The Long Way Home

My waitress was a doll. She kept calling me sweetheart, which sounded more like, “sweehar.” Her name-tag read: Luanne. She couldn’t have been more than eighteen. A rough eighteen.

I took the long way home. I drove through miles of dead cornfield. It was like riding through an upside-down whisk broom. Then, green fields, fat clouds, ranches on two hundred acres. Ten, maybe twenty dead possums. Lots of old implements laid to rest in pastures.

I passed inmates on the side of the road, using commercial lawn equipment. They were wearing stripes. I haven’t seen stripes in a long time.

I stopped at a rural gas station for tater logs. I once had a friend from Sacramento whose shoes cost more than my coonhound. He didn’t know what tater logs were. I pity the soul who’s never eaten a tater log.

I drove past trailer hair-salons, and women hanging clothes on honest-to-goodness clotheslines—something I haven’t seen since I used to pee the bed.

I blew past a speed trap in Beaver Creek; a cemetery behind a gas station; a kid advertising a carwash in Milligan; a stray dog with a rabbit in its mouth.

I stopped at an antique store. Two older fellas sat out front. They didn’t care if I bought anything, they were glad to have company.

A cooler sat on the porch. One man opened it and said, “You wanna buy some homegrown ‘maters?”

These tomatoes looked decidedly suspicious. I’ve seen my share of handpicked fare. This wasn’t it.

“You sure they’re homegrown?” I asked.

“Course I’m sure, they had to come from SOMEBODY’S home.”

Then he laughed, because putting the shuck on out-of-towners is an Alabamian pastime.

I passed John Deere dealerships, feed stores—the kind where you can buy anything from cases of beer to Wrangler jeans.

I didn’t care if I ever got home.

Long ago, I knew a kid afraid of anything that smelled like a civilized city. He even had a nervous breakdown the one time he visited New York.

That poor kid. I don’t blame him. New York City is a curious place. A place without any perfectly ugly trailer-homes, or log trucks, where everyone wears black during the summer. The kid couldn’t help it, he needed a city with Tom Thumbs, and welcome-to-town-signs with Rotary Club seals. And fresh gossip.

He likes shotgun houses with sofas on front porches. And climbing trees, uncut yards, chicken gizzards, and he’s crazy about rust. He wants less shopping complexes. More waitresses who don’t need teeth to give pretty smiles. Who call you sweetheart.

It’s no wonder the civilized world has gone to hell.

We could do with more Luannes.

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