Even on the other side of the tracks, my town is asleep at 4am. Down the highway, at an all-night truck stop, the early risers can sip self-serve coffee while they wait for the kitchen to open for breakfast. I walk in looking for a seat with a view of the place and thank the two regulars that point me in the direction of the coffee. One smiles and says, “Don’t thank me, thank God you got it.”
Most of the people I see, come here all the time. You can tell by how they choose their seat and nod at the waitress while she gets things ready. One gentleman, wearing a ball cap and heavy coat, sits down in a dark part of the café not yet lit up for business. I can tell that’s his booth.
This place is the cleanest example of the past you can find for miles. There is a distinct way time ticks by, and it’s hard not to feel like part of a well-worn routine. The waitress must have missed a step while brewing a fresh pot of coffee and steaming brown liquid begins to run onto the counter. She heads toward it with a rag muttering that two days off has completely spoiled her rhythm. Two old men at the end of the counter each get half a toasted bagel and a cup of cream cheese from the waitress. They’ve learned what she can prepare for them before the griddles are ready. It’s not time to order hot food yet but a few more patrons have found their way to booths and stools. There are a couple of loaners like me, but most are greeting people they knew would be here.
The routine ticks forward and the waitress begins gathering food orders, most never look at a menu before placing their requests. This routine is measured in familiar people in a familiar place with pictures of 4H winners on the wall and an immaculate dinning counter over a line of stools. Through the window, I see cars drive by at high speed, back at the counter, smiles are exchanged before leaving to join the rush.
(This is nonfiction, one day I drove to the nearest truck stop at 4am to see what I could see. Later, I wrote it down. Later still, I decided to share it with you.)