The Feeling of Midnight Diners

Submitted by Sarah Guerrero to Contest #6 in response to: Write a story about someone who started a road trip ten years ago and hasn't stopped since.... view prompt

Prompt: Write a story about someone who started a road trip 10 years ago and hasn’t stopped since

Author: Sarah Guerrero

Midnite diners were the bread and butter of long-time road trips. They had greasy, delicious food, a usually wonderful waitstaff and no fucks to give. The best part of the diners was, of course, the feeling that they gave you. It was a mix between too present and not there, when you’re so tired but wound so tight that you’re either gonna fall asleep in your hashbrowns or have a breakdown in the bathroom. It created this perfect storm that carried you along towards your hotel room or RV bed. It was the closest thing to a mother’s kitchen that someone on the road could get. It was in the way that all of them had something similar to them. The Waffle Houses were all the same, so were the Perkins. The local Mom & Pop shops had some flavor to them, but the bones of them were the same. 

This particular diner was a Waffle House on Central in Albuquerque. It was little and cozy, the jukebox was being fiddled with an older man in cargo shorts and a blazer that was a little too small. He had ordered a double cheeseburger with bacon and extra tomatoes, along with a side of hashbrowns with all the fixings. The waitstaff was comprised of an older black man as the chef, a white man as one of the waiters and a very pretty Gothic woman with platform heels and heavily lined eyes. She was the one who took my order and was currently rattling it off to the chef, whose name I think was Mr. Paulie, from what I heard her say.

My order was standard, for the most part. 2 waffles with chocolate chips and extra butter, a side of chewy bacon (that never came out chewy but whatever) and a side of plain hashbrowns. Mr. Paulie started working on my order, dropping down the hashbrowns and putting the batter into the waffle iron. The pretty goth lady smiled at me before turning to a family with 2 little kids, one boy and one maybe-boy-maybe-girl, and an older Latina woman. Probably grandma out with her grandkids, even it was a little late for them to be out. But what did I know? I couldn’t stand still long enough to even get a steady enough girlfriend to consider kids. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be a good parent, but I don’t dwell on it. My brothers have enough kids for a Militia, I don’t have to worry about it.

That little family, the Latina grandma and her two little charges, had ordered the same thing for all of them with minute changes to them. The little kids got a waffle each, no hashbrowns, and the boy got a side of bacon. The maybe-boy-maybe-girl got a side of fruit, which I didn’t know that Waffle House offered as a side. The boy got his waffle with chocolate chips, the Maybe-kid didn’t have anything on their waffle. Grandma went hard with the toppings, chocolate chips and peanut butter chips, extra butter, and syrup. She did get a side of hashbrowns, plain.

“Here, hon, the syrup for your waffles.”

The pretty goth lady set down a jug of syrup, smiled at me with gentle politeness that was very nice at this time of night. Especially after driving through Kansas for nearly 6 hours. I hated Kansas with a passion that burned neon purple.

“Thanks, I appreciate it.”

“No problem.”

She paused for a moment, looked like she was gonna turn around but decided against it at the last minute. She turned back towards me and gently motioned down to the table.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but are you planning a big trip?”

I looked down at my table. I had a map spread out in front of me, creased and marked in blue and red ink. I had taken it out when I was finished putting in my order, checking my route to make sure I was still on course. I had my coffee mug placed on the one corner that always curled up and made it a pain in the ass to refold and my little pencil pouch on the opposite one. It wasn’t really a pencil pouch, more like a “throw that bitch in there” bag, but it worked well enough and it did have some writing utensils in it.

As for the rest of it, I had a camping compass and a couple of little sticky notes. The rest of my shit was in my Campervan, Yvonne. She had been a present from my father, the best lady in my life. She needed an oil change, I would have to do that before I made it to the next state. That would be a pain in the ass, I didn’t know any local mechanics.

“Oh, um...not really, I travel a lot and this is the best way for me to plan out my route”, I said. It was true, for the most part. I liked using my phone and Google Maps whenever I could, but I drove through some really rural country and I had my phone crash on me a number of times. So, when my phone had keeled over for the 3rd time, I went to my local Barnes and Noble and grabbed a US Atlas. Most of my friends thought that it was hysterical that I used a paper map, funny enough in fact that whenever I had a slightly stable address, they started sending me maps. Some were actually useful, an Atlas for Canada and one for South America, the rest were pretty but useless. As far as I knew, I would never go to the great country of Lesotho. But the thought was appreciated.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to use your phone?”

“Yeah, but I’ve driven through some rough country and my phone has lost signal before in the middle of a long stretch. I use that when I can but for the most part, I use paper maps.”

She nodded, squeezing closer to the table when the male waiter passed by before looking back at me, “That’s cool, is this your first time in New Mexico?”

“Nah, it’s my second, but I’m not gonna be staying long, so I figured I would hash out the rest of my way before hitting the sack.”

A quick nod again. I had a feeling she wanted to say something else but she didn’t offer it and I wasn’t going to go digging. She reached out and gently patted my arm in a farewell and going to go check on her other customers. At some point, the male waiter came and dropped my food down with a quick “here you go” before shuffling away.

Mr. Paulie knew what he was doing, the waffles were good (covered in chocolate and melty butter, bless) and the hashbrowns were crispy on the outside without being disgusting in the middle. Even the bacon was chewy. I loved that man.

