The door of the Waffle House swings shut behind me, the air whooshing past expelling me forward. I should have rented a mustang. Laughing I look back only to see my newly wed wife, head on the table, resting next to a plate of hash browns piled high. I see the scantily clad waitress (name tag pinned to the spaghetti strap of her definitely 2 sizes too small shirt) place a hand on her shoulder and comfortingly, with as much sympathy as she could muster, say what looked to be, "Would you like some coffee honey? It's on the house." My wife looks up at the proffered cup, I can imagine her thoughts, "Irish?" Instead she just nods her head. I can't help but chuckle at the interaction I just witnessed between the strip service waffle waitress (don't quit your day job honey) and my beautiful wife; our first meal as husband and wife, hash browns and coffee, how romantic… Ahhh (I can already see it now, our auto diographical book -- Our Life and Waffle House).
I turn and start walking back to our car, parked in a parking lot 2 miles away. My wife wanted me to go and get our computers from the car. Right after pushing it into a spot and setting our parking break on the car, sweat still on my brow, a homeless man on a bicycle came up and said, "Excuse me sir, my name is John Brown." "Hi John, I'm Lark." "Well Clark you know today is my birthday. How are you?" "Well John I'm great." "That's good, I'm not doing too well, my dog actually died yesterday but I've also been clean for 3 years as of today." Eyes wide and lips chapped make me doubt that, let alone the fact that he is asking money from a guy who just pushed his multicolored car, the words 'just married' still caked on the back window, into a parking spot. I guess I am wearing a suit, but seriously John? "Sure John here's a quarter. Happy 4th." "God bless you sir." "You too John. You too." As I walk back towards the car, hoping that I will not find John using our quarter to somehow jimmy the door, I think how we got here.
Badump badump badump badump. "Sorry! I'm just feeling so tired. It was hot today." "Better not get too tired mister we've got a good ways to- " Izzy stops short, "- What's happening to the radio?" This was the first sign of trouble, "Nothing, I bet we're just in the boonies." 'Carry on my wayward soooo krshchhhhhhh ere'll be hope krschhhhhhh.' We have fun filling in the gaps but I realize there is about to be trouble; wanting to distract my wife I come up with the single best smoke screen, "CANDY BARS!!"
We pull over at a gas station and she runs inside following the alluring call of coke cans and gummy bears drawn in by their sweet siren's song. I watch the heads turn as she walks by. Boonie bumpkins looking to lure her in with their F Ford - 450s and yellow crooked tooth smiles, wads of dip resembling lip tumors the size of Madagascar. I get out of the car and put the gas pump into the tank, setting the handle to pump automatically, I slide my card… "Zipcode please." … 79601 … "You are a long way from home, Bob. Receipt?" … No… "Your car is going to break down, Bob, at least it could look nice. Carwash?"… No and shut up my name isn't Bob… "Please select gas type -- Bob." Selected, the gas starts pumping. I pop the hood and take a look inside. Does anyone know why we do this? I know I won't have anymore of an idea of how to fix my car let alone know what is wrong with it just by staring at a dirty engine, but I always look anyways secretly hoping that Greasy, the less known 8th dwarf, will have placed large well lit arrows pointing from Point A to Point B, making it as simple as plugging in a refrigerator or lighting a pilot light, my wife would come back, the obnoxious talking pump would give us gas for free ("Your welcome Bob."), the car would start, and we'd ride off into the sunset singing, "Wouldn't it be nice if we…" by the Beach Boys. But the sun has already set, it is dark, and even if I could see my engine I would still have no idea what I was doing. Hood closed, gas pumped, engine started, and most importantly candy acquired, we start driving.
Distracted by the gummy bear villagers ("No please don't eat me!" "Take red he's fatter.") my wife doesn't notice the speedometer which is fluctuating wildly between 0 and 100 even though, judging by the surrounding traffic, we are going a steady 60. "Oh no." I accidentally say, letting a silent prayer run through my mind, now my mantra. "What is it?" Izzy asks, two mauled 'gladiator gummies' in her open hand. I recover quickly, "I forgot to ask for directions at the gas station." "Okay! I'll look it up on your phone!"
Over the next 60 miles of dark tree lined highway our radio would finally die completely, the rpm, gas tank, and speedometer would all start gesticulating violently as if to say, "HEY! Something is not right!" And every single one of our, 'this crap is broken,' lights would come on. Thankfully our dash is deep set so my wife couldn't see them. A mere 3 miles from our hotel, at a stoplight, all of these signs finally paid out their death blow.
The car, dying, made it through the stop light on dreams alone, at this point all of the lights on our car were coming on and off in no way in unison with one another.
We looked ridiculous.
"Lark! What is happening?"
"I don't know honey, I think the car is dying."
"That's obvious, is this why the radio was coming on and off?"
(Did you know this was happening is really what she was asking.)
Incredulous eyebrows raised, I know what's coming next don't you?
Having seen numerous sitcoms on such a subject and having watched my own parents in such situations I brace myself for the storm.
She sighs, and says,
"Why didn't you tell me. It's okay, I love you, let's get off this road."
I remember why I married her six hours ago.
Pushing the car down an empty sidestreet towards a deserted parking lot, I in my white linen wedding suit, streamers now limp, trail of cans scraping and scuttling along the concrete, we are truly a sad sight. An ambulance stops and helps us (I can imagine the EMS nurse saying to the gunshot victim inside, "You can wait. Just apply pressure here.").
In the parking spot (a little off center, I decide not to straighten it out), waving goodbye to our EMS friends, "Happy 4th." We prepare to walk to the hotel, the bright yellow Waffle House sign glowing in the distance, calling us to it, welcoming us to a hot cup of coffee and a piled plate of hash browns. How strange life is.