by Jim McInvale
Once again, ZZ
country store won by default. We work in the
shadow of a cooling tower, and are banished to
the boonies where the other lunch options are, in
order of preference: vending machines, road kill,
and our plant cafeteria, The Stomach Pump Cafe.
Even engineers shun The Pump and
besides, we were celebrating. One of our own had
jumped the fence - Randy Dan landed a job back
This was a
bittersweet occasion so wed reverted to
adolescent behavior and were bantering like tenth-graders
cutting class when I turned onto route ZZ. Our
companions passed with horn blaring and I looked
left in time to see a pair of buttocks pressed
against a window looking back at me. Both
vehicles pulled into a gravel lot down the road
and seven of us spilled out, still howling over
the midday moon. We went in and made for a picnic
table down at the service bay end.
mechanic came up, pulled menus from her coveralls,
and passed them around. Randy Dan, sitting across
from me, silenced the room with his order.
store is locally known for the hug burger. Its
name originated from a semi-literate misspelling
of huge, and it has a simple recipe:
squash a double handful of ground beef into a
plate-sized circle and drop it in a vat of
boiling lard. Cook for two minutes; nestle
between slabs of bread, and slather with
mayonnaise. Finally, serve it on a hubcap with a
shovel full of potato wedges.
scares off most diners; a triple is insanity. The
waitresss jaw dropped and her gold tooth
know RD like I did. She twice offered him a
chance to back down, then shook her head and
walked off muttering something about his next
bowel movement. Table talk resumed and betting
waitress heaved RDs order up on the table,
it hid everything but the hair atop his big mid-western
mug. I worked my burger and watched RDs
face rise slowly above a diminishing mountain. A
hush fell near the end - like a bowling alley
when someone is closing on a 300 game - and a
roar arose when he downed the last bite, but RD
was too smitten to celebrate. He looked fragile. I
collected his winnings - afraid hed erupt
if he moved.
took our hubcaps back to the carwash, but we
stayed to let the hero recover and spent the time
building his legend (and arguing over who would
ride back with him). Though RD trembled like
Vesuvius, he never blew, and we finally went back
stopped in his cube with the winnings, but a
toxic cloud drove me back out. I tossed the cash
on his desk and shouted. RD sat unconscious at
his computer - victim of a food-induced coma.
youre making a big carbon footprint.
flickered. RD yawned and chuckled.
your cash. I pointed to the desk. Was
it worth it? That couldve killed you.
He leaned left
and grimaced before answering. I backed further
into the aisle.
know, he said,
my time, Id like a big hug goodbye.