February 6, 2010 7:07:00 PM
"Barney came to the gossip bench and said ''I barbecued a dog
on a tractor axle yesterday down at the dump yard''
And nobody looked surprised, if they were listening at all
''Cause when you''re old to act surprised you have to try real hard."
"Barney" - Written and recorded by Mac McAnally
I''m to service station food what Craig Claiborne is to the finer dining establishments in New York. On my travels here and yon I have subconsciously recorded where the lamps are that warm the best burritos, egg rolls and, above all, chicken tenders that Mississippi has to offer.
To this day I give the Mississippi Department of Transportation "down the road" for bypassing Bud''s in Carthage. That bypass led to the demise of the best purveyor of chicken tenders in the Great State of Mississippi. If there was a Chicken Tender Hall of Fame, a bust of old Bud would be the first thing you would see when you walked in the door.
Heading home Tuesday evening after a two-day road trip I decided to pull into one of my favorite stations for a bite to eat. I like their ribs. Cheapskate that I am, I knew that if they had a few left I could get the "day-old" price. They had one small rack of ribs left, neatly sealed in plastic wrap.
"Hon, can I get you a roll and some sauce?" the nice lady behind the counter asked. (There''s nothing sweeter to my ear than a nice Southern lady calling me hon.)
"Hold the roll, but some sauce would be nice, thank you ma''am."
"Here''s some extra sauce. You enjoy those ribs, darling."
I plunked down four bucks at the cash register and got change back, and that''s with a can of caffeine free Diet Coke.
Men of few words
On my usual stops at this station, normally much earlier in the day, their tables are blanketed with morning newspapers and the chairs taken up by a revolving group of local men enjoying a good chuckle and morning coffee.
I was a little surprised to find a group of coffee drinkers so late in the evening. I sat down by myself one table over from them. Something just wasn''t right about this group. Pushing 60, it''s hard for me to categorize folks as "old" any more. Maybe these guys were just tired -- real tired.
Unlike the usual crowd, this group of men didn''t talk much. The fire was gone. I timed the lapse in conversation once -- three minutes and 43 seconds of staring at each other in total silence. Note: I do need to get a life.
Only two of them actually made attempts at conversation. I named them Mr. Pontificator A and Mr. Pontificator B. The other two gentlemen in the group were the "amen" guys. One would offer a "Hell, yeah" and the other a "You got that right."
Some of the talk at the table went like this.
"I think that the government has something to do with these Toyota accelerators. They''ve got to do something to make GM look good after they gave ''um all our money," said Mr. Pontificator A. He quickly got a "Hell, yeah." Not one person challenged his theory.
Then Mr. Pontificator B reported, "I was watching that Saints game the other Sunday. Those announcers couldn''t wait to get something on there about Katrina, like that''s the only place it hit."
Mr. Pontificator B went on to express an idea that will never make the Corps of Engineers short list: "If I was in charge, I''d blow those levees up and wouldn''t let them build the first thing on any piece of ground that got wet."
The other gentlemen in the "amen corner" quickly offered up a "You got that right."
Then silence. I didn''t time it this time. It was surreal. All of a sudden I was in a Coen Brothers movie. One by one, each man got up and left without saying the first "Goodbye" or "I''ll see you tomorrow."
The last words spoken were by Mr. Hell, Yeah who uttered to himself, "I think I''ll get a half a cup before I go," as Mr. Pontificator A walked out the door. Sadly, his only complete sentence of the evening went unheard.
If there''s one thing I celebrate in my old age, it''s my having a pretty diverse group of friends. Their views of the universe span from horizon to horizon. Like these gentlemen, I, too, can conjure up some pretty bizarre ways of looking at things. My good fortune is that my friends challenge me. They make me think. They all make me better.
Someday, one of them might express this same sentiment. If that ever happens, I''ll look at them, grin and say, "You got that right!"
Roger owns Bayou Management, Inc. and is also a semi-pro guitar player.