November 10, 1960
Brian became aware of someone shaking his foot. He looked down and saw Zack outside the door of the cab waking him. “Let’s go get some breakfast. I need to get going.”
he realized that his wallet was missing.
It took him a few moments to get his mind focused on what was happening. He sat back on the seat, looked over at the Big Wheel’s bar which was closed. The sky was still dark. He tried to figure things out. He brought back the events of the night before. He remembered the beer and pizza, Norma the waitress and Sabrina. He guessed someone must have picked his pocket, or else he dropped it on the floor. Either way, he was stuck in the middle of nowhere without any money or identification.
“Zack, I’ve got a problem.”
“I don’t have my wallet. I must have left it in there, or else that girl picked my pocket. What’ll I do?”
“Nobody picked your pocket.”
“But I don’t have it.”
“Mr. Big would never allow for pick pockets. Sabrina’s a regular there and truckers keep coming back. Besides Mr. Big’s punishments can be notoriously nasty.”
“Then I must have left it in there and I’ll have to stay until it opens.”
“Come out here.” Brian jumped carefully down off the truck seat. Zack climbed up and opened a compartment on the dashboard of the truck, took out a flashlight and shined it on the floor. Then he leaned down and poked it under the seat. He reached in and pulled out a black leather wallet. “Is this it?”
“Yes!” Brian heaved a big sigh of relief and held out his hand.
“Are you sure?”
“Maybe it’s someone else’s wallet.”
“No, it’s mine.”
“Maybe we should ask around.”
“No need. It’s mine.”
“Can you identify it?”
“Yes, it’s black and it has my name in it.”
Zack opened it. “Are you Brian Sims?”
“Are you sure you’re Brian Sims?”
“I don’t know. You were pretty drunk last night. You might have forgotten who you are.”
“No I remember. I’m the only Brian Sims around.”
“Well then, this must be yours. Do you think?”
“Well, here then.” Zack gave him his wallet and said “Now, don’t go throwing your wallet around, you never know who’s going to pick it up.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
Zack smiled, turned and headed for a coffee shop a few stores away. Brian followed, light headed with hunger and relief. He celebrated with a slice of banana cream pie.
After breakfast they headed west. The sky was just beginning to get light when Brian saw the first signs to Saint Louis. Zack kept up a good pace but the traffic gradually began to get heavy as they approached the city. It was almost sunrise as they moved slowly but certainly through the traffic that was coming from several sides. Zack had to stop occasionally to let another truck enter his lane, but the lane kept moving. Brain couldn’t explain what he felt or why but there was a breathless anticipation in him, something about traveling to a new place in the world or leaving an old one. Or was it perhaps leaving the easy hominess of the Midwest and going into unknown lands? Soon the feeling in his gut turned into an explosion of beauty and grandeur he never expected to see.
In a moment Zack moved the truck onto Eads Bridge and they were crossing the amazing Mississippi River at dawn. Brian gasped at the sight of it. It was at the place where the Missouri River joined up and everything Brian saw was gold. It looked like a giant lake. In the morning light the water was liquid gold. High above it, from the window of the truck, he was flying over it like an eagle soaring through the sky. The air around him was filled with expectations. The distant shore was barely visible and beyond it he could still see remnants of the night sky.
Far below him the boats like insects skimming slowly and gracefully along the surface were weaving tiny threads of sparkling white into the golden lava. Brian knew rivers. He knew the Charles River, The Connecticut River, the mighty Hudson River and the gentle, modest streams of home. But he never imagined a sight like the shimmering, grand, magical beauty that stretched out below him. When they reached the top of the span he felt they could ascend forever from that spectacle like a rocket ship into strange worlds.
But soon the truck began to descend, The gold of the river was beginning to meld with the blue of the sky and the morning sun was setting on fire the windows of Saint Louis. They came down into the city leaving behind a vision Brian would never forget,
Zack easily skirted the city, got back on Route 70 and picked up speed. So Brian, with the gasp still in his heart, was again on the road and heading west, into the unknown.
