I was driving south from Syracuse to Florida, taking an elderly woman's car for her. Staring out the window, feeling sort of lonely. It gets that way sometimes out on the road, when you are by yourself and driving hundreds and hundreds of miles. I try not to dwell on the fact that there is no one waiting back home for me keeping a candle lit in the window. For that matter, there is no home to go to. I'm just a wanderer.
My cell phone rang. "This is Bill."
"Hello Bill, this is Mrs. Sherman." Ha, I thought to myself, speaking elderly women. "How are you today, Bill?"
"I'm fine, Mrs. Sherman, and yourself?"
"Oh good, good, fair to middlin'."
"Bill, I'm about to bake a batch of brownies, and I can't seem to remember where I put the recipe for them. Do you know where I put it?"
"No idea, ma'am."
"I'm using the Betty Crocker batter."
I paused. "Is it a box mix?"
"Then the mixing and cooking instructions are right on the box."
"What? Why I'm looking at it right now, and you just happen to be right. Isn't that something?"
"Well, I wish you were here to share the brownies with me."
"Maybe next time."
"Will you come and drive my car down to Florida again soon?"
"Anytime you're ready, just call my boss Riff."
It sounded like she dropped her phone, so I hung up. I had been reading signs for a Diner that sounded very interesting. There had been a series of humorous signs for the last 30 miles. So I got off at the next exit and decided to give it a try.
It was called FRANK'S PLACE and it said "For Those Who Know." I parked and walked in. A cute, chubby waitress said, "Hey darlin', just sit anywhere you want, I'll be along in minute."
I sat in a booth, and almost immediately felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned, and a big fellow in the booth behind me stared at me with a goofy grin. He was nodding his head, as if in anticipation. "Can I help you?" I asked.
"How can I help you?"
"You like movies?"
"Yes, I do. A lot, in fact."
"You ever see that great movie THE GODFATHER starring Steve Martin. Hey just kidding, just kidding."
I smiled and turned back to my booth. A minute later, he tapped me on the shoulder again. I turned to him. "Yes?"
"Hey buddy, did you ever see that movie JAWS starring Jerry Lewis. Hey just kidding, just kidding." He turned his back to me, so I turned back in my booth. Odd, but I'm getting used to odd.
It wasn't long before I felt a tapping again on my shoulder, and I turned. "Hey, did you ever see that great comedy AIRPLANE! starring John Wayne. Just kidding, just kidding."
The waitress walked up about that time. Thank goodness! "Hi, I'm Sharon, and I'll be happy to help you. Whatcha havin'?" There was a tap on my shoulder again, causing Sharon to shout. "Al, you leave this poor man alone."
Al got defensive. "Hey, I didn't mean nothin'. I was just kidding, that's all."
"Mind your business, Al," she warned him.
"Can I get two egg and cheese sandwiches, and can you put tomato on them. And ice water."
"Yep, I appreciate it." I felt a tap on my shoulder again, and shouted, "Make it to go." Then I looked back at Al. He was grinning mischievously and bobbing his head.
"Did you ever see that classic movie RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK starring Lucille Ball. Just kidding, I'm just kidding you." Then he jumped up and moved to my table, sitting across the booth from me. "This is silly, we shouldn't be back to back, we should face each other so we can talk better. Right? Right? Am I right?"
"Yes, I guess so."
"Did you ever see the movie STAR WARS with Mr. Tom Hanks starring in it? Hey, just kidding."
Desperate to change the subject, I said "I saw a billboard that said FRANK'S PLACE For Those Who Know. And I wondered, for those who know what?"
"They just know."
"But what is it they know."
Al's eyes got very wide, as he said, "Oh, they know. They know. Believe me when I tell you, they really do know." Al kept talking, but I sort of tuned him out until Sharon got back with my food. I had the cash all ready for her, tip included, and I got up to leave.
"Well Al, it was real nice talking to you. Just kidding."
He looked stunned, and then he laughed and pointed at me. "Oh, you're kidding me. When you said you were kidding, you were just kidding. You are a kidder."
"See you here tomorrow?"
"Doubtful." As I got into the car and drove away, I had to think that interaction with any human being was better than abject loneliness. Even if he was one of "Bill's people."