Mountain Boy and Catfish rolled into the truckstop
, dust boiling up from their tires and the engine fans cycling, trying to cool the big diesel
engines. It was suppertime, and they had decided to hit a place Catfish had mentioned as being purty good
It'd been a long day. They had both loaded at the same warehouse, two loads of canned vegetables bound for the same destination. This was a rare event, allowing the two men to spend the trip running together, talking on the CB radio, making the time pass much easier than running the same trip without company. They had worked for the same company for years, Mountain Boy for four, Catfish for five, making them about 80% up the seniority list. Like every other company in trucking, theirs had a high turnover rate. The industry calls it churning, but what it actually denotes is the general dissatisfaction with the job experienced by drivers.
They had made almost 600 miles, kept the left door closed, which is a euphemism used to explain how it's possible to run that many miles day after day. Keep the truck rolling, the left door closed, and eat up that blacktop. They had stopped once for a nature break, drained a kidney, jumped back in, shut their left doors and hammered down. They were both tired, butt sore, and hungry enough to eat the rockers off a hobby horse.
Catfish swung down from his cab, took a few seconds to stretch his cramped legs, and sauntered over to his buddy's rig. Mountain Boy got his cowboy hat settled on his noggin, popped the door open, and joined his friend on the ground. They were both well groomed, cowboy boots, blue jeans, western shirts, and cowboy hats. They were better attired than your run of the mill trucker. They had appearances to uphold. Catfish took a couple seconds to dust the toes of his boots on the back of his calves before heading toward the door.
Mountain Boy wore his handle well. He was 6'2'', broad and beefy with curly reddish blonde hair. His big head sat on broad shoulders. That head looked like it might belong on a Hereford bull, if the bull had a deep cleft in it's chin.
Catfish was the opposite, slim and a bit shorter. He had coal black hair, wore a mustache and his features were sharp. His deep set dark eyes gave him a bird-of-prey look the ladies found interesting, but to no avail. Catfish was a dog who knew how to stay on his own front porch.
They were at 'Bama Joes Truckstop and Cafe, a little hole in the wall joint hunkered down by I-59 a little south of Montgomery, Alabama. The dirt lot held about twenty big rigs, and the front of the place had room for maybe a dozen cars. Some of these cars were travelers, alerted by the small billboard up the road, the others locals who had come around to avoid cooking for themselves in the heat blanketing the area. It was God-awful hot, had been for days, no rain to break the pall of heat that smothered south Alabama every summer.
The two men hit the door, took a glance around, then headed for the bathroom. Time to tap a kidney once again, wash up and settle in for a well deserved meal. Standing side by side at the porcelain receptacles, Catfish offered "Bo, I done figured somethin' out."
Bo responded with a terse "Whassat?"
"Coffee...I figured out that ya don't buy coffee, you just rent it fer a little while."
Bo offered a more lenthy rejoinder, "Catfish, I done figured something out myself. You're so full of crap that if you fell in the river, you'd float to Gulfport."
Catfish grinned and said "You could have a point there, good buddy."
Bo shot back with "I got your good buddy swingin', hand."
Chore finished, the two men put away the business at hand, backed away and took the two sinks to wash up. Just because you spent the day in the air conditioned cab of a truck didn't mean you stayed clean, particularly your hands. No matter how many times you washed your hands, grime was present.
They passed back out of the restroom, headed to the cafe part of the establishment. They passed the fuel desk which was manned by an old gal who was so skinny she wouldn't make good soup. They briefly met her glance, smiled at her, and she offered a thin ghost of one in return.
Getting to the cafe, they found a round table off a little to the side. The place was fairly busy, the two visible waitresses going about taking orders, delivering food, clearing tables, getting customer requests, generally running their hind ends off for tips.
They sat down side by side, where they could see the door and whoever came in. It's always a good idea when you're in a strange place to sit where you can keep an eye on things. You never know what (or who) might sneak up on you with your back turned to the door.
They watched the other truck drivers, the locals, travelers, playing 'who's who', figuring out which category their fellow diners fell under.
They waited a minute when a third waitress appeared, different than the others. This one was much younger and much cuter. She was all crisp and white in her uniform with long blond hair hanging down her back in a braid. Blue eyes sat above a button nose, and freckles dusted her cheeks.
Mountain Boy came to attention like a pointer near a covey of quail. The waitress gathered a couple of menus then approached and asked "Can I get you boys somethin' to drink?"
Catfish looked at her and responded "I'll take some of that good old Alabama sweet tea."
She smiled and nodded, then asked Mountain Boy "How 'bout you, would you like anything?"
Mountain Boy smiled kind of sheepishly and said "Sweet tea sounds real good."
The waitress turned away and Mountain Boy watched as she went to get their drinks.
Catfish said "Bo, what color were her eyes, do ya think?"
"Hell, I dunno. Her name's Debbie though, if she didn't steal that name tag off of the real Debbie. I don't expect she's a thief, though. Maybe I'm wrong, because she's already halfway to stealin' my heart."
