Miss Albany Diner

“Cross Country” by Dean Goldberg

Albany 1969

Later, as the bennies wore off, the fog got so thick Ethan could see the bits of brownish oil hanging in the cooling mist, murky and backlit from the headlights of Larry’s rig. When they stopped for gas they passed the mercury vapor lights that dotted the service road and gave off a yellowish stain against the black night. Then at the station, giant grim fluorescents bent over the gas pumps lighting the oily concrete in an unworldly and unforgiving greenish glow. The driver, all business now, watched as the diesel fuel got pumped into the truck, looking at his watch every minute or two. A gas jockey ran over his way to let him know about a speed trap, “Just down the road about eight miles, been tagging truckers all night.” He watched the young, pocked marked kid working and sweating under those ghastly lights, hypnotized by this boy covered in grease and gas fumes, a brother from a distant world.

They both talked for over the humming sound of the fluorescent lights, interrupted every once in a while, by a clanking bell that signaled a new customer. This is a strange nighttime America, he thought to himself. A sleepless, frenetic population that never seems to rest.

At about five in the morning, Ethan woke Sal up as they pulled into the parking lot of a dimly lighted diner just outside of Albany. It was pretty empty, the only customers a couple of truckers sitting in the back. The whole place smelled of gasoline, stale cigarettes, and coffee. Behind the long counter, giant mounds of half-cooked bacon had been heaped on top of an industrial size griddle, fat evaporating toward a brown-stained ceiling and then outward, cutting through the stale smoke and adding a depressing and grimy mist to the already rancid atmosphere. The three travelers sat in a booth close to the door, while a waitress came over and filled three dirty glasses with water and handed each of us laminated menus that were stained and slick with greasy fingerprints.

“Ya boys know what ya want or you want a few minutes?”

The driver gave the waitress a wink. “Let’s have some coffee and by the time you got the cups filled, we’ll be ready, little darlin’ ”

She looked at the two boys, and then at Larry. Ethan could tell she wasn’t quite sure what to make of the three of them. But she just raised one thinly painted eyebrow and turned lazily toward the kitchen. Larry put down the menu and yelled in the direction the waitress. “Just fix us up three burgers and some fries, honey.” The waitress echoed the order to the cook.