Food and coffee late at night always made me get sentimental. Maybe it was because of the sugar and caffeine overload at such an odd time, but it was inevitable. My brain wandered everywhere, to the past states that I’ve been in, to my family who is in Hialeah. My family didn’t understand my need to move around. My great-grandparents had settled in Florida to get away from the Communist Revolution in Cuba and my family had been there ever since.

My dad had traveled like this for a little bit, but that was when he was in his late teens. He settled down in Hialeah when he fell for my mom. I know my grandparents worried about me, as did my brothers and my mom, especially in the beginning, but they’ve gotten used to it now. As long as I made it back for holidays and big social events, they wouldn’t demand my presence back in Florida. My little nieces and nephews thought that it was awesome that I traveled everywhere, the older ones had asked a couple of times to come with me on short trips.

I had wondered if any of them would take after me, traveling their country (whatever that would be, because, let’s be honest, the idea that my family wasn’t gonna move again was just a stupid idea) in a little camper van that held their whole lives. I wasn’t sure that I wanted them to have that life. I had moved ever since I could drive, traveling anywhere and everywhere. I wanted to see the country that had taken in my family, but I couldn’t tell whether or not I still wanted that. I missed having a stable address and being able to get out of my car and go sleep in my bed in my room. The idea of having a kitchen that didn’t move or a bathroom that was bigger than a closet also sounded really appealing. 

My little nieces and nephews deserved better than what I had. A place to call their own.

But...not moving gave me hives. It kicked my anxiety in the ass and it made me irritated. I became a horrible person to be around. I wondered if I was born to be moving, whether or not I would be ever happy in one place with steady friends and a steady income and all the normal things that people wanted. 

“Excuse me.”

I jerked out of my daze, looking up at the Gothic woman. She held another plate of food, a patty melt with french fries and a slice of chocolate pie on another plate.

I blinked up at her, confused slightly. Did I order something extra? Was this What’s with the pie? When did Waffle House get pie?

“Do you mind if I sit with you?”, she asked.

Oh, oh, ohhhhhh.

“Um, yeah, sure. No problem.”

“My name is Miriam Lockee, it’s nice to meet you as a person”, she joked as she sat down, carefully putting the plates so that they wouldn’t be touching my map. That was a feat in of itself since it covered most of the table. As she got comfortable, I started folding up my map a bit, trying to give her more room for her plates. She watched me as I calmly (not really) put away my pencil case and moved my plates around so they weren’t taking up most of the world.

“I wasn’t sure if you like chocolate, but this is the last slice, which always tastes better at night and after a long shift.”

“Chocolate’s good, most sweets are friends of mine.”

Miriam smiled, looking pleased with the information. She set the pie down between us on our little island before starting to eat her dinner. Or breakfast. She was shy at first, taking little bites and pacing herself, but she soon seemed to forget that I was there and started eating in earnest. Up close, she was absolutely gorgeous. She was pale for someone who lived in the desert, with hazel-green eyes and a full lower lip. Her makeup was less Goth and more Punk, but I didn’t really know enough on those topics to really make any conclusion. She had on a thin silver chain collar with a little glittery heart as a charm. Her whole get-up was really cute.

I really hoped that I didn’t make a fool of myself, it was a talent of mine that resulted in me speeding down a highway and vowing to never go back to the whole state. Dramatic, yes, but as a Cuban, it was also genetic. I started eating again, my food had been forgotten as I planned my travels and then having a beautiful woman talk to me.

“You don’t talk much, huh?”

My eyes snapped up to hers, my fork stuck in my waffles as I prepared to take another bite. I stuttered out an answer that resembled some type of coherent thought,

“Um, no, not really. I’m used to being by myself for the most part. Sorry, guess I’m not the best breakfast companion, huh?”

I felt my face heat, thankful for my darker skin. Blushing wasn’t particularly common for me, but I was dark enough that when it did happen, most people couldn’t see it. My mom could but that was just a mom thing.

She flapped a hand dismissively, she had on Harley Quinn nails. She grabbed a bit of beef that fell out of the sandwich and said, “I get talked to all night long, a bit of silence sounds nearly orgasmic.”

“Okay, well, I can talk but I’m probably not gonna be very good at it.”

She shrugged and then started eating again. When she didn’t push for anything more, I continued eating again. We sat in silence for a little while longer, about 30 minutes. It was nice. It was really nice. I haven’t had a dinner partner forever, at least not one who didn’t require conversation. I didn’t mind conversation, but it wasn’t a thing that I liked. My family was all talkative, which was nice for the most part, but god silence was nice.

We didn’t really talk for the meal, when we were both finished, Miriam went and took our plates to the back. She came back, hiding one of her hands behind her back. She sat down and then produced two new spoons from behind her back. Miriam gave me a spoon and then held hers out.

“Cheers to the last slice and a good silence.”

Miriam smiled. Her face radiated happiness...maybe it was contentment. Either way, I loved the thing that was on her face. I clinked my spoon against hers, offered the first bite of pie. She giggled and then snagged a bite.

We giggled together, Miriam starting up a one-sided conversation about random things that happened in her week. I threw in random noises of agreement or shock whenever the time came for my participation.

“So, if you don’t mind me asking. I’ve told you mine and now I think you should tell me yours, what’s your name? If you wanna tell me, of course.”

I blinked, shocked for a second.

“I’m sorry, my mama would beat me if she found out my manners. My name is Ines Amante.”

Miriam smiled and put out her hand, “It’s nice to meet you, Ines Amante.”

I smiled, too. Took her hand and smiled at her, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, too, Miriam Lockee.”

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 like 0 comments