Friday, October 19, 2018

Free Write Friday #3: Hoosier Diner

You are lost in the back-roads of Indiana when you drive past a lonely diner. Inside you find it packed with people, all seemingly from different time periods. You quickly realize that this diner exists independent of time.

I was heading southwest from the amusingly named town of French Lick, winding my way through the back roads that crossed the forested hills of the Hoosier National Forest. I was hungry and was annoyed that I hadn't bothered to eat breakfast back at the motel. I had given it some serious thought, but after four days in a row of desultory and pathetic looking continental breakfasts, I had decided that I couldn't bear the thought of looking at a sad, pathetic cheese danish on a tiny, cheap plastic plate with the cheapest and most terrible coffee imaginable in a slightly dirty mug to drink. So, I left early and hit the road. This was, I thought at the time, a good plan. I had to make my rendezvous near Uniontown by sunset and my contact had been very clear: the boat wouldn't wait forever.

But here's the thing: driving always makes you hungry. Your mind can only take in so much scenery before you start trying to distract yourself from the hunger gnawing at your belly and despite the rolling hills and the wooded forest around me, I found myself thinking of the perfect hot breakfast. Eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, toast and really really good coffee. Man, I thought, hash browns would be so good right now- and then, just like that, almost in response to my musings, a sign appeared on the side of the road:

HOOSIER DINER, it read. 500 FEET AHEAD.

Weird, I thought, but I was hungry and I figured 'roadside diner' would have exactly the kind of breakfast I was looking for. Soon enough, it came into view and I slowed down and, flipping on my indicator, pulled into the gravel parking lot. The diner was set at the edge of a valley that ran back into the heart of the hills. It was early morning, so the valley was still full of mist that seemed to creep to the edge of the back of the parking lot of the diner. I didn't think anything of it as I pulled into a parking space and turned my car off. I stepped out of the car and, shutting the door behind me, headed toward the front entrance. As I walked past the windows to the front door, I saw that the place was absolutely packed, which should have alerted me to something unusual about the place, given how empty the parking lot was. I paid it no mind however and merely walked to the front door, opened it and stepped in.

"Ah good sir," a booming bass voice echoed from the corner of the diner. "Welcome, you may seat yourself." I turned to see an old man with silver hair and a beard beaming at me from the corner where he was giving some customers their breakfast. "I shall be with you momentarily." Feeling a bit bemused at his formality, I found an empty table toward the far end of the diner and sat down. I grabbed a menu from where they were wedged in between the napkin holder and the ketchup and glanced over it. Sure enough, they had what I was looking for: "Hoosier Diner Breakfast," I said aloud. Eggs, sausage, hash browns, toast and coffee. Then I kept looking down the menu. Scrapple, hasty pudding and something called sofkee were all there along with an impressive selection of beers and ciders- though the cider was spelled 'cidre' and not the usual way. I opened it up and was surprised again: sapan, nokake, bird brain stew and something called akutaq were listed. Along with the traditional lunchtime sandwiches like the Reuben, the BLT and the Hoosier Trencher and the Belegde Broodje, whatever that was.

I looked around, somewhat confused as the man who had welcomed me came bustling over to my table. "Welcome good sir, my name is Benjamin Harrison and I am the owner and proprietor of this fine eating establishment, What may I get you today?"

"Benjamin Harrison," I asked. "Like the President?"

"No," he replied, a knowing smile on his face. "I was the President once upon a time. Until that bastard Cleveland beat me for re-election in 1892."

"That's not possible," I said. "It's not 1892. It's... 2018. You're...  well,  you're dead."

He sighed. "A long time ago, I would have agreed with you," he said. "I'm still not entirely sure how or why this place exists, but I do know that it exists outside of time. I thought I was on my deathbed you see and then suddenly... I was here."

"Does that mean I'm dead?" Looking around I could see that maybe he was right. There were a lot of different people crowded into the diner. There were Native Americans, tucking into bowls of what seemed like porridge. A man and a woman in colonial dress were eating what looked like a souffle. Harrison laughed. "Goodness know," he said. "People come and people go all the time." He pointed to the pictures behind the counter. "I've had all kinds of people come eat here. The funnyman, Red Skelton, Kurt Vonnegut, and hell, even Wendell Wilkie- in fact," Harrison pointed. "There is right over there." He raised his voice slightly. "How are you Wendell?"

"I'm on the wrong end of an electoral ass-kicking, Harrison," the man replied. "Roosevelt took thirty eight out of the forty eight states." He raised a stein of beer. "I managed to win good old Indiana though, bless her."

"You'll be wanting steak then?"

"You read my mind, Harrison."

"Coming up right up, Wendell," Harrison replied. "Right after I help this gentlemen."

"How is this possible?" I said again, knowing that I probably sounded incredibly stupid doing so.

"Never mind how it's possible," Harrison replied. "Just know that it is." He looked around and sighed. "I'll admit, I thought this was a bit of a step down from the Presidency and my law career, but after awhile, it began to grow on me. There's nothing quite like meeting people and feeding them and making sure they go on their way well fed and happy. It's almost relaxing after being President."

I wrestled with everything he had told me for an moment more and then shrugged my shoulders and just decided to go with it. Maybe I had gone off the road and I was actually dead. Maybe this was some kind of weird hallucination. Maybe I'd gone insane and just hadn't realized it yet. None of it really mattered, because when it came right down to it, I was still hungry.

"Is the food good?"

"You better believe it," Harrison replied.

"Well, in that case, I'll take The Hoosier Breakfast with rye toast and eggs sunny side up. And a pot of your best coffee."

Harrison scribbled it all down on his pad and then gave me a broad grin. "Coming right up!"

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