Christmas on the road brings challenges to the American trucker, even if the only loved one left at home is a teddy bear. Eastbound approaching Rawlins, Wyoming one cold Christmas weekend, I wasn’t thinking “free” or even “hot”, but thinking just “food”! I had high hopes for what was then Rip Griffin’s truckstop, and looked forward to their holiday menu. Now a superstore T/A Travel Plaza, back then it was still a family owned way station.
Still a few miles out, mouth watering in anticipation, I overheard two truckers on the CB badmouthing Rip Griffin’s free steak dinner. One might have thought their steak was seasoned only with profanity. It definitely didn’t ring with a spirit of gratitude, that’s for sure!
“Don’t bite the hand that feeds ya, driver”, I said, keying the radio mic, “show a little, you know, goodwill to men and peace on earth, okay?”
“Oh Yeah?” one driver responded. “Why don’t YOU order the free steak dinner, then see how much charity you’ll be having!”
“Thanks, Hand”, I said. “That’s exactly what I’ll do!” I brimmed with confidence.
Parking was free and plentiful, back then, so it was easy to get close, park straight, and stay dry. Just a short walk later I entered the nearly empty café. This might have been a clue to a brighter mind than mine, but instead I sat at a table and waited. And waited. And waited. Then I pulled out a deck of cards, to play solitaire, thinking it might draw attention. It didn’t.
Finally a waitress showed to take my order for the free steak dinner. I requested it exactly the way I like it: Steak, medium. Baked potato, loaded. Strawberry shortcake, cold. Coffee, piping hot. It sounded perfect, to me, and I waited with great delight. And my deck of cards.
After what seemed an eternity, the cook came out, mumbling something about the waitress gone home with hepatitis, or tighty whities, or something like that. Carrying my dinner in one hand, he had a cigarette in the other. It was impossible to miss that the only thing in my baked potato was his thumb. Saying he was sorry for the decay, or maybe it was “delay”, then brushing the ashes of a Marlboro off my table, he didn’t wince as his thumb turned bright red. But I did.
The steak was not done well, but it was well done, so much that it broke my knife. A Buck knife, driver. It was difficult to see what was tougher— the steak, or the cook. Or which was older. As for the strawberry shortcake, well, it was neither. To this day, no one has made a positive identification.
It was then that I had a sudden and urgent hunger for Little Debbie Snack Cakes. That’s when I excused myself, left a tip, and got the truck outta Dodge. Just a few minutes into resuming my workday I met another west bounder who wondered about a good meal this Christmas Day. Recalling my earlier CB conversation with those two yahoos, I told him the absolute truth.
“Little America!” I shouted, almost unable to contain myself, “just on up the road a hundred miles!”
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.