"It's a hard road to be walkin down
bare feet on stone ground
It's a long ride across fifty states
taking the dust that God made
Sowing seeds on a mine field
Making the best of a bad deal..."
"Big Road Blue"
The Hard Road Cafe
Doodles Maguire rolls out of his cardboard box,
relieves himself at the pee tree, and stepping over
Rollie the bugman stiffly walks up the park path to
Eleventh Ave and shuffles north, peers into trash cans,
At Monroe street he turns into the alley, knocks on a
pale blue steel door.
An arm the exact shade of oiled mahogany answers the knock,
small paper bag gripped in the large fist.
Doodles takes the bag, puts it inside one of his coats,
says "Thanks, Petey." Deep, scratchy voice answers
Peter Boudreaux shuts the door, walks the short narrow
hall to the kitchen. Two huge urns of coffee drench the air
with sharp Jamaican aromas, and the six burner gas range
kicks out a welcome heat. He walks through the cluttered
room, pauses to turn on an old plastic radio, and as he exits the batwing doors next to the sink Patty Labelle puts a spring in his step. He does a dip and turn and a bit of soft shoe as he heads to the front door to unlock it, flips the "Closed" sign with one neat twist. With the same grace
he uses the edge of his hand to rake a line of switches
to the ON position, and the overheads blink and hum, then
steady as the sun light up three booths, six tables
and the eight stools lined along the counter.
As Peter walks back to the kitchen the polish and shine
pleases him. Old, worn and well-used, yet every visible surface glowed, and the glow went all the way through. Peter believed a person should treat his dreams as the most precious jewels, and he lived what he believed.
"Petey!", a voice from the back door. " Where ya want the eggs?"
He grins and answers " If they was up your ass you wouldn’t
have ta ask, hey?" . The delivery man returns," If they was up my ass, would'a been more fun than I had last night."
Peter tells him, "In the reefer, Nick, same place as always."
Nick: "Got some blueberries." Peter: "Couple’ a quarts, ok?"
Nick: "How 'bout some chops?" Peter: "Beef or pork?" "Pork"
"Na" Nick:" Potatoes?" Peter: "Hunnerd. Got some chickens?"
" Plucked 'em myself. How many?" Peter: " Twenty friers.
And help yourself to some coffee."
"Thanks. See ya later Petey." "Bye, Nick."
Jackie and Helga work the breakfast counter,
the heavy laughter of coffee mugs and plates,
banter between customer and waitress a song that
fills Peters heart as he stands over the range scattering
shredded potatoes, turning bacon and eggs, buttering toast.
When he hears his name he pokes his head through the serving window, returns the wish for a great day or trades good-natured
jibes. His face shines like obsidian, the pace of his work is in four-four time, and the poetry of his life is not lost on him. Fifty years is a long time to chase a dream, he thinks,
and by the standards of most, a small, simple dream at that.
A little diner with a down home menu, two experienced and loyal
women to work the public side of the kitchen, and a love of meeting new people and hearing stories.
Peter looks at the clock above the sink, knows in a few minutes
the first shifts at the local mills will start to trickle in,
throws ten pounds of bacon on the stove, takes a precious moment to sip his coffee, and thanks the Lord for a good life.
Fourteen men and six women surge through the door, head to favorite seats. Their talk is fast and salty, peppered with
laughter. No cholesterol counters or fat watchers
here; bacon and eggs, buttered toast and hash browns, lots of strong black coffee. Peter thinks there can be no better way to start a 10 hour work day. They eat, give good tips,
leave like a mob.
The graveyard shift from the foundry across the street shuffles in, dirty and tired, no useless talk. Eleven bodies that need energy just to make it home. Helga pushes the soup and whole grain bread. Jackie does a Fonzie kick to the side of the jukebox
and Charlie Pride sings of how hard work can really be.