Late Night Pit Stop

Late one cool summer night, a coach bus pulled up to a cheap diner somewhere in the middle of rural Kansas. The ten passengers, who were on a cross-country tour from Philadelphia to San Diego, gradually woke up and dragged themselves out of their temporary residence and into the dive. Each person was exhausted, home-sick, and rethinking their decision to pay a thousand dollars for a bus ride. They dumped themselves down at the counter one at a time as the waitress pulled out a notepad from her apron.
“What’ll it be, dear?” she spat at the young girl at the edge of the counter.
The girl, who called herself Dee, looked up briefly and muttered “uh, just a coffee, thanks.” She was different from the other tourists and planned on keeping it that way. Actually, Dee was not originally part of the trip. The tour group found Dee at a gas station in Tennessee all alone with no money and no car. All she told them was that she desperately needed to get out west, but never gave a reason why. The bus driver pitied the runaway teen and let her hitch a ride with the tour group. Dee never told them what had happened, and she wasn’t planning on it anytime soon. She promised herself never to mention Tennessee again; there was just too much pain and regret attached to that word. To Dee, San Diego was the stepping stone to a normal life. She sat there in the disintegrating bar stool, and fixed her deep green eyes on the woman sitting towards the center of the counter checking her makeup in her compact.
This woman insisted on being referred to as Mrs. Greenhill. She was the wife of the wealthy Mr. Greenhill, a ridiculously successful entrepreneur, and made sure that everyone she met knew it. She spent her days working out, tanning, and relaxing in her two and a half million dollar mansion. Mrs. Greenhill was a stay-at-home mom without any children. Her husband, in a desperate attempt to get her out of the house, threw her and her seven credit cards on the bus to San Diego. So far on the trip, she had done nothing but complain. It was a surprise to everyone when she sat down at the diner without saying a word. There was no objection to the tacky décor or the mysterious smell. Instead, a strange hint of sadness spread across her heavily made-up face; a sadness that was certainly not present until that evening. Mrs. Greenhill just sat there silently, staring at her bacon and eggs as if they required her attention.
The man sitting next to her had a completely different disposition. The man, whose name was Carl, was a recently retired insurance agent who went on the trip as an effort to reconnect with his wife. They were a pair of eternal optimists who ruthlessly abused the phrase “look on the bright side.” Carl was a typical grandfather filled with war stories and pieces of advice straight out of the Bible; but he was also an expert at making people laugh. He maintained a youthful smile on an aging face. Laughter, he said, was the key to a long and fulfilling life. Unbeknownst to most of the passengers on the bus, Carl and his wife had hit hard times. Their house was facing foreclosure, and their savings had practically vanished overnight. This road trip was their final excursion before heading back to Philadelphia, where Carl would have to take a job at a local factory. Still, this was the furthest thing from his mind as he displayed a collection of wallet-sized photos of his grandkids to a very unenthused Mrs. Greenhill.
Two bar stools over, a young woman with a half-asleep child on her lap finished off the last of her vegetarian omelet. The young mother, Liv, was completely oblivious to her fellow tourists. All she could think about was taking a long uninterrupted nap; no obligations and absolutely no alarm clocks. Liv let out a deep, exhausted sigh and brushed her daughter’s hair off her face. Over the last six years, Liv had given up everything for that child. For her going college was completely out of the picture and having a social life was simply unimaginable. Liv studied her daughter’s serene face, and she was reminded that all sacrifice was worth it. True, the trashy diner in the middle of nowhere probably qualified as the last place on Earth she wanted to be, but it was okay. Watching her daughter see the ocean for the first time was beyond worth it. Liv smiled as she returned to her last few bites of omelet. She knew that she had a less than perfect life, but everything she needed was taking a nap on her favorite pair of jeans.
Back at the bus the bus driver, whose name is George, looks over the crowd of tourists with little interest. Every two weeks, he transports what he feels are the same people to the same overrated places. But still, George was grateful for the few moments he had alone in the bus. It was when he could make time to call his wife and children back home in Puerto Rico. George always assured them that everything was going great, and even if he was lying through his teeth, he lived to hear their relieved response. He was just waiting for something miraculous to come along and save him from his vacationer hell. George prayed that if that ever happened, he would no longer need to whisper a silent sorry to his family every time he hung up the phone.
Soon enough, the tourists trickled slowly back on to the bus and left the lonely diner. George eased onto the gas as they ventured off into the vast space of Kansas on a peaceful, empty road. Some passengers looked forward to the places they were headed, while others glanced over their shoulder to the world they left behind. The remainder settled into their travel pillows and dozed off, filling the silent cabin with a chorus of snores. George sat in the front with eyes wide open, knowing full well that he would not rest again until the bus pulled up into San Diego.





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