I did storytelling at The Root Hill Café again last week. I enjoyed it. It’s nice to wonder if I did well rather than knowing I failed because nobody laughed. I think I may start to seek out more storytelling opportunities in the city. Much like I drink 40’s of Old English every Wednesday, I’m going to attempt to “double fist” stand-up and storytelling. Why the hell not?
I wrote this story at work the morning before the open mic. Not sure I like it. The opening image has been in my head forever, and I just continued on with the story from that line. The story is fictional, but the central event happened to me a few years ago. I’ll explain afterward, if you stick around.
(Also, please kindly don't bother to tell me that posting these stories is just a cheap way for me keep my posts consistent without having to do much work. I know this. It's like telling me I only have a blog because I am an egomaniac; these things are assumed.)
On Interstate 35, Stuck.
By Gregory Quinn.
The map sprawled across the hood of the car and began to melt, like butter on a skillet. The air around Dolly’s Rodsid Dier (the poor sign) was permeated with kicked-up dust and charred rubber.
Ryder was hesitant to stop, but he was hungry and he always had a thing for diners. He opened his trunk and tossed the poorly-folded map in among dirty laundry and discarded fast food. He patted the back of his jeans, one check for his wallet and another for his can. He inspected the can as he pulled it from his pocket and packed it expertly. The second the tingling, almost painful burn rushed through his lip he remembered why he started again. He spat his wad of tobacco-juice onto the like-colored dirt.
It was dead inside the Dier. There were only three people, all alone, all quiet. The heavy aroma of bacon grease and lingering coffee dripped on his skin. Ryder sat at a corner booth and checked his watch. 1:30. Plenty of time to get to Minneapolis by nightfall. Plenty of time to see Maggie before she leaves.
Ryder left from Austin yesterday afternoon as soon as he heard the news. He burned north through Oklahoma and into Kansas, rolled west past Wichita and straight through Missouri. He was making good time: 1000 miles in less than a day.
Despite the dearth of customers, service was slow. Ryder turned over his coffee mug and stuffed a handful of napkins into the chamber to collect his spit. The waitress must have noticed; she brought Ryder a fresh mug and without being cued, filled it with hour-old coffee. She didn’t say hello or ask what he might like for lunch. She just stood there, wagging a pen over a pad of paper to indicate she was ready when he was.
The booth was fake red leather, the sort ubiquitous at diners. The seat was split open; the fluffy innards spilled out like a crumbled muffin. Ryder leaned back and closed his eyes. He thought of what he would say when he saw Maggie, how he’ll try to tell her not to go, how he’ll try to tell her he’s sorry.
Ryder had no idea what he was doing here. Days ago he had been home, in Austin, waiting for her. His new job started in a few days, yet here he was in Iowa, 15 miles south of Des Moines, in a rundown roadside diner called Dolly’s Rodsid Dier. And it was all for her. Ryder unloaded his load of tobacco from his bottom lip and discharged it in his mug, remnants of snuff lodged in between his teeth and in his fingernails. The coffee was already cold, the food taking forever.
As Ryder left, he heard the television over the diner’s bar flick on. Some sort of breaking news.
He merged onto I35. Traffic was heavy for an early Saturday afternoon. Ryder reached over the passenger seat to roll down the window, the car’s air conditioning long of out service. Ahead to the north Ryder noticed a giant pall over the Principal Building, a looming grey cloud that stretched upwardly like a funnel. The traffic ahead of him was stopped. Ryder put his car in park and stared at the cloud, then at his watch.
No car was moving. Some sounded worthless horns; their beeps rose from the traffic and were abruptly ignored. Ryder rifled through the radio stations. All the broadcasts were interrupted for a local news bulletin: a building in downtown Des Moines has exploded.
Around noon, a small ink building on Grand Street erupted. No one was injured, save for some traumatized pedestrians below. It was a minor explosion, but there was enough smoke to limit visibility north of the city. I35 North was shut down for miles. Not far south, Ryder was stuck.
He dialed Maggie but she didn’t answer. She hadn’t taken his calls since the day before yesterday. He knew she wouldn’t wait for him. His eyes darted between the clock on the radio and his wristwatch, hoping for a discrepancy. But they agreed – ten past four. His car had been in park for an hour.
He was frantic. Gridlocked, Ryder gripped the sweat-soaked steering wheel and rubbed his neck. The radio advised commuters to keep their windows up, as the billowing smoke could be hazardous to your health. Ryder did as he was told, but any health benefits were negated by the simmering heat in the cab of his car. Each drop of sweat that dribbled down his forehead was laden with grease and nicotine. A sour, repugnant taste.
The sun had set over Des Moines when Ryder pulled off I35. He stopped at a gas station and dialed Maggie again. Nothing. Last he heard, traffic was moving north of the city again but by now it was too late. He was still 200 miles from Minneapolis. By the time he got there she would be gone. Her plane would be somewhere high above the Great Lakes, on its way to Boston.
Ryder was lost. He was stuck in Iowa. He sat on the hood of his car watching the lights flicker on the skyline ahead of him. 1000 miles in 18 hours wasted on an exploding ink building.
Ryder opened his trunk and found his map, and by the pitiful glow of his cell phone, plotted his way east.
As I said earlier, this story is made up. However, I was driving from Austin, TX to Minneapolis, MN a few years ago only to be stranded in Des Moines because an ink building exploded. And the line about authorities advising commuters to keep their window up because of the possibility of hazardous smoke is true. But I wasn’t on my way to meet a girl, I was visiting my father. I wasn’t dipping tobacco either. I just thought it sounded cool.
Have a nice afternoon, friends.