As they came out of Saint Louis the traffic fanned out in all directions and Zack got a good grip on the highway going west. This was a straight highway now, like a line drawn right across the middle of Missouri. This was not a road for tourists. Not a route to stop and see the sights along the way. It was a relentless race to the west, probably set down originally by the land grabbing buck boards and covered wagons of settlers from the last century.
Just past Columbia Zack slowed down and kept to the extreme right. Brian's curiosity was soon answered when Zack said "There's a detour up ahead. It's not well marked. The left lanes get all bogged down if drivers don't know about it." Sure enough, Brian saw that they were in a line of trucks, none in the center lanes. And soon the traffic was slowing down and then backing up as drivers tried to get to the right. Zack successfully moved his truck into the exit ramp behind a big moving van and they kept going.
A moving van, thought Brian, how appropriate. I wonder how far west it's going. Maybe I'll meet up with it in California.
With a line of trucks moving back on to the highway after the detour what few cars yet with them were very glad to get back into the left lanes and avoid them.
Brian was reflecting on California and wondering what Bob's parents were like and what his life was going to be in California. But this was Missouri and he was about to get his first taste of being in the South.
Brian and Zack made good time across Missouri toward the Kansas border, but it was getting late. Zack said they should stop for a late lunch near Kansas City and spend the night there. At about 5 Zack pulled the truck into a parking space next to a restaurant called "Country Cousin." They went inside where they were met by a young man wearing a western string tie over a blue shirt. "Howdy" he said, took them to a table and handed them menus. Country Cousin looked like it had once been a barn but it was a very attractive decor, Brian thought. There were posts around the room with photographs on them. Some of them were near where Brian was and he could see they were pictures of people, some with guitars and some groups. The pictures were autographed. In the corner Brian saw what looked like a small bandstand. There was an upright piano on it.
"They have entertainment here" Brian said.
"At night, on the weekends" said Zack. "It's place where the local country singers come, sing their songs and pick up a few bucks. Some of them have gone on to bigger things. It's a starting place."
"How's the food?"
A pretty young waitress who never smiled came over to take their order. Brian ordered a steak and the girl said something which sounded to Brian exactly like "Super Jews?" He looked up quizzically and she said "Y'all wan soup er juice?"
"What's the soup?" he asked.
"Chin noo" she said.
Brian interpreted that to mean chicken noodle and said "I'll have that."
A moment later another girl came over with a tray of glasses containing more ice than water and set them down. "How y'all doon naht?" she said.
"We're doing just fine, thank you" said Zack. Brian was glad to have Zack along to interpret. The girl went off to another table and in a moment the waitress came with the soup. He was right. It was chicken noodle and it was very good.
When Brian's sizzling steak arrived it was on a plate with some sort of tasty greens and some strange soupy looking stuff. Brian looked at the plate.
"Grits" said Zack.
"Oh" said Brian. "She didn't ask me if I wanted grits."
"Well, this isn't the deep south but in most places you don't have a choice. It comes with the meal, like ice water does."
The waitress had brought a small pot with crushed ice and some slabs of butter. Zack took one and plopped it onto his grits, so Brian did the same.
The meal was excellent, just as Zack had predicted. Brian topped it off with a slice of banana cream pie. As they were leaving there was a delicious aroma coming from the kitchen. When they passed by the waitress Brian said "Smells good. What's cooking?"
"Pays O'Gran" she said.
"Oh" he said, as if he understood.
As they left the young cowboy at the door said "Y'all come back."
Once outside Brian said "All right. What did she say? Pays O'Gran. What's that?"
"Potatoes Au Gratin" said Zack with a grin, as if it was obvious.
Once they got back to the truck Zack said "I've changed my mind. I think I want to drive all night. You up for it?"
"Sure. If you are."
"Let's do it."
Zack eased the truck back onto the highway, There was a lot of traffic coming from the other direction, rush hour from some place Brian guessed. As night fell the traffic lessened up and except far trucks there was very little of it and so the night went by. They crossed the line into Kansas in the dark and headed for Topeka.
To be continued.