I’d left my car in my host’s garage in Indy while I took the bus up to Chicago where I’d spent 5 days. On the way back, I picked up the car and was driving east on 74 from Indy back to Cinci. I love the bigger cities but whether it’s something like a reaction to acute exposure or the relief of knowing all the logistics have worked out and I’m not stranded in downtown Chicago, having missed a bus or whatever, on leaving I find myself wanting a place that’s different and in a way familiar. It’s like putting your feet back on solid ground, though life back to normal isn’t all that grand.
I pulled off the interstate and found Stories, this old restaurant in downtown Greensburg, Indiana. My father used to work road construction for the state of Indiana, which put him in every town and -burg and -ville in southeast Indiana. So he’s told me where he and the construction crews would go for lunch in the various towns, like Trackside Cafe which is closed now. Storie’s in Greensburg was another one. I’ve gone there a handful of times. I always get the pork tenderloin – Indiana’s signature food- with pickle and onion, just like my father does. Stories is also known for their pie.
It was around 3 pm. There was me, the waitress, and what mighta been the owner and somebody he knew sitting at the counter. Shortly after, the men left. The owner acknowledged me with something like “how are you today?”, which I responded to amicably. Then he disappeared to the back. The waitress was less friendly, keeping the talk strictly platonic. So much for all that nonsense about small town charm or quaintness or whatever.
For a few minutes I was all alone so I pulled out my phone to fuck around. Then some fella in dusty jeans and work boots comes in. He’s got on thick and unfashionable glasses and a ball cap that, from the back, I’d almost guess he was entirely bald. See, there’s hardly no hair inside that arch above the plastic strip that you use to adjust the hat with. Those are called snapback caps these days. There’s just a lot of scalp with some petulant but long straggling tufts poking out of the arch at haphazard angles. He orders coffee. “Just coffee,” he says. Then he sits at a 9 o’clock position to the bar and looks out the window with his coffee.
More folks start coming in. There’s a fat man in jeans and a long sleeve, collared shirt and brown shoes – those kind stuck somewhere between athletic shoes and strictly hiding shoes. My uncle has a similar wardrobe, only with suspenders. He looks fresh. He grabs a table by himself and orders. Then he starts reading from a hardcover book.
Another flabby man enters in a wrinkly and faded polo shirt. He grabs a booth and orders food and coffee. The waitress says she’ll have to make some fresh, so it’ll take a few minutes. That means I got the old shit.
Another man enters. He sits at the counter with one pedestal chair between us.
He orders 6 breaded tenderloin sandwiches to go. He orders them plain. The waitress says it’ll take a while and he says he figured that, that’s why he brought a book. And sure enough, he had, some hardcover with script on it that reminded of Tom Clancy, whatever those kinda novels are.
Then two old ladies walked in and took a booth. I didn’t stare long so I can’t give many details other than there was nothing exceptional to their appearance. Small town old ladies, I thought. I’ve known many.
One of them musta ordered a milkshake cause I heard the waitress grumble when she came back behind the counter and got out the milk and started messing with all the steel cups for the milkshake mixer. It wasn’t that warm outside but when you want a milkshake, well then, that’s what you want.
Some time passed and I was eating and just wasting time on my phone. That’s when I looked around and noticed – and I’m not making this up – that I was the only prick on a cellphone. There were two ladies sitting in a booth having a real conversation over Pepsi and a milkshake. There was the fella at the bar with his coffee and the fella in the booth, both staring out the same big window onto Main Street, just thinking. Entertaining themselves with their thoughts and memories, I suppose. There was the fella who was waiting on his 6 tenderloins and the one at the table in his green, collared shirt- both of them reading books. Real books.
I’d just spent 5 days in the heart of a major city where I’d noticed how consumed people are with their electronics. How isolated and out of touch with our surroundings those gadgets make us. And I thought it was everywhere. Cinci, Indy, Louisville and Chicago. All the same.
But out there in Greensburg, for maybe 15 or 20 minutes, it wasn’t the same. It was just me. I was the only asshole. So I put my phone down and let it be. That is, I let the phone be and I let the scene be.
But then they started to filter out. The fella at the bar with just coffee left first. Then Mr. 6 Tenderloins who declared upon paying, “I make ’em last.” I took this to mean all those sandwiches were for him, not a group, and that he was gonna try to make them last for a few days. He paid and then left with his book and two sacks, each stuffed with 3 tenderloins stacked in clamshell styrofoam.
Shortly after the door from the back entrance opened. A tanned and thin and dirty old man in a fluorescent yellow hoodie took the stool where Tenderloin had been. By appearance, this grizzled fella must still be working some sort of physical labor.
He took the seat and the waitress asked what he wanted. Without answering, he pulled out his phone. It seemed like there was something there he wanted to show her; something to get out of the way before talking about the food and drink or anything else.
Well, it was interesting while it lasted, I thought. While he fucked with the phone, the waitress asked if I wanted a fill up (meaning the coffee – the fresh stuff now) to go along with the pie. See, I hadn’t said anything about the pie, she just knew. I said “no” to the coffee but “yes” to the pie – to go. I got the butterscotch, which, as I was paying, is what the fella with his phone ended up getting too.