We were doing about 95 down a rural highway in the part of Texas where there's no speed limit if you have the right bumper stickers on your lifted pickup truck, no matter how ratty it was, or if you've taken a Sawzall to the rear pillars and the top windshield seam to make a permanent convertible.
Not familiar with the area, the good lady my wife riding shotgun, called out for a mercy stop. I checked the last couple working gauges on the dash and decided to heed the call. We needed gas and probably oil, so I agreed to stop at the next wide smear on the highway.
Ten minutes later, there's a fingerprint on the horizon that at first I'm not sure isn't just one of the wads of alien bubblegum that some particular species of the local insect fauna left on the glass every time we crossed paths.
By the time it becomes apparent that there's a human presence up ahead, and not just an illusion caused by a high speed funeral for the endangered pale-gutted liver borer beetle, I'm easing off the gas and checking for any kind of life support facility. We're both silently hoping for one of those gigantic gleaming truck stops that cater to the transient diesel addicts with no families or mortgages to constrain their disposable income, but we'll probably have to settle for a one pump gas station manned by a true believer in social Darwinism. They'll be stingy with the key to the shitter, and we'll end up eating hotdogs that have been rotisserie trimmings since there was a sax player in the Oval Office.
Instead we got neither. Aside from the New Deal brick strip that counted as Main Street in every sad old town in America, there was a pay-at-the-pump only automated gas station and a combination A&W/KFC restaurant with the skeletons of the livery intact but intentionally vandalized. The building itself had been redecorated from corporate whitebeige cinderblock to hardware store discount paint aisle slaughterhouse, with random neon speckled across the roofline like 5kV sprinkles. The sign, the old style two-squares fluorescent lit combo, had been replaced with two panels of the Colonel's iconic severed head, one repainted with monster movie makeup to look like the living dead.
The sign said
ZOMBIE ME, CHICKEN SAM
and it was still a restaurant.
I found a meter with some time on it in front of the redbrick civic center, which saved me from having to just park in the median.
Pushing into CHICKEN SAM, it was clear it had been completely rebuilt inside. It reminded the good lady of a particular sawdust-floor beer joint we used to frequent, before the city drove us totally sane and we traded the condo for a fast bike with a big tank and the best leathers money could buy.
Pressing through the throng of waiting bodies, we got to the only copy of the menu in the place, taped down to the surface of the counter. It was huge. Hundreds of items. The good lady asked for a Reuben.
The waiter, dressed immaculately in a tuxedo, and sporting a cheap plastic pin-on nametag that proclaimed him to be GEOFFERY, WAITER, shook his head.
The good lady called for the Buffalo chicken sandwich.
Rib basket and hush puppies. Out. Poutine. Out. Catfish basket. Out.
A hand snaked between us, and before I could break it at the wrist it plunked a fat finger - no, I realized, he's pointing with his thumb - on the menu entry for chicken and waffles.
"That's all they have," a voice said, not hostile but just tired.
The waiter nodded his assent.
"We'll take two," the good lady said, and the waiter motioned us to stand aside and wait.
Fifteen minutes later we were back on the road, the good lady feeding me chicken and waffles by alternating tidbits.