Old Home Café: The Next Generation

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

Episode XXXII: Who Are You?

(Originally published in The Legend-News of 2004 September 24.)

The lunch crowd was beginning to trickle into the Old Home Café. The regular customers claimed their favorite tables, while the tourists and truckers took seats at the counter or in the sunnier locations.

Jon was picking up orders from the kitchen when a tall, rangy man entered the Café. The man spotted Jon and nodded while removing his CAT cap. He sat down at the counter and asked for a coffee. Jon poured for him a cup a’ C and then delivered two orders of meatloaf and a cheeseburger to a couple of the regulars, then he took a few more orders.

The radio behind the counter was tuned to the Call Hardly Report, a noontime staple of the Café. On his next trip back to the kitchen, Jon turned up the volume. He knew that if he did not, Ben Carson — who was sitting in the far corner of the dining room — would soon shout “turn it up!”

“This is Call Hardly; get ready for news!” said Call. “The Call Hardly Report is brought to you by Inactiva Spudware: clothing for the television generation,” said the announcer. “And now, Call Hardly News.”

A pair of truckers ambled in. Jon recognized one of them, a semi-regular named Jackson Hoyle, a driver for Old Home Bread. “Hey, Jackson!” he said. “Who’s your partner?”

“New guy,” said Jackson. “I’m breaking him in. Say hello to Jon, Ashe.” Jackson sat down at the counter and grabbed a menu.

“Pleased to meet ya,” said Ashe, setting down at the counter next to the tall man, who glanced briefly at Ashe before returning to his coffee. “Jackson’s been telling me about this place all the way here. Says you’ve got a contraption here that I won’t believe.”

“He probably means the Auto-Dog,” said Jon. He pointed to the large stainless steel, sorta salad bar-looking machine next to the counter. “A labor-saving device and a tourist attraction. Want a dog? Try it out.”

“In a minute,” said Ashe. “Gotta get the grime off first. Where’s the can?” he asked. Jon pointed the way.

“How’s the biz?” Jon asked Jackson. “I’ve read that the company’s having some financial problems.”

“Yeah,” said Jackson. “It’s this ridiculous ’low carb’ craze. White bread sales are dropping. It ain’t keeping me away from my Krispy Kremes, though.”

“Is your job in jeopardy?” asked Jon.

“Nah, I’m safe. Those of us workin’ the boonies got enough business. ’Sides, you gotta want to drive a lot to reach these little burgs out here. The guys on the Omaha routes are worried, though. If the routes get consolidated, someone’s gonna lose.”

Ashe returned from his visit to the restroom and resumed his seat. “Hey, Jackson. Did you ever see that wall over by the phone? It’s got a bunch a’ newspaper clippings about some commercials that got filmed here back in the ’70s. All about a trucker for Old Home, no less.”

“Yep, I’ve seen ’em, and back when they weren’t nearly as faded,” said Jackson.

“I wonder if he was real, this McCall trucker,” mused Ashe.

“Oh, he’s real, all right. Still lives in town, I’ve heard,” said Jackson, turning towards Ashe and noticing the tall man on the stool next to Ashe. “As a matter of fact…”

Ashe followed Jackson’s gaze and turned to his left to see the tall man. He stared for a moment, earning him a glare from the man, then recognition bopped him on the head. “You look just like the guy in those pictures,” he said to the tall man, “but just a bit older.”

“Well, I oughta,” said the tall man.

Next: Out Of The Darkness

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