It was eleven o’clock. The dining room was closed and I had no more guests in my section. My last table had squared up and cleared out ten minutes earlier. It had been one of those nights when I’d felt more like a performing circus monkey than a waiter. No more grinning and begging, shuckin’ n’ jivin’ for tips. I was finished—for the night, anyway. All that stood between me and the sweet freedom side of those restaurant doors was my closing side-work. Determined, I snatched in my second wind like a hungry Doberman snatches up a raw, blood red leg of lamb. I struck the tedious set of chores that opposed me like a tornado through a trailer park..
I refilled condiment caddies, wiped off tables, swept floors; I moved with purpose—a man on a mission. All of that fury lasted about fifteen minutes. I was at the bottom of the hourglass and the sand was piling up quickly. My high-speed action retarded into syrupy, surreal slow motion. I was hurting. My legs quivered and my back yelped in pain like a dog being clubbed. I’d had enough, so I made my decision . The rest of my time was spent peeping and ducking, half-assing and hiding. I moved with a shifty ease as I cut every perceivable corner. Time was of the essence. My freedom would not be delayed.
Finally, at ten minutes till twelve I’d reached my desired end. An eternity had passed but now I was ready to ante up and settle out my receipts. I shoved my hand into my apron pocket and yanked out the evening’s booty. “Fifty dollars…that’s it?” My voice cracked. Rolling my eyes I played back the countless times that I had responded “Yes ma’am” and “No sir”. I had done everything for those people (before they’d asked), except chew their food for them. I had provided a seamless stream of quality dining experiences. Where, I wondered, was the gratitude in their dismissive gratuities? There was going to be no beer and barstool for me. It was just as well though; I had just moved down to my dad’s to get my head and my finances together. Cashing out took thirty minutes or so, then I hit the doors; a bull on parade.
So there we were I-77 and me. Our relationship took on a strange love-hate twist. I loved her because she was leading me to where I laid my head. I hated her because I had to ride that curveless concrete whore—again! Once past the shiny, bright, white, blue and amber neon of Charlotte’s southern rim, there was nothing but a funeral procession of trees. Spire-like monuments of life during daylight hours, submerged in midnight they were stygian sentinels that mocked me.
Their hypnotic monotony warped my reality. My perception of time and space skewed, translating my terra firma bound vehicle into a liberated flight machine. No longer was I rolling on four wheels; I was flying in the cockpit of my mind. The spectral trees blurred into union with the night sky. My headlights beamed defiantly onward. The Black Crows howled Southern Harmony and Musical Companionship at me from the speakers, as I flipped the switch from numbed autopilot to conscious control. I was buzzing; my mind a hive of cracking Tesla coils. The reflective vinyl of interstate highway signs streaked past like shooting stars.
Upon approaching my rural outpost, I swooped in low and touched down smoothly. With my vehicle back in automobile form, I crawled up the gravel covered landing strip and came to a halt beside my dad’s black and gray pickup truck. The simple split-level house was my bastion. Approximately fifty feet ahead, at the end of the driveway there stood a lamppost. It was the only man-made light on six acres of land. Pale, chalky luminosity fell from its head and a dampening silence hung in the air. Laying my head back against the headrest I closed my eyes. I was still pissed about my meager earnings. It seemed the harder I tried to get ahead, the faster I ran, the farther I fell behind. I popped the car door open and was greeted by a cricket cantata that dusted the darkness like audio gold.
I made it only midway up the sidewalk before I stopped. I don’t know why, I just stopped and looked up. The full moon discharged a light unlike the sickly effort from the lamppost. The moonlight glared, a fire in the middle of a tar pit. Head thrown back, my mouth an open cavity, I turned round and round transfixed by the stars. They were salt tossed over a bleak heaven’s shoulder. With the experience of that common moment’s bizarre uniqueness, came an epiphany.
I was sucker-punched by the awareness of my existence, and how important it is to just be a human being—not a human doing. With that realization, I crumpled as I exhaled and sat down where I stood. On that particular pinch of earth, at that precise time, I was at peace. The agenda of goals that I’d been groping after, the vain ambition which had consumed me—spit me up like rancid anchovies. A cool breeze snuck and caressed me, and I tore my eyes from the heavens and let them scan the surrounding night. I felt an overwhelming stirring inside. It was as if I’d been caught. No—not caught, called; called by a voice that I recognized. Echoing through the deepest chambers of my awareness I heard that I had been foolish to chase after life, to try and run down fulfillment and take happiness by the throat. I was asked; didn’t I know that whatever I chase will always run away from me? “Fifty dollars….” I had to laugh.