The campsite had been deserted two and a half hours before dawn and 100 miles ago. Hank and Ed were now off the main highway and rolling slowly the length of the small town’s Main Street in search of a gas station and a café with breakfast and lots of hot coffee. Pulling up in front of the Blue Bottle Café, Ed clicked off his 1953 Harley Panhead, and Hank stepped off his mid-60’s Pan/Shovel letting it idle for a few seconds before flicking the kill switch. Both cut-down specials could trace their lineage back to large touring models but were now totally unique to the individual’s requirements and taste. It was an era of personal expression and the machines they rode exemplified that expression more than any one thing they might ever possess.
In the front corner booth, next to the window, sat the same six farmers who stop in every morning for a cup of coffee and to gossip about the weather, crops and the price of fertilizer. When Ed and Hank entered their conversation stopped. It had been raining, not a deluge but enough to require both men to shake off wet rain gear as they came through the café door.
“Wet enough for you boys?” From one of the farmers.
“Yep, just right. Staying warm and dry is for sissies.” Hank responded with a smile. The farmers smiled back, and the two motormen took a booth on the opposite side of the room allowing the regulars to go back to their conversation about cattle feed.
Ed and Hank had known each other all their adult life, been in the service together, dated some of the same women and had been riding big Harley-Davidson motorcycles forever. Headed east to jobs they had on the East Coast, on this trip neither of the two men were in any particular hurry. This little town was in the center of the country, and their journey had the feeling of being half over.
“You boys look like you could use a cup of coffee. And, if you’re hungry, I suggest our breakfast special,” said the blonde waitress wearing a white uniform with blue trim and a nametag reading “Rose.”
The men accepted her suggestion. After a huge breakfast special of eggs sunny-side up, bacon, sausage, burnt potatoes, a stack of griddle cakes and a gallon of coffee with cream and sugar, Ed said, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” and toasted Hank with a glass of orange juice. Hank, having just finished the same breakfast, except that his eggs were scrambled with added onions and he took his coffee black, picked up his glass and joined in the toast.
Later, Rose sauntered back over for the third time, refilled the coffee cups and asked if there was anything else she could do for the men. With knowing looks they paused just long enough for their response to imply that there was indeed something she could do, but it had nothing to do with food. “Is there anything on the menu I can get for you?” Everyone knew the rules of this game.
She swayed with a deliberately suggestive gait as she walked away. Ed pushed himself back from the table so that it no longer hindered his view of her slightly tight skirt while Hank lit a cigarette and smiled a contented smile.
It had been a little more than an hour in the Blue Bottle Café when Ed and Hank donned their rain gear and headed for the door. One of the farmers gave them a salute with his coffee cup and said, “You boys stay dry out there.”
Handing them two towels so they could wipe down the dripping bikes Rose said, “You boys come back and see us… ya hear?”
Hank returned the farmer’s gesture with a nod of the head and a semi-military salute and gave Rose a smile when he took the towels.
Outside, Hank said, “You know, this is a nice little town, and that was a great breakfast. We ought to do what she said and come back here sometime.”
Nearly 45 years later, again in the rain, a 1953 Harley Panhead and a mid-60’s Pan/Shovel exited the freeway at the off-ramp for the “The Old Highway” and then onto the little town’s Main Street. The town was still there, but it was not as the two riders had remembered. Before every building held a thriving business, now more than half of them were vacant. The gas station continued to sell fuel, there was a general store, a small grocery and the Blue Bottle Café’s neon sign still worked and shone brightly, reflecting its name in the puddles on the street.
Ed clicked off his Panhead, and Hank stepped off his Pan/Shovel letting it idle for a few seconds before flicking the kill switch. Having lived and worked half a lifetime on the East Coast, now in poor health, Ed figured he had one last cross-country trip left in him, and this was it. So they were back on the road. Now it was time to go back to the West Coast, back to the starting place, back to where their families had emigrated and back to the largest experimental V.A. Hospital where Agent Orange was not a myth and where real treatment could be had. This little town had notched a place in their memories and had never been forgotten. Rose’s words were still remembered. “You boys come back and see us sometime… ya hear?”
As Ed and Hank walked into the Blue Bottle Café, two elderly farmers sat in the front corner booth. One of them said, “Wet enough for you boys?”
“Yep, just right. Staying warm and dry is for sissies.” Hank responded with a smile.
Walking across the room, the two old bikers sat themselves down and rechecked their memories of the café. A young waitress wearing a white uniform with blue trim and a name tag that said “Rose” appeared with two cups and a beaker of hot coffee. “You boys look like you could use a cup of coffee.” Without waiting for an answer she poured.
“I’ll bet you’ve got a grandma whose name is also Rose.” Said Hank.
“Yep. She used to own this place. How did you know?”
“Traditional names like yours seem to skip a generation, don’t they?”
Ed smiled and added cream and sugar to his coffee.