Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Writer's Island - Unforgettable - Part One

This week’s Writers Island prompt came at a time when biscuits on a plate reminded me of two cafes in Texas. The experiences were separated by fourteen years but both were found in the middle of nowhere and both were

UNFORGETTABLE.

August 1980
You can’t know what darkness truly is until you find yourself long past sundown on a moonless night in East Texas. Quanah was nine months old and crying fretfully in the backseat of our new Honda Accord. The night was quiet and traffic was light on the interstate so I reached in the back, lifted him out of his car seat and settled him onto my lap. He calmed immediately and in that brief moment of peace the East Texas sky split wide. Without warning, a tremendous down pour became the center of our world and with the flick of a switch, we discovered that our windshield wipers did not work.

I will never forget discovering, in the moment, several things all at once –

It is possible for rain to fall so hard that you feel a curtain has been drawn around you.

It is possible to NOT be able to see the lights of a long-haul truck directly behind you.

It is possible to across 3 lanes of interstate safely even when you are driving blind.

And most importantly, it is possible to see and not miss a rural exit – a road that leads to four blocks of town silent and asleep except for one unforgettable cafe.

The dash from car to entrance was short but drenching. Stepping across the doorway, was like passing into another world. The front door sat at a kitty corner angle to the interior. A long and worn out counter with black Naugahyde stools took up the side facing the door. In back, partially visible through the pass-through, was the kitchen. Sagging booths lined the window wall to the right of the entrance. We made our way to one of these booths.

After settling into the dubious, but gratefully received, comforts of the booth, I took a look around. A black and white check floor, tiles cracked, broken, or just plain missing, was over-run with water dripping from a sagging, broken ceiling near the entrance. It was hard to imagine the ceiling surviving the night. Strategically placed buckets caught rain as it dripped in. A tired waitress who looked as old and worn out as the building itself brought a coffee and a drawling hello. Two men sat at the counter, locals by the looks of them and refuges from the deluge just like us.

Weather in Texas has a particular significance. Radios, AM and FM, regularly tune in with weather updates in between country western music or a midnight talk radio host, mainly Christian hellfire.

The waitress allowed that we could get most current updates of weather from a phone call to the Texas Highway Patrol. Twenty-seven years ago, portable phones were as big as a regular phone and we definitely did not have one. What the cafe DID have was an old fashion wall phone – drop in two dimes please – and an instant connection to weather central.

I will never forget the interior quiet of the cafe. The locals knew each other but no one spoke to anyone else. Each sat separate from each other, lost in their own little world. They didn’t even pay much attention to us. I remember noting this lack of curiosity about us and it wasn't until years later that I learned about very, very small town life and the prevalent attitude of MYOB. After all, we were merely strangers taking temporary shelter and would be on our way soon enough. And so it was. An hour later, the storm had passed over us and to the west and we passed on to the east, leaving not even a memory behind us.

7 comments:

keith hillman said...

What a wonderfully atmospheric piece. I'm really pleased I dropped in.

gautami tripathy said...

Such moments are unforgettable. Once I was stranded in middle of nowhere. The local people were helpful, sheltering me for a while until I was kind of rescued.

DHLOL said...

That was on Interstate 10. What about the biscuits on Interstate 40?

AnnieElf said...

Good morning, funny man. Biscuits will hit on Part Two. Hugs, your honey.

UL said...

Oh this is so perfect...A forgettable memory to the strangers in that cafe, but unforgettable for you..such is life. Beautifully presented. Thank you.

Marja said...

Bit late to drop by but I just noticed your entree when checking for the next prompt. I loved your story well written. When I was young we went on holiday in Switserland. Because of heavy rainfall we had to stand still for a couple of hours somewere in the mountains.

Rae Trigg said...

How scary to be caught in a deluge and discover your windshield wipers don't work. No wonder that night, and the cafe you took shelter in, are unforgettable.