Stuck on Rt. 66

As he attempted to insert the key into the door of the room, he had to brush the snow and ice off the keyhole.  “Damn its cold”, he thought to himself.  He had to give the door a little shoulder nudge to open as the ice had built up around the base.  The room was nothing impressive, he could tell it had been a while since they updated.  The walls had old dark wood paneling, there was a full size bed in the middle of the room and a small round glass table with brass legs and a small chair near the window.  He hit the light switch and an old style lamp hanging from a chain over the table came on.  As he entered the room, he could hear a faucet dripping in the bathroom. As cold as the room was, he was surprised the faucet didn’t have icicles. He went over to the wall furnace, that looked like it was from the original construction, and turned up the heat.  With a click and whoosh, the heater ignited giving off a smell of burning dust.  He wondered to himself how long it had been since the room was rented.  He thought about getting a bite to eat, but the sign at the diner had said CLOSED and besides he was too tired anyway.  He crawled into bed and drifted off to sleep.

It was an uneasy sleep interrupted by nightmares of the past in California haunting him.  Aside from the dreams, the antiquated wall furnace with its clanking and pinging noises made it difficult to get decent rest.  Not to mention the fact that the heater only about half heated the room, and there was a draft from the windows and door that kept him chilled throughout the night.  He wondered to himself if he wouldn’t have been better off sleeping in his car and saving the fifty bucks he spent for the room.  Morning couldn’t come soon enough.

Mickey finally awoke just before 8:00 am to a sliver of sunlight that made it past the dusty curtains and managed to land right in his eyes.  He felt like he was hung over, he could barely move without his back and hips hurting him.  Arthritis was a bitch, and the cold weather and snow didn’t help it any.  He crawled out of bed and fumbled through his pants for a cigarette and lighter.  As he sat taking in his morning dose of nicotine, he stared out the window.  Barely any of the snow was left, it was all melting quickly under the bright morning sun.  As he gathered his thoughts, he knew he needed to find a mechanic, but first, he needed some food.  He really hoped there was nothing serious wrong with the car, he only had a few hundred dollars left in his wallet and needed most of that to get to Chicago.  He snubbed out his cigarette deciding it was time to get a quick shower and try out the diner.

As he left the room, he loaded his suitcase in the trunk and made his way to the diner.  It was a small brick building with windows curved around the front.  There couldn’t have been more than ten booths and a couple of tables with black and white checkered table cloths.  There was a small bar at the back of the restaurant with a few stools and a pie case on the end of it.  While small, the diner was well maintained, it was obvious the owners took pride in the place.  In the corner booth, there were four old men sitting drinking coffee talking about the weather.

“Just have a seat wherever you like hun, I’ll be with you in a sec”, the waitress said.  “You want coffee?”

“Yes please, just black is fine”, Mickey answered.

He took a seat at a booth by the window.  He couldn’t help but notice the waitress’ smile, she acted as though waiting tables was the best thing in the world.  She was an attractive middle aged woman with dark brown hair and sparkling green eyes. She made her way over to the table with a menu in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

“Sorry about the wait, we’re kind of short handed today”, she said. “Can I get you anything to drink besides coffee?”

“No just coffee is fine”, Mickey replied “So what’s good here?”

“Oh everything is great”, she said “My favorite is the Denver omelet, it comes with a side of hash browns and your choice of an English muffin or toast”

“I think I’ll have that”, he said.

“No problem, I’ll put in the order for you and have it right out”, she smiled “Let me know if you need anything else”.

She wandered off to the kitchen and left Mickey alone with his coffee.  As he sipped on the strong bitter coffee, he stared out the window watching cars passing by.  The old men in the corner were having a lively conversation about politics one side bashing the newly elected president and the other defending him.  As he stared out the window, he thought to himself, how he would have liked to travel Route 66 when he was younger, back when it was America’s Main street.  He would have loved to have seen cities like this in their heyday.  Now it seemed that all of the small towns he passed on I-40 were struggling.  He wondered if there was a decent mechanic in town, he tried to remember, but didn’t think he had seen one the night before coming in. Of course, with the snow blinding him, it was hard to see anything.

“Can I warm you up a little”, the waitress asked.

“Wh . . huh?”, Mickey was half daydreaming still trying to wake up from the night before.

“Your coffee hun, can I pour you some more”, the waitress winked at him smiling.

“Oh sure, I mean yes please”, Mickey said “You don’t happen to know if there’s a decent garage in town do you?”

“Having car trouble are you? That’s no good.”, she said “The NAPA has a shop next to it, I’m sure they can help you out, but I don’t think they open until ten.”

“Thanks, I’ll go check them out”, he said.

“So what brings you to Tucumcari?”, she asked.

“Just traveling through, on the way to Chicago.”, he answered. While he was almost hypnotized by her smile, he really wasn’t in the mood for conversation.  He just kept thinking about how he was going to keep going if his car gave out.

“Well I hope you enjoy your stay while you’re here”, she could sense his hesitation to exchange dialog and decided she should check on the next table.  “I should have your food right out.”

He went back to staring out the window, thinking about getting on the road.  He didn’t know why he was so anxious to get to Chicago, it’s not like he had a job waiting for him there.  The only reason he decided to head to Chicago is that his younger brother lived there.  He didn’t see him or speak with him often, in fact, he hadn’t even called to let him know what had happened.  He figured he would give him a call once he got to St. Louis and spring the news on him then.

“Here’s your omelet”, the waitress again caught him daydreaming. “Can I get you some ketchup or anything else?”

“Just some tabasco sauce and a refill on the coffee please”, he replied.

“You bet, I’ll bring it right over.”, she said.

By the time he finished his breakfast, it had warmed up substantially outside.  He thought it strange that it could be snowing so hard the night before, yet now he hardly seemed to need a jacket.  He walked over to his car lighting a cigarette on the way.  You would think that after his wife died from smoking these things, he would give them up, but the way he figured it after smoking for the last 40 years, it really wouldn’t matter much if he did.  He got in the car and after a couple of tries, got it started.  Thick black smoke came out of the exhaust and the engine sounded like it was on its last leg, this wasn’t going to be good.  Following the waitress’ directions, he made his way to the mechanic shop.  Luckily, they didn’t seem to be busy and he pulled up in front of an empty bay and turned off the ignition.

Mickey walked into the lobby of the shop, the door chimed as he walked in.  There was no one in the office, but he could see a couple of mechanics in the shop area drinking coffee.  One finally noticed him and came into the office.

“How can we help you?”, the mechanic asked.

“I need someone to take a look at my car.  Its smoking pretty bad and running rough as hell.”, Mickey replied.

“Well, I’ve got a couple in front of you this morning, but I can get to it in about an hour or so.  If you want to leave it, I’ll take a look and get back to you.”, the mechanic replied.

Who the hell’s ahead of me, Mickey thought, he was the only one in the lobby.  “Whatever, just give me a call when you get to it”, he gave the mechanic his cell number and wandered outside.

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