The first time I was published was in 2006, in an anthology by Roy H Williams. You can see and download it here:
It sits on my bookshelf. My essay is on page 178. The essay follows.
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2006 01:53:50 -0800 (PST) To: Corrine@WizardAcademy.com
Subject: the challenge
Doug Adams wrote about a restaurant at the End of the Universe. The Waffle House at the Brooks exit off of I-65 just outside of Louisville is not at the end of the universe…but at 2 am it is a universe unto itself.
I am at a counter, sipping coffee, purportedly studying a book. The place is divided in two, a smoking section and a tiny non-smoking section. The non-smoking section is completely empty. Across the road is a large truck stop, the lights blare and semis roll in and out of the parking lot despite the first heavy snow of the season. The waitress, Sandy, a slight brunette with crooked teeth behind her friendly, tired smile, tells me that the crowd has thinned. There are only two booths taken now. They were really busy earlier. In spite of this, she hasn’t made enough in tips. She sits at the counter in between trips to the coffee pot, adding up receipts and puffing on a Pall Mall.
To my left, a woman in her mid-thirties orders a cheeseburger platter. She brushes stringy hair from her eyes as she focuses on the paperwork in front of her. Odd that, as she is dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt. A ballplayer’s jacket hangs off the stool. Her imitation leather purse hides the paperwork from view but as she begins to rip sheets from a book and place them in a case I realize that they are the trip logs of a trucker.
Behind me, two ladies in their 60s sit with a man of equal age. All of them worn by life, they chat gaily with a second waitress. They speak of cats and their medicines, of a local neighborhood. The man is mostly silent, puffing on his cigarette while the women talk. They nearly drown out the noise of the occupants of the last booth: a tow company dispatcher and his co-workers. The booth is their office for the night.
Glancing to the parking lot, I see “D & H Truck Repair” in plain block letters on the side of several tow trucks. The dispatcher takes calls on a cell phone from the booth, laughing when he hears one caller arguing over who in the family has Triple A.
One of the drivers goes to the john, leather clad and bearded, he looks as if he would be more comfortable in a pack of motorcycles. One of the grandmas asks if he kept the seat warm for her as he returns. Surprised, he laughs and asks if she plans on visiting the men’s room.
The youngest waitress scans want ads in the corner and announces that she can become a CNA if she can come up with $299 and work at Green Meadows with her sister. The third waitress nods knowingly, her round face solemn as she declares that is where SHE will be working soon, as soon as she gets her car back. The younger waitress, a pretty blonde, wonders aloud if perhaps she could try to become a police officer instead. She is 21, and she has heard that she doesn’t have to have any college. Then she flips to the car listings and reads the ads, dreaming of a new car.
Later, the shift ends for the waitress with no car, the youngest one leaves to drive her home and then returns.
The tow truck crew is joined by a stranded trucker. Loudly, they talk about insurance companies. “A band-aid will cost you $300 if a doctor gives it to you. But if an RN or LPN gives you one, it doesn’t cost as much.” The truck driver brags about how much his insurance covers. The tow crew then begins to discuss the pay at other tow companies, their benefits, their time off.
The woman to my left finishes her cheeseburger and fiddles with her phone. Nodding to her paperwork, I inquire, “Are you a truck driver?”
“My husband is,” her face lights up. As she smiles I see that her bottom teeth are missing. But her smile is genuine and she seems grateful to talk. “I do his paperwork for him,” she explains.
I learn that this woman has been married for four years to a truck driver and travelled with him the entire time. Once, she got tired of being on the road, picked a city and leased an apartment for two months. Other than that, she just rides with her husband. They met on the internet. He was in Illinois, she was in Florida. They chatted online for 6 months and then she flew to meet him in person and they have been together ever since. “My family thought I was crazy when I did that but they love him now,” she confides.
In the truck, they have a DVD player and a VCR and TV, all of which she has won in truck stops. “They don’t give you cash for those gambling games in there, they cain’t, ” she explains. “But they can give you STUFF. I already got most of my Christmas presents for people. It’s new stuff, good stuff. Don’t matter that I didn’t buy it, it’s new.” She happily shares her memories of her first trip to Vegas and her hopes of stopping soon, being on her own again in Bethlehem, PA. She has never been there but it’s close to New York City and she wants to see the Queens and Brooklyn and go to “Atlantis” which is like Vegas. You can gamble there. Proudly she shows me her pictures on her camera phone. They are of giant stations of the cross in TX. “We didn’t know what it was until we was almost up on it. Then we saw it, the world’s biggest cross. They got a statue of Jesus with the nails in His hands. I could almost feel it.”
She hasn’t seen Vermont, Maine or New Hampshire yet but she wants to go. She did get to slip into Mexico for a day though, when they went to Arizona. Her eyes sparkle as she talks about the amazing things she has shared with her husband. “He’s the one, too. He doesn’t drink or do drugs like my other two husbands. The only bad thing he does is smoke and everyone does that.” Matter of fact. “He’s the right one for me.” Still, it is hard to be in the cramped close quarters day in and day out. When they stop, she has to go sit out where people are for a while. “But I text on my phone all the time. And I can IM. And I have games. I got the biggest package I could. And I send postcards wherever I am, to all my friends.” She doesn’t use the cb radio though. “Those men are all crude. I lived on it when I was little though.”
She had a dog for a while, she shows me the picture. He went in the truck with them everywhere. But he was stolen last week, all she has now is the picture of him.
We chat for a bit longer, I pay my bill and tip the waitress more than the meal cost. Her crooked smile is very grateful as she wishes me a good night.
This world is very different from the one that I know. It is more open. People greet each other as if they are old friends, talk across the room, across the tables. Mere acquaintances, they become friends for the duration of their stay in this oasis. They give each other advice and seek connections, share their struggles with money and their frustrations at the limits they battle. There is no posturing, no calculation, no name dropping, no polite pretending. There is cussing and smoke…and laughter.
What do they need? The one thing I saw, the undercurrent … was a need for hope and goals. Those things comprise the relief from daily struggles. The young waitress dreamed of a new job and car. The other waitress hoped for a different medicine for her diabetes and hoped to drive again. The tow crew looked for opportunities to change companies, get a better salary, better insurance. More time off. The camaraderie they shared was that of folks who find themselves together and ask, “Do you know how I feel?” With a small sigh of relief when the answer is yes. In sharing their anecdotes, they find encouragement.
The trucker’s wife was different. She was not just dreaming, she was already realizing dreams. She obviously craved interaction with people, but she had found a way to somewhat meet that need with her mobile phone and its functions. She treated it as if it were the most precious possession one could own. And to her it WAS, because with it, she had found a way to meet with other women, to make friends and have a community, even from within a truck. Her roots were virtual. But this woman was seeing things she’d always wanted to see with someone she loved and respected. She had taken a huge risk and followed a dream. I saw her walk back toward the truck stop as I was leaving, a plodding and plain silhouette against the glow of the neon lights. I wondered if she was going in to play a game and win more prizes. She didn’t have the luxury of getting up in the morning and going into her own bathroom, no she had to use a public shower, but she had something else. She had a new adventure ahead of her every day. Sometimes that meant seeing the biggest cross in the world on the horizon, other times it meant seeing a face carved from a mountainside by water. I had the feeling she shared her daily adventures with Someone besides her husband, and saw Him everywhere….her sense of wonder made that evident.
Even toothless, her smile was beautiful.
Anyhow, I took your challenge and had an adventure myself. I’m glad that I did. I wish that I could find more of that openness and wonder in my own little world. But maybe I’ll carry some of it with me. I hope so. Thanks Roy.