"That's right, she's Debbie and that name tag is about as high as your eyes got. Tell me something, do you ever get tired of chasin' skirts?"
"Nah, I haven't so far. I did notice something else though. I believe she's been shot in the back by two cruise missiles."
"You just ain't right, Bo."
Debbie returned with a battered tray carrying two tall iced sweet teas and set them on the table. Both men took a long pull on them, enjoying the cool flooding their throats. Debbie set down a pitcher of tea for them to help themselves to as needed.
"How about some supper? I know you boys just got to be starved." She favored them with her smile.
Catfish considered a moment, then said "I'll try your liver and onions, and some turnip greens and mashed potatoes and gravy. Have you got any cornbread back there?"
Debbie allowed as how she did, of course, and added it to the order on her pad.
Mountain Boy chimed in with his order. "I'll have that half fried chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, and some of that cornbread, too."
Debbie jotted the orders and promised to be back soon with the food.
The boys kicked back a little more, relaxing and sucking down more sweet tea, unwinding from their time in the saddle. They talked about the job, their fellow drivers, their families, and their trucks. Most of what they said were things already known to each other. They were just whiling away the time, waiting to eat, small talk interspersed with companionable silences.
Debbie headed their way finally, a tray balanced on a well practiced hand. She set the food in the appropriate places and asked "Is there anything else you boys need? Just get my attention and I'll fix ya right up!"
She disappeared, off to make someone else contented with either the food or the scenery.
The men sat up, focused their attention on their plates and began preparing to eat. They buttered their cornbread, swung the salt and pepper shakers to season their food. Catfish took his knife, cut a slice of the liver, put it along with a generous portion of sauteed onion on the fork and took his first bite. A look of simple pleasure floated accross his face.
Mountain Boy avoided the chicken, seeing steam rolling from the pieces. He took a couple bites of mashed potatoes and gravy, a little cornbread, some green beans. After a couple minutes, he figured the chicken was cool enough to handle. He took up a drumstick like it was corn on the cob, getting ready to take a big bite. Catfish was watching when he bit down. The color drained from 'Bo's face, and he took the chicken away from his mouth, no bite removed. He stood up, put the drumstick back on the plate, balanced it carefully on his big hand and gave it a hard fling against the wall while he hollared "Fly, damn you, you ain't hurt that bad!"
The place came to a sudden halt when the dish collided with the wall. Mashed potatoes and gravy dribbled down the wall, joining the more solid fare on the floor. Some of the customers had risen to their feet in suprise. A young girl, about 12 years old, stood staring at the scene. Catfish caught her eye and tipped her a slow wink. Her hands, which had flown to her mouth in an automatic gesture of suprise were now hiding a grin which had broken through.
Motion restarted, particularly the motion of the manager heading their way. He stopped in front of Bo, tipped his head back to catch Bo's eye, and demanded "What in the world do you think you're doing?"
Bo looked at him like he was a fool and responded "I was just helping that chicken make his escape. I'm pretty sure it ain't dead yet. You're menu said it was a half-fried chicken. That ain't even close. It's so raw, when I bit it, blood shot out of both my ears. I was just helping it to make its getaway."
Catfish joined in. "Boss man, I seen crispier skin at Myrtle Beach laying on a beach towel than that chicken had. I believe I heard it cluck, right there before it make contact with the wall."
The manager wasn't happy, not by a long shot. He was still hot under the collar and said "What do you intend to do about this mess? You can't act like this, this is a public place."
Catfish rejoined "Boss man, it's a little too late for that, I believe."
Bo just stood there, glaring at the manager, wiping the residue of almost raw chicken from his mouth with a napkin.
The manager stepped back a pace, figuring Bo might reach out and touch someone. He told the two men "I'll tell you what, you boys just get out of my place. I'm not having this kind of going's on here. You don't owe anything, just go, and don't bother coming back."
Bo said "You don't have to worry about that, little man. If I want raw chicken, I reckon I'll go right to the coop." He took the glass of iced tea, drained it real slow, held his pinky out as he was doing it. He set the glass down, gave a big sigh and told the manager "Your iced tea isn't bad. C'mon, Catfish."
The men both each threw down a $10 on the table for Debbie, who was standing close by watching the show. She grinned at them as they headed out the door.
Going across the dirt lot Catfish said "Bo, I didn't get to eat my meal due to your little demonstration of clucker aerodynamics. I know this little place down the road a ways..."
Mountain Boy interrupted him. "Catfish, do me a favor, alright?"
"Yeah, sure Bo, anything for you, you know that."
"Just shut the hell up."
Catfish adopted a wounded expression and said "I can see as how your full and all now, after drinking that man's free tea, but I'm still hungry."
"Well, you poor baby. I'll just have to get your pacifier out, I reckon."
The two men continued nitpicking all the way to their trucks, fired up the diesels, and left the lot, still needling each other, albeit now on the CB radio. The sound of the diesels receeded in the distance.
Inside, Debbie pocketed the pair of $10s, thinking "I wonder if they'll be back this way anytime soon. That Bo was kinda cute."