You remember the Jack Nicholson picture Five Easy Pieces. It was a forgettable film except for the restaurant scene where he asks for a chicken salad sandwich without the chicken salad. My unconscious memory screened that whole scene in double time when the cute girl behind the counter said: “We don’t have iced coffee.”
The Wurlitzer juke next to the coat rack anchored the diner décor and black and white tile and shiny red naughahyde reflected in the mirrors behind her.
A beat passed before I asked, “You have coffee?” She nodded. “Can you pour some into two tall cups of ice?” I was almost disappointed when she said “Oh sure!” She giggled as if this was exciting and rushed off.
Pushing against the chrome bar on the door, my two tall, cold javas and Kathi’s brownie in a cardboard tray, I slipped out of the air-conditioning and back into the mid-afternoon glare. “Have a nice day.” the cutie said with a wave as the door closed behind me. She probably said it a thousand times every day to every farmer or truck driver that came in but it seemed personal to me.
Kathi, still in the Morgan, was in the shadow of a fellow standing in the open door of his pickup. I passed the coffee tray to her over the side curtain, opened the driver’s side door and slid in. Strangers always approach us when we stop. Usually they ask what year is it or if it is a kit. At our last rest stop a passer-by noticed the Massachusetts license plate in the Morgan West, Santa Monica frame and asked what we were doing in Kansas.
“Just going home.”
Mog West was a treat as always. We got to see friends that we only cross paths with once a year at best. The trip home took us up the Pacific Coast highway, past some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere, over a fog veiled Golden Gate Bridge and then east for an overnight with friends near Tahoe.
Kathi was driving when we left the alkaline desolation of Utah’s Salt Lake region and entered Big Sky country. Fires swept the Wyoming prairies. A skinny string of flame, dividing the burned from the next to burn stretched over the hills and on to the horizon. Denver Colorado was the next stop and the end of the scenery. “There is no way to avoid the middle.” I remember saying as we planned our trip. You can go the northern, middle or southern route across America but, one way or the other you have to pass through the Great Plains states that are the country’s agricultural heartland. Take your pick, miles of spinach or corn or wheat. We chose corn.
This coffee stop was after midday. In a few hours we would ask Honey Bunny, our GPS, to find us a place to stay for the night but now the sun was still high and my variable tint sunglasses were black when I looked in the rear view.
“Well I’ll be blessed” I heard as the door to the pickup closed. “Yes I am blessed today. Not often we see a car like this here.” he continued.
It was hot. Our brains were baked from the previous three hours of unwavering 85mph past unchanging stalks of green under an unbroken cerulean sky on an interstate so straight we seemed laser guided. I didn’t want to chit-chat but Kathi smiled at the fellow giving him license to continue. He blessed himself again and us too. He asked what kind of car it was (It’s a Morgan Roadster) and where was it made (Malvern, England) and where we were going and where we had been.
His truck was red or blue or green. Whatever hue it might have been was filtered through a fine layer of dust, the same dust and color covered our visitor’s shirt and bib-overalls. It smoothed the acne scars of the sun stained and unshaven face that towered over us.
Kathi answered his questions.
Starting the Morgan was my signal that it was time but I did not back out and our new friend ambled on. He seemed amazed, almost envious; but no, there was not envy, rather perhaps a contagious appreciation of even little adventures. I could imagine a once younger farmer leaving home, to college or war, and returning to a life of even rows and regular cycles with enough experience to know alternatives but to choose his place. I got the feeling, as he looked at us in that diner parking lot, surrounded first by pick-up trucks and sedans, and then by unending growing fields that he chose this place, that he was comfortable with what and where he was but none the less found it intriguing to talk with a couple crossing the country in an open sports car.
“I have a model A Ford”, he said returning to cars for conversation. I drive it every year in the Fourth of July parade.” And then he told us of the problems associated with getting it going each year. “But it always starts with a fresh jump and a touch of ether.” We learned and shared a bit more but the heat took its toll and soon we were back on the interstate. We crossed the bridge into Missouri the next day.
“We’re not in Kansas anymore.” I said earning the expected groan from the cliché police.
From there it was a stop in St Louis, another in Columbus and finally a layover in Niagara-on-the-Lake before the last dash home to Hull. Our house was dark when we pulled into the drive-way. Four thousand miles in a Morgan; we were relieved and happy to be home; and Kansas wasn’t all that bad.