver band on a black hat, black western shirt under a black leather vest with black jeans and boots. A sterling silver bolo tie pulled up to his chin and a concho belt at his waist completed the look; except we’re all in South Carolina not Texas. 


He cast an eye at me as he sang. His grizzled face surely hid many stories, but the manic grip on the mic and the deep karaoke sincerity in his sad eyes was too much. If I had been asked to come up with some particular way that I did not want to spend my breakfast, this scenario would never have even come up. Still I knew immediately, no matter whether he was singing Waylon Jennings, Britney Spears or Anne Murray -- breakfast serenaded by this ancient midnight cowboy was exactly not how I wanted to have it.

I hadn’t yet applied the smallest outward pull on the door handle. I didn’t look at the grill crew or anyone else. I simple turned and walked away. Back down the hill to the truckstop, I bought a coffee and a Clif bar, went back to the truck and checked email on my phone. The coffee wasn’t bad and I enjoyed it until when the time was right for leaving again. Thank you, Ancient Midnight Cowboy. You just helped me to continue to avoid that unhealthy -- yet delicious -- breakfast. 
The Dangerous Siren of the Off Ramp


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