Old Home Café: The Next Generation

By Edward Floden, based on characters and situations created by William D. Fries, Jr.

Episode II: Westbound and Down

(Originally published in The Legend-News of 2002 October 21.)

The pithy saying: “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” The obvious conclusion: “Life occasionally sucks.”

Avis Granelli had just pulled back onto Interstate 80, heading west from Le Claire, Iowa, when she heard a loud whump in the engine compartment of her BMW. The whump was followed by thwap thwap thwap, and then silence. Well, silence except for the engine, which continued to hum its usual tune. Avis expressed her displeasure with a hearty epithet, and decided to exit at the rest stop two miles down the road.

By the time that she reached the rest stop, Avis had noticed one effect of this sudden problem: the air temperature in the passenger compartment was rising. She held her hand before the air vent in the center of the dashboard and discovered that cool air was not being supplied. Her wild guess: the air conditioning had failed.

She pulled in, parked, and popped the hood of the car. Finding the compressor for the air cooler, she noted the obvious source of the problem: its drive belt was missing. She guessed that it had broken, and its short death throes had produced the noise which she heard.

She dropped the hood back into place and pondered her situation. The outside air temperature was 83 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the car’s gauge, and the weather forecast estimated a high of 95 across most of Iowa. Her destination was Pisgah, and even if she continued her trip using I-80 she would still be travelling for at least six hours. Six hours with no air conditioning on a hot road. Six hours with the vent fan on high and the windows open and the wind roaring in her ears.

Avis was pissed.

But home was her destination, and she didn’t want to spend a few hours finding a mechanic to replace the missing belt. The time was currently 10 A.M. and she had the entire day to reach Pisgah, but she didn’t want to delay any longer: she had already spent three days driving to reach this point, and the further that she removed herself from New York City, the better. Six hours of less-than-cool air would be tolerable if it meant that she’d be somewhere familiar by evening. So she bought a cold Diet Coke from the rest area’s vending machine and resumed her journey westward.

The back seat of the BMW was crammed with clothes; in the trunk was her computer, a small music system, and the few books that she deemed worthwhile to keep. Everything else from her apartment in New York she’d sold or given away to friends and charities; she already missed her nearly-new Krupps cappacino maker.

Iowa City, Grinnell, Newton, and Des Moines flashed by as Avis drove west, passing the cities and towns that she hadn’t visited in the years since she'd moved to New York. For the first two hours, at least, the drive was tolerable with the windows down, a warm breeze flowing through and the stereo volume set high enough to overcome the roar of the traffic. Then fatigue began as she became increasing annoyed at the heat, the noise, and her situation.

She didn’t really want to be driving to Pisgah, at least not for the reason that she had for doing so. She was unemployed; her position as an accountant was eliminated when the company for which she worked found itself to be the target of governmental scrutiny of accounting fraud, a scenario that seemed to be running rampant through Big Business. She was a collateral victim of other people’s mistakes, and she wasn’t happy about that. Living in New York was expensive and her savings had lasted for only a few months while she made a fruitless search for a new job. The ranks of the unemployed were now filled with thousands of accountants, but she was a too-small fish in a too-large pond.

Avis thought that a few weeks back in Pisgah would be the cure as she attempted to regain control of her life. She had lost control of her hair, she mused, from the constant hot wind; her coiffure now resembled an explosion. Her dad wouldn’t notice, she knew, but Mom would tsk-tsk about the disarray. Mom still had her “truck stop waitress” hair-do from the ’70s, a veritable helmet of hair.

The vacation would be nice, but she really needed to find a job. Maybe she could find a new position in Des Moines or Omaha; from those cities she could afford to visit Mom and Dad on the weekends. A job that was closer to home would be hard to find.

Interstate 80 turned to the southwest and Omaha, Nebraska. Avis left the wide, flat roadbed and continued west on I-680 towards the Missouri River. The hills became steeper and more rolling as the farmland disappeared. At Interstate 29 she turned north for twenty miles and then exited, heading to Mondamin and the Loess Hills area in which she was born. Those hills weren’t as impressive as the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, where her Uncle Bill lived, but they were just as pretty, and more beautiful than block after block of the brick, concrete, steel and glass of New York City. Only Interstate 90 in northern Indiana was more boring.

Soon Avis crossed the small bridge over the Soldier River and knew that she was almost home. A left turn up 1st Street, and she’d be a less than a mile away from Mom and Dad.

Up ahead, two motorcyclists were parked near the Old Home Café; another poker run, Avis guessed, because this was the time of year for bike rallys. The bikers were probably looking for a place to have a beer, but the “for sale” sign in the Café’s window told them that they wouldn’t be finding a cool one there.

Mom had told her about the closing of the Café. Avis was sure that she missed it, recalling the days that she’d be there, after school, helping out. She remembered that she told her Mom that one day she'd own that Café, and that it would be the best one around. That future didn’t seem too likely now.

Across 1st from the Café sat a blue sedan, its driver studying a map. Probably a tourist, thought Avis, looking for what Pisgah didn’t have.

As she crossed Main Street and passed the Old Home Café, Avis looked in the mirror and grimaced at the mess of her hair. A lot of brushing would be needed to fix that disaster. But that could wait; home was just up the road.

In our next exciting episode: something actually happens!

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