UNITED STATES—The next time Reed passed by Bakersfield on oil rights business, he had trouble finding a spot in the parking place. That was the first time something was up. Once he got inside he had to wait in line and put his name on a list to be called. This was unfathomable. At last he got his old seat at the counter.
“What happened?” He asked Diedre, his favorite, the waitress who once emptied the bowl of Almond chowder from the kettle and packed it for him to go along with a pack of oyster crackers and packed it to take home to the city—a place the locals viewed with suspicion and disdain.
“Ever since the auto club magazine printed the story, we’ve been swamped. “We’d like to kill the person who did this.”
Reed couldn’t believe what he was hearing and smiled smugly, ready to receive the kudos. “Don’t mention it. Always happy to say something nice for those who have been so helpful after all the years.”
They were full of hipsters, eager to try the gluten-free vegan almond chowder. Diedre went to whisper in the ear of Elgin the manager. The rheumy eyes under the pink pate swiveled over at him.
“Hey, Buddy, what did you go do a thing like that. Giving us all that publicity?”
“Well, I just wanted to do something nice. I thought…” Reed mumbled. He thought Elgin the pink-pated manager sure did talk differently, even threateningly. But he kept smiling that undimming smile superglued to his pudgy face. A pleasant phenomenon turned into a weapon.
“So you are Mr. Reed Parker, are you?”
Reed grinned, preparing to soak in the dose of adulation for the travel piece. Already he had basked in the blow up poster by the now roped-off waiting area. The spaces between the ropes were filled now: there were single hipsters with quirky glass frames, millennials with artistic ink accenting their cheekbones and foreheads, retro rock-a-billy couples. There were Dad and Mom with camouflage pants and shoulders wreathed by an acrylic baby blanket. The vintage cash register was ringing away on the other end, as contented people exited the dining room. Reed wanted to sign autographs for his evident role in this, bringing the people to the lodge and the lodge to the people. He had driven the droves here, he thought with some tristesse; I guess you can’t hold a good thing down or back. Though this destoyed the essence of what he prized most about Almond Springs Resort, personally; he had saved the best for the most, the tourists had been lasso-ed back.
By the looks of it, they cared not a whit if the almond chowder contained decidedly non-vegan hamhock for flavoring. What had meant to be a turn-off (a clever subconscious play of keeping the place the same and untraveled all for himself) had back-fired gloriously.
“You failed to do your research,” Elgin said, walking alongside.
“I called many times,” Reed said, following Elgin since he figured the manager must know where he was going. “The phone was disconnected.”
“There was a reason for that,” said the manager, a storeroom light reflecting brilliantly off his pink pate. “Things were were just fine and you had to put us on the tourist map. There’s actually pressure to open the motel rooms again. For years we kept the job pool at a minimum. The bosses liked it that way. Everything was just fine, and you come do your meddling.”
To be continued
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Late Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood” (on Amazon).