By Katitude © 2010
We were somewhere in the Southwest, maybe Utah, maybe south Colorado. We were on a two-lane secondary highway, the kind that used to be the main road before they built the Interstate. It was August, and it was hot.
The area was bone dry, and the sun and lack of water had bleached the scenery we rode through into a study of beiges and tawny golds. The only breaks in the brown landscape were the blacktop that we followed and a meandering line of green trees along a small river.
We passed a small gas station, the first building we had seen in more than 100 kilometres. We rode past it, and then an impulse made me look at how far we had gone since the last fill up. I realized that I'd need gas soon. I pulled over and waited for Keith, the maker of coffee, the fixer of motorcycles, the holder of the map, to see how far until the next town. Too far for comfort, so we turned and rode back.
We stopped in front of the pumps and no one came out of the building. We assumed it was self service and filled up. It was my turn to pay. I fished my wallet out of the tankbag and headed inside.
Stepping through the door was like stepping back in time to the kind of place that progress forgets, and though there's a bit of wear at the edges, it likely looks much the same now as it did when it first opened. A diner counter ran along the length of the back wall. At one end of the counter, right in front of the door was an enormous manual cash register, grey and squat with a clear window at the top where the numbers popped up. Cards were pinned to the wall above the cash register, the ones you used to see in truck stops with the die cut slots that held black combs and flints for zippo lighters. Starting from the cash register, the counter curved to the left. Chrome stools with red vinyl seats were bolted to the floor every few feet or so. In front of every stool, the charcoal and red pattern of the melamine countertop had been worn away, leaving a plate-sized spot of the underlying red.
Only two people were inside; a Native American man and his son seated at the counter. The man wore a cowboy hat, boots, dark jeans with a crisply-pressed crease down the centre and a gingham-checked western shirt with the pointed pocket flaps and the mother-of-pearl snaps. It all looked well-worn, but clean and looked-after. Not Sunday best, more like going-to-town best. I was fascinated; being from Ontario meant I'd never really seen anyone wear cowboy gear when it wasn't Halloween or Pride week. He glanced and caught me staring. I nodded a hello, and then turned my gaze to the three glass cake stands by the coffee machine.
Pie. They had pie. And it all looked homemade.
An older woman walked slowly through a swinging half-door from the kitchen. She looked tired and as faded by the years as the surrounding countryside was faded by the sun. Her gray hair was caught up in a bun that had become untidy and thin wisps had escaped it to frame a pale face. A much-washed pastel pink t-shirt proclaimed her to be the “World's Greatest Grandma.”
Her watery blue eyes did not reflect the polite smile she gave me as she wiped her hands on an old white tea towel. I handed her the money for the gas and asked her if the pies were homemade.
She looked slightly insulted. “Of course!” she replied.
“Give me a sec. I'll be right back!” I told her.
I went out to get Keith. He had already suited back up while I paid for the gas, but he took everything off again as soon as he heard me say “They have pie!”
We never turn down an opportunity for pie. Within moments, we were back at the counter to coffee and pie in front of us, lemon meringue for Keith and cherry for me. While Keith engaged the man and his son in conversation, I focused on the slice of pie on the scratched ironware plate in front of me. I closed my eyes with the first bite, and I think I may have hummed with pleasure. The filling of sour red cherries and sugar had that perfect sweet/tart ratio. It was a summer taste, one that reminded me of those lazy childhood days between one school year and the next. It was as close to being like my mother's as I'd ever tasted, and I told the woman so when she came back to top up our coffee cups.
This time her smile reached her eyes. I looked at the lines of her face, a mixture of laugh lines and frown marks. Her hands, big knuckled and chapped, were working hands. On impulse, I asked her, “How long have you been here?”
Her smile faded. “Too long,” she said, and walked back through the swinging door into the kitchen.
Katitude is a writer from Toronto, Canada.