Dueling Boomboxes

I hauled into the nondescript town of Show Low, Arizona and immediately spotted my kind of cafe in a building several years past needing a coat of paint and ringed by pickup trucks. No flashing neon sign, no drive-up window and no fake hitching rack out front. It was just pure restaurant, there for one purpose: to serve food to hungry people. Show Low sits in the middle of nowhere on Highway 60 and even before the interstates crawled across the nation, it lived like a poor relative to Route 66, several miles to the north and known as The Main Street of America. Signs in Amarillo, where 60 and 66 crossed paths, told California-bound drivers that Highway 60 would save them 90 miles but few of them made the turn.

I was met by a cacophony of noise and smoke the second I opened the door, but what's one to expect in a place like that. Cigarette smoke I can understand, but the noise level was something akin to the din of a shipyard. However, it sounded as though it might have had a musical origin. The waitress plopped a menu and a glass of water on the table and left me to ponder the list of mostly fried choices.

I gave her my order and determined that the kitchen was the source of all that discord. From where I was sitting I could see into the kitchen each time the waitress shoved her way through the pair of swinging doors. There was a wall about five feet high separating the stoves on one side and the dish washing tubs on the other. A shelf on top of the wall held stacks of plates in easy reach of the cook who looked like he had spent a great deal of his life behind a chuck wagon. He wore a beat-up western hat with a two-inch wide sweat stain around it and had a white towel tucked into his belt as an apron. He wore cowboy boots and his legs were so bowed that he couldn't have headed off a pig in a ditch. He had half a dozen cast iron skillets going strong as he prepared the orders clipped under clothespins along the edge of the plate shelf.

Across the wall from him was the dishwasher up to his elbows in suds as he swilled the plates, first in one tub, then the second and finally put them on edge in the rack to be shoved through the steam box. If there were ever two total opposites, it was that pair. The dish washer looked like something that had just been rescued from his latest acid trip. He wore sandals, jeans with the knees out, a tie-died T-shirt and had enough greasy, matted hair to stuff a mattress.

Then I saw the source of all the noise; a pair of boom boxes back to back on the plate shelf. From the way they were cranking out the decibels, they must have had every knob on them cranked all the way to the right. Waylon and Willie were twanging from the one pointed toward the cook while 1960s acid rock pounded from the one directed at the hippie dish washer.

When the waitress brought my order, I asked her above the din, "How do you put up with that?"

"Oh, that's a lot better than what we had a couple weeks ago."

I thought to myself, "I wonder what they had then, a train wreck?"


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Copyright 2001 by Jim Foreman