The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Finding yourself at home

 


The cold air has reached my core, through the layers of leather, and wool, and the copy of the free nickel ads I put underneath my leathers against my chest. I didn’t feel cold yet, but the cold was there, wooing me with its last breath against the blooming morning.

I only recognize its intrusion when I dismount the bike at an old building adorned with old stuff – a wagon wheel, a giant set of spurs, horseshoes nailed to the exterior wall. The smell of winter road-dust, kicked up by my exhaust, greets me as soon as I pull of the mask protecting my face from the wind. I survey the cafe front, first as a way in, and then as is my habit, as a way out.

It will do for both.

I duck under the dried-out beam of the entry-way, and let the door-hinge squeal out it’s exuberance at my entrance. The voices inside hush for a brief instant, and then resume their chatter. I scan the interior of this small-town cafe for people and an open table. I find both, and choose a seat where I can see and hear them from a distance

There’s a television in the place where I’d have expected an open fireplace in a different town. A fishing show drones on about lures, periodically trying to excite its audience with dramatic music, quick, flashing clips of action and breathless exclamations. By the interaction of the other diners, it’s only real purpose is to not be the noisy, jangling prattle of big city culture.

Three old geezers, ensconced in their morning Conference Table across the way from me, are holding audience with some out-of-towners seated next to them in the corner. One of them is explaining the architectural wealth of the town, describing in some detail the historic stage coach stop. It was almost as if he’d been perhaps one of the stable boys, so rich was his memory of it. The other two nodded in agreement with the ancient wisdom, and the travelers listened, wide-eyed, completely caught up in another time. I started to smirk a little inside, knowing full well that, as old as he was, it was highly unlikely this codger had ever seen a functioning stage coach stop. But I didn’t think harshly of him. This is how tales are told in the thousands of Small Places. I left them to their morning reverie, turning my attention to the building itself, which was busy trying to get my attention, wanting to tell me a similar tale.

Dark stained pine boards lined the room, rough-sawn, worn smooth by backs leaning against them, thighs and shoulders, wiggly child hips squirming in their seats, jackets tossed, purses and bags stashed against them, each one adding to the Tale of this cafe. A pair of horseshoes clinched the Pine frame together around the air conditioner, shelves built over the windows held antique relics to bemuse diners as they waited for their orders.

But there were neither all that many relics to be pondered, nor all that much time to ponder them. A quiet waitress with a disarmingly comfortable smile knew already what I wanted, and merely waited patiently for me to say it. She was pouring coffee. The ordered food seemed to materialize in a matter of moments, and I was already starting in as the travelers gratefully thanked the codgers for the visit, and their troupe swirled out to the bustling cacophony of thank you’s and have-a-nice-days, the sliding ring of the cash register, the sudden thudding silence of their absence as the door pulled shut.

There was a moment of silence.

When it settled, the old codgers got back to business. And by “business”, I mean aches, pains, the latest deeds of stupid local kids, and recounting of the winter of ‘62, as contrasted by this one. The Pine boards all around me seemed to nod their agreement, the semi-circular sawmarks standing out as a testament.

There is little to say here in this place that can match the mesmerizing entertainment value of the national news networks. There is little use in them trying to compete for the slick, sophisticated story-manufacturing that happens in the cities, where every aspect of people’s lives is artificial. The stories of these folk may not always be true, but they always satisfy my worry for humanity. Here, in these dusty places, live people with real things to do – ranching, logging, farming, feeding geezers, and entertaining strangers. I love these people. I don’t know why, but I do.

As the three codgers break up their morning committee meeting, one tips his hat to me across the gulf between us. And with that simple acknowledgement, there is no gulf between us. I nod back, he tosses cash in the counter the waitress will find when she comes back out from the kitchen, and the three file out to their respective vehicles, explaining their day’s plans to one another even bough they all already know.

There is a lot of open road between here and my destination. The sun, doing its best from its shallow angle of winter, brightens but only slowly warms the outside. The door, ever-exuberant, squeals again as I depart, accompanied by the tinkling sound of a spoon in a coffee cup behind me. The sounds shift, the diner’s quiet scrum of people gives way to traveling sounds. A semi-truck lumbers it’s way through it’s gears from the town stop sign. In a few minutes, I will be passing this truck as it labors up the grade northbound. The sudden, confident roar of my exhaust moves my mind to these matters of the road.

But I’ll be back someday. And when I return, it will be like a homecoming. That waitress will recognize me. Those codgers will, lord willing, be sitting there, probably telling the same tales to new travelers. If ever you find yourself looking for a home, this place – and the thousands like it – are here and waiting to take you in. Come as yourself – come honestly – and you will find yourself at home.

 

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