stranger than strangers
(originally published 4/20/2018)
David Grey owns the diner. It was a slow day so he told the waitress she could leave early, which left him alone to both work the counter and cook the food.
David looks surprisingly similar to Dennis Quaid … but this is not his story. Not David’s and certainly not Dennis Quaids’. How I wish it were, I would actually be getting paid to write it. But then again, he’d probably want it to be true which would mean research and interviewing other people and frankly he’d probably fire me after reading the first paragraph. Probably a paragraph where the word probably appeared in it twice for no good reason.
There is only one customer in the diner at present. His name is William Stanton. His friends call him Bill.
This is his story.
And yes, I realize that nobody is clamoring to hear it and I will definitely not get paid to tell it. Well probably not.
Bill sits at the counter waiting for his omelet to come out. David is pouring him a cup of coffee.
When I tell you that the diner is empty I should also add that it is almost always empty. It’s located in such a bad spot that if you look out of one of the dirty windows you can see the middle of nowhere. The type of diner where the only people who walk in are usually there to grab something to eat while they wait for a tow truck.
“What brings you to our neck of the woods?” David asks amiably. And ironically as there isn’t more than a few dozen trees within a hundred miles of the place.
“My truck broke down” Bill answers equally amiably but without irony.
David disappears into the kitchen and returns moments later with an omelet. I’ll leave it to you if there are hash browns and/or toast on the plate.
Trying to keep up the amiable momentum David inquires “How long until your tow gets here?”
“I didn’t call one. I don’t have enough money to tow it anywhere let alone fix it. The thing weighs 55,000 pounds.”
Taking in this information David frowns, feeling his chances of remaining purely amiable starting to dry up. He switches gears and tries a more conciliatory approach.
“I wish I had something a little stronger than coffee to offer you.”
Bill offers up a grin in return. He finishes his coffee in one large gulp and gestures for a refill in the time-honored tradition of lifting the empty cup and nodding slightly in its direction.
David nods back and leans over to grab the pot from behind him.
Bill looks a lot like the actor who played Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore. Honestly I think I’d rather be telling you the Christopher “Shooter” McDonald story but I guess I should accept the fact that I’m not going to be writing any famous persons autobiography any time soon. I should count myself lucky to be telling you about William “Bill” Stanton given my attention span. I’m sure Bill would much rather have his story told by Rich Cohen or Walter Isaacson but as you’ll soon see he should be happy I took the time to jot it down.
Three cups of coffee later Bill gets down to it. Truth is, David enjoys hearing traveler’s tales. It takes his mind off his failing business.
“I’m driving back from Hollywood. Well, I was driving back. I appeared on one of those competition shows on the Food Network.”
David perks up. “How did you do?”
“Terrible. It couldn’t have gone worse.”
“Things can always be worse” David says in his most comforting voice.
In order to clarify things Bill takes a long breath and begins what we call in the literary game as the ‘money shot’.
“You see, I was on a show that featured ice cream trucks. We all had to set up shop outside a fairgrounds and at the end of the day everyone who stopped by rated us and the one with the highest rating won $10,000. It was going to be my big chance to showcase my big idea.”
Like yourself David stands up a little straighter and awaits the big idea.
“I had this idea … something that would change ice cream trucks forever. What if ….” and his voice trails off. He looks at the ceiling.
“Go on” urges David.
“What if, ice cream trucks were combined with other things that have to make their way through neighborhoods?”
“Like mail trucks?” David inquires.
“Sort of. Actually, that’s a pretty good one. I wish I would have thought of mail trucks.” His attention returns to the fascinating things not taking place on the ceiling. Eventually he continues.
“I had the idea to combine the ice cream man with a garbage truck.”
David looks at the door in the hopes of a new customer’s arrival. Or the arrival of a pack of stampeding wild rhinos. The diner remains annoyingly rhino-free.
“Hear me out” Bill pleads, worried that his new friend will disappear back into the kitchen never to return. “Two birds with one stone. The garbage man has to stop at every house, why not throw a big speaker on the top of the truck, play some happy music and sell ice cream as you pick up trash?”
It becomes clear that Bill would like some validation so after a few seconds David comes up with “Sure. The kids wouldn’t even have to chase the truck. It will stop right at their house.”
“Exactly! I built a garbage truck that had an attached ice cream section in back.”
It’s at this juncture in the story that David is suddenly awash with pride with his own business plan of buying a diner hours away from any population center.
“So I was going to use this ice cream truck TV program to introduce the concept to the world.” He sighs. “But it didn’t go so well.”
David pours himself a cup of coffee as Bill works up the nerve to share
“No matter how much you scrub out the garbage part of the truck the smell just won’t go away. The flies! Merciful heavens the flies. Great swarms of them. I was asked to leave before the challenge was even over. It was humiliating. I should have never agreed to sit stationary at a spot that has dozens of food vendors within a stone’s throw. The idea of the garbage/ice cream truck is dependent on constant movement so that the flies don’t get a chance to become a thick black horde.”
“So what will you do now?” asks David.
“I’m going to sit and drink coffee for awhile.”
And so he does and thinks about mail/ice cream trucks and fire/ice cream trucks and even garbage/mail/fire/ice cream trucks that are a city block long. All the things that could have been.
Eventually the sun starts to set outside and the light gets all squinty in the diner.
“Is there a Mrs. Garbage/Ice Cream Truck?” David asks.
“No. There was one girl I was vetting for the position but that ended recently. Want to hear the last thing I ever texted her?”
Given the fact David has been alone with Bill for a few hours now he feels he has to be tactful about how he responds to this question. Bill jumps in before he can answer.
“I texted her ‘Dyslexic: the eighth dwarf’.” Bill, feeling like quite the showman, lets it sink in before continuing. “You see, we’d been fighting and I wanted to say hi but I typed ho instead and sent it without looking. Once I realized my mistake I quickly typed it correctly and hit send. Then it occurred to me that ho might have some negative connotations so I’d better come up with something witty to defuse the situation… so I typed ‘Dyslexic: the eighth dwarf’.”
David clearly doesn’t get it so Bill starts to whistle the Heigh-Ho song. Once David understands the reference he wonders if the potential Mrs. Garbage/Ice Cream Truck would have ever gotten it without the accompanying whistling. Feeling like this possibility needs to be explored a little David says “And that was the last thing you ever said to her?”
“Yep. I couldn’t imagine a better or worse way to wrap things up so I let sleeping dogs lay.”
“How in the world is a relationship like a sleeping dog?” David wonders to himself but doesn’t say it. What he does say next changes things for both of them.
Which incidentally explains why my career as an autobiographer begins and ends with William Stanton. The more I disclose about a person the less I understand why events unfold as they do. At some point you’re going to ask why in the world Bill would accept the offer to start an ice cream stand outside a diner butting right up against the middle of nowhere and I’m not going to be able to explain it.
I guess that’s your job now.