The Road from Wagram to Raleigh Is Filled with Unpredictable Surprises
by Jerry Sain
“I can’t believe I’m going to the Dixie Classic basketball tournament with you guys,” said Ted. Driving my light blue ’53 Pontiac Chieftain with a crew of three sportsmen buddies aboard, I wheeled into the best road house east of the capital city for a sumptuous pre-game meal. The gravel crunched beneath the white-walled tires as the car pulled into the steakhouse parking lot off Highway 1 entering Sanford.
The bell on the door jingled as the four of us entered the well-worn entrance. The waitress behind the counter, a redhead with lipstick a shade brighter than her hair, took a final drag from an unfiltered cigarette and crushed the butt in the ashtray. Her locks were knotted behind her head, and she kept her pencil poised there as if to secure the tie. Three of us wore hats, overcoats, and ties; Ted was bareheaded and dressed in khaki pants and a collared blue denim shirt buttoned to the chin. The fan above the counter turned slowly overhead despite the fact that it was the week after Christmas.
“I’m going to the bathroom, said Ted. “Just order me my usual steak.”
We grabbed a booth under a pinup calendar of a beautiful blonde holding a soft drink on this Saturday, December 29, 1956. The song Heartbreak Hotel was thumping on the jukebox.
“Where are you fellows headed?” the waitress asked the three of us.
I began, “Oh, we’re headed to the Dix…”
“Excuse me, Bill,” interrupted the man wearing the red tie. I think that we should tell this young lady a thing or two.
“Oh, what’s that?” the waitress said curiously.
“Ma’am, my name is Deputy George Wright, and we’re taking our friend for a little trip to the Dorothea Dix hospital. Just humor him and let him have anything he wants except for a dangerous weapon. “
“Yes, we’re saying that he is having a good day today, but he really shouldn’t have anything sharp in his possession” said Sam without emotion.
“Do you mean he’s mental?” asked the waitress.
The three of us looked at one another with a poorly concealed smile. “We mean crazy,” said Sam.
Before her reply, the bathroom door swung open and Ted came walking out toward the table, elbows extended and rubbing his hands together in anticipation of the food and fun of the day. The waitress looked wide-eyed at Ted. Benjamin Franklin’s aphorisms claim that the list of life’s certainties has only two items, death and taxes. Today that list had one item added—that man was not going to get a steak knife.
“Okay fellows, do you have my steak on the way?”
“Large t-bone, medium rare with a hot pink center, Ted—just the way you like it,” said Sam.
“I can’t believe I let you drag me along on this trip,” said Ted as a joke.
“Oh, we wouldn’t let you miss this trip for the world,” said George.
I noted the waitress was staring holes through the back of Ted’s head and was hanging on every word. She pretended to be busy folding napkins and wrapping silverware. The sizzle of the steaks on the grill muted the conversation at the table and the low hum of the florescent light above the grill made her lean toward the counter to catch a snatch of conversation.
“You think you’re going to whip me this time, don’t you? Well, you are wrong,” with the zeal of a true country-bred sports fan.
The waitress looked nervously at the table after this apparent outburst.
Of course Ted was referring to how the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest were slated to perform against the University of North Carolina Tar Heels in the basketball tournament.
“Keep your shirt on,” I said.
“I’m starved. How about a salad with some French dressing, waitress?”
The waitress almost dropped her tray of napkins and silverware in her rush. The three of us looked at one another without expression. “Yes sir, coming right up.”
Dripping fat hit the hot charcoal, sputtered and blazed, sending out an enticing aroma that was mouth watering. The waitress disappeared into the kitchen and returned moments later with the salads. The cook peered out the door at the tables, sizing up the four from the kitchen door.
“Your steaks are almost up,” she said cheerily, all the while avoiding eye contact with Ted. The napkins containing the silverware were distributed and the salad bowls were presented. Before the salads had been finished, the hot plates with the steaks clicked against the hard surface of the table accompanied by the aluminum-wrapped baked potatoes.
“Oh Miss! I’m going to need a knife,” said Ted in the direction of the waitress.
The eyes of the three of us exchanged pregnant glances. We began to attack our steaks with the gusto of a carnivore. Ted finished his salad and looked around to see the waitress. Her red hair was nowhere to be seen. As we carved our meal, Ted sat waiting impatiently for his knife with a slow simmer.
“Here Ted, use my knife,” said George.
“No, she’s bringing me a knife,” said Ted.
“This sure is good steak,” I opined with a wink to my compatriots.
“I’d enjoy some of it too if I only had a KNIFE,” said Ted with the emphasis on the word knife a little louder than necessary for anyone to hear in the restaurant. The waitress appeared with a pitcher of sweet tea and began to fill the glasses of the other customers, seemingly oblivious to this hint.
“Best I can figure is that she is hard of hearing,” said Ted. “If I could just get my hands on a knife…” Ted had elevated his voice to the point that the cook again appeared at the kitchen door.
“What’s your problem, Bub?” he asked wiping his hands on a greasy towel. “Are you saying that my steak is too tough to eat?”
“I just need a knife for a few minutes, and I’ll be sure to take care of your waitress with the hearing problem.”
The waitress ran toward the kitchen door wailing, “Oooooohhhhhhhh. He is threatening me, Harry. Do something!” She removed her apron and threw it on the counter saying, “I don’t have to take this anymore.” The cook shifted his hands to his hips and leaned forward.
“What’s wrong with that girl?” asked Ted.
All four of us looked at one another incredulously.
“What’s going on here?” yelled the manager emerging from the back.
“That crazy man is threatening to kill me,” said the waitress, pointing at Ted.
“What is she talking about crazy? All I want is to get my hands on a knife.”
As if on a signal, my two confederates and I dropped our knives and forks onto our empty plates simultaneously. “Don’t worry, ma’am; we’ll be on our way,” said George.
“Wrap the steak in a napkin, Sam; Bill, help me assist Ted to the car.”
Ted protested as we ushered him to the door, “But all I wanted was a steak knife.”