Iron Horse truck stop and lounge

(From a work in progress in collaboration with D. Berry)

The Iron Horse Truck Stop and Lounge is a crumbling building at the end of town. A white sand parking lot baking under the Florida sun. Broken down fuel pumps. The edge of the lot littered with broken pallets, blown tires, and milk jugs filled with piss. A half-dozen or so big trucks idling, waiting for their Walmart appointment ten miles down the road. The bathrooms are out of order. The shop has Pepsi and expired Twinkies and bait worms. But there is a grill and they’ll make you a bacon cheeseburger with some fries and a Coke. At night they serve Bud Light in aluminum bottles and the jukebox is filled with sad and angry songs which lonely truck drivers and violent bikers play. Locals avoid the place.

Lana pulls into the place around five on a Saturday night. There are already five or six bikes out front. A truck driver is making his way over to the entrance, white dust dragging from his boots. Lana parks her mini-bus close to the exit and watches for a while. She picks at her fingernails and smokes a cigarette and listens to Led Zeppelin on the radio. The CB is on, as always, but it’s quiet. Nobody wanting to talk.

She wishes it was dark. Wishes it was night. She hates the Florida heat. The way it seems to climb inside you. The sweat soaking through her shirt just under her breasts. She opens a bottle of water, finishes the cigarette, and watches the construction creep along US 97. She thinks about Henry, wonders where he is, wonders if she’ll see him again.

Henry used to hang-out at this place, back when cell-phones still worked. He used to deliver to the Walmart down the road. Used to come back here to park when he was unloaded and drink some beer and go to sleep. Lana met Henry here for the first time. She liked him, he was easy to talk to. His Galaxy was on the fritz and she told him that she could fix it.

“You do that?” he asked.

“Uh huh,” she said. “Why? Are you surprised?”

“Kind of,” Henry said. “Most of the guys out here fixing CBs are bald and fat and missing most of their teeth.”

She fixed his Galaxy.

“Is this your usual place?” he asked.

“Sometimes,” she said. “I move around. Kind of an orbit. Florida up to Washington and all points between.”

“Hey, me too. Can I have your number? Call you next time the CB goes out?”

So they exchanged numbers.

“What’s your handle?” he asked.

“Electric Cobra,” she said.

“Electric Cobra? How’d you get that?”

“Maybe one day I’ll tell you.”

“Okay.” He smiled. “Well, they call me Double Clutch. Give me a holler if you ever see me out there on the big road.”

And she did see him. Up there in Nebraska going west on 80 she passed his purple Peterbilt with chrome trim and Robert Crumb mudflaps. And she hollered at him.

“That you, Double Clutch?”

And over the static, “Who’s that, calling for Double Clutch, come on?”

“This is Electric Cobra.”

“Electric Cobra?”

“Electric Cobra from the Iron Horse. I’m glad to hear your Galaxy is going strong.”

“Oh shit. Electric Cobra. How you’ve been?”

“What’s up with your phone? It’s disconnected. You give me a bum number?”

“Oh shit, Double Clutch,” another driver chimed in. “You’re in trouble now.”

And then her phone rang.

“Sorry,” Henry said. “I had to change the number. Some crazy girl kept calling.”

And they talked until Big Springs and she took the split to Denver and he kept on towards Cheyenne.

Henry was always doing that, changing his number.

“You sure do get mixed up with a lot of crazy girls,” she said one night at the tiny bar in Little America.

“I do,” he said. “I don’t know why.”

“But are they crazy? Or are you just too scared to end things?”

He smiled and sipped from a brown bottle. “I don’t know,” he said. “I try to avoid conflict.”

Three bikers turn into the sandy lot riding black motorcycles. They wear black leather and black sunglasses and have long black beards. On the back of the bikes, three girls wearing shorts and tank tops. Skinny girls, their legs and arms white, their hair frazzled. The sun is just starting to go down and the cicadas have started their mating cries. Lana decides it’s time to go in. Maybe the air conditioning will be working. There will at least be cold beer.

Inside is shockingly bright. The walls painted green. Metal chairs bolted to the floor haphazardly. The jukebox already going strong. The place is not designed for socialization. Behind the bar is Dennis. An old for his years man with thinning white hair who’s hunched over and walking with a limp. She orders a Jack Daniels neat and a Bud Light.

“Hey, Lana,” Dennis says. “Haven’t seen you around in a while.” He sets the drinks in front of her.

“Thanks, Dennis,” she says. “Nope, been staying up north mostly. Don’t care much for this humidity.”

Dennis is called away by a rowdy group at the end of the bar. Which is okay. Lana doesn’t feel like having small talk. Not tonight. Tonight she wants to drink. And think.

Some hours and many whiskeys later, she goes out the back door. It’s still hot and muggy. The moon is orange and fat and seems to be laughing at them. She walks out into the brush and squats to take a piss. The clouds are thin and low and the sky is a dancing green, and has been since the Northern Lights moved south. The screaming cicadas and the diesel fumes and the heavy air press against her head. Walking back to the building, she sees one of the bikers. His back against the wall. One of the girls is kneeling in front of him. Blowing him for a piece of meth. Lana decides he’s the one. He’s the one she needs.

And it’s not any sense of justice that motivates her. But it doesn’t hurt.

She walks up to them.

“Hey, honey,” he says. “You want next.”

She smiles. “No. I want now. She get what she needs.”

“Not until she finishes.”

“She’s finished,” Lana says. “Give it to her and come with me.”

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