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Almost Fiction: Ten-cent coffee

By Sam Jones

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Every Thursday, on the highway at the north end of town, there is a little café that celebrates the past by charging a dime for a cup of coffee. We meet there on Thursdays.

While our motorcycles rest in the dirt parking lot, cups of coffee, hamburgers and pieces of chocolate cream pie are mixed with stories that begin with “remember when.” With those lies completed, we plan future rides. It has been that way since the bikes had kick starters and we all dated the same girls.

“Sam, how was the high school reunion?” I was asked as I added a little cream to my retro-priced cup of coffee.

“It was OK if you want to find out who is dead. A lot of old people talking about their latest aliments and trying to remember the name of the girl who used to wear that tight pink dress.”

“What was her name?” From Bob.

“Peggy.” I have a great flypaper memory. Like flypaper, little bits of trivial flotsam flit through the ether and stick in my brain. “Her name was Peggy.”

“Who was there?” From Buck.

“Remember that girl I took to the senior prom, Debbie, she was there. I bought her a drink but she didn’t remember going with me. In fact, she didn’t remember the prom at all. She could barely recall her senior year.” I sipped at the hot coffee. “Memories are strange. With her it’s not an Alzheimer’s thing; she was always dingy. She just doesn’t remember details. Funny, I can even remember what I wore. The dance was formal. You needed a tuxedo or a black suit. I didn’t have either so I matched a midnight blue sport coat with a pair of black tweed pants. It wasn’t a suit but it came close. Remember Elvis and the “Blue Suede Shoes?” I had a pair of grey suede shoes.”

Patrick added, “Carl Perkins sang “Blue Suede Shoes,” before Elvis.”

“Thanks… see… you’ve got a good memory too. Normally when I wore that blue/black sport coat, I combined it with a long narrow dark navy tie. It matched the coat perfectly. Being the prom and formal, I eschewed the long tie and replaced it with a white bow tie. It wasn’t a real bow tie; sort of crossed in front and without tying in a knot, it held together with a button stickpin. Quite fashionable at the time but later I found it was a mistake. On the prom photos, the white tie on the white shirt made it appear that I hadn’t worn any tie… a bad choice.” I was on a fashion rant.

“Did you lay all of that on her at the reunion?” Bill wondered.

“Yeah, I guess I did, or tried. In the middle of the story, when I got to the bow tie part, some jock from the football team swooped in and drug her to the dance floor. I ended up finishing the story to an anonymous spouse. He listened politely and then said, ‘I had a sister-in-law who couldn’t remember anything about her teenage years. Nothing. She remembers a yellow dress that matched her mom’s and then she was married.’ He told me to whom he was married and left.” The waitress put a stop to all the sport coat talk by topping off our coffee cups.

“Yeah, Carl Perkins wrote “Blue Suede Shoes” in 1955 and it went gold,” Patrick repeated himself.

Harvey turned to Ed, “Let’s test Ed’s memory. I bet he can remember when we rode the motorcycles down from Canada and ended up in Chemult, Oregon. It was a little burg very much like Lee Vining with a gas station/café/motel. Freezing cold on that trip, we stayed in both towns. The café in one had great chicken-fried steak and the other had pizza with handmade crust and homemade sausage. OK, Ed, which was which.”

“Pizza in Lee Vining, chicken-fried steak in Chemult.” Ed was definitive.

Bob wanted to know, “When we rode up to Seattle and stopped in Medford, where did we get that great homemade berry pie? Boysenberry, no blackberry, no raspberry pie, that was the best raspberry pie I ever ate.”

“Rogue River Lodge or something like that. Every café on the Rogue River makes good pie and they all have fresh berries growing at the edge of the parking lots,” Buck joined in.

“We had gooseberry pie at the Idle Isle Café in Brigham City, Utah.”

“No, it was loganberry.”

“Yeah, right, loganberry, it was great.” No one cared about the prom and my sport coat existed only in the distant past. It was now a round-robin conversation about pie.

“You know if we left now we could get some decent pie for tomorrow’s dinner,” from Bill.

“You say something like that every time we have coffee. If we leave now we could have great barbecue in Virginia, great liver and onions in Montana or some such gibberish. OK, today, I’m ready for you. Let’s go. I’m calling your bluff. I’ll see your boysenberry pie and raise you one chicken-fried steak.” Brad, who hadn’t said a thing, had been sitting quietly waiting for just the right moment to spring.

We all laughed, but while kidding Bill it became evident that there was no reason not to go on a road trip for pie and chicken-fried steak. “Debbie didn’t remember the prom, I didn’t remember Carl Perkins but we all remember road trips, pie and steak.” Waxing philosophically I suggested, “You do know that you can never go back; nothing is ever as good as you remember. It will be good but that historical phantom piece of pie will always be the best. You will be competing with the ghost of pie past.”

“Maybe true, maybe no. Let’s go and see.” Ed, with his simplistic argument, set us up for the trip. The next 10 minutes saw men checking motorcycle oil and tire pressure. Cell phones made excuses to wives and work.

“You know, Sam, I don’t think you did take Debbie to the prom. As I recall, I took her. You took her to the winter formal.” My recollections had been called into question by Bob.

Concerned that he may be right, I now had a long road trip to think it over.

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