A day-traveler learns to look for truck stops.
The one alongside Interstate 65 in Clanton, Alabama is one of my frequent haunts. Located in the geographic center of the state, I crisscross Sweet Home on the asphalt ribbon — always on the way there, or on the way back to here.
Busy place. Cheap fuel, clean bathroom, swipe your card and continue moving to here or there. Red Bull and fried chicken for the truckers on the long haul. Bottle of water and a full tank for me.
The sweet anonymity of continual movement. Time is of the essence.
An old man stands between me and the register. Dressed in his khakis and a checkered flannel shirt, “Roll Tide Roll” baseball cap worn slightly askew. He holds out an old photo to a mostly disinterested young lady at the register. I see it — a black and white of a lovely woman, probably from the 50’s judging from the dress and the hairstyle. Simple, elegant. What we call “just plain pretty” down here. I cannot hear what he says. The clerk says “Yes, very beautiful.” He turns and shuffles away.
My curiosity overcomes the traveler’s code.
“What was that about?”
“Oh, that was an old picture of his wife. She died recently. He eats lunch here every day, and he wanted to show me how pretty she was. Pump 9? That will be $38.50. Have a nice day.”
I head out the door to get back on the road. I see him there in his pick-up, eyes down, looking at the old black and white of days gone by.
Going to be a tough Christmas for one old man in Clanton.
I roll on toward here. I think of a line from a Robert Earl Keen song — “the road goes on forever and the party never ends.”
I think you got that one wrong, Robert.
*For my darling Haley.