For many people, a rainy day can be sad or depressing. To me, a rainy day always brings back a particular memory that was scorched into my brain many years ago. Maybe because the memory is so sweet...
It was September 1992 and I was traveling on Route 70 somewhere between St. Charles Missouri and Kansas City... in an area called "Tornado Alley". It had been a glorious day, up to that point, with little sign of the storm clouds to come. As I sped down the highway, I didn't have a care in the world. I watched the seemingly endless stream of telephone poles fly by in a blur. I pressed the gas pedal to the floor in an attempt to defy time and space. I was in a hurry... a hurry to grasp life and live it to the fullest. I was headed for college after being discharged from the military, where I had spent time in the Middle East during the first Iraq war. The war hadn't lasted long, but it had nonetheless left a lasting impression on me. It taught me that life is fragile and fleeting... with no guarantees of tomorrow.
I had made good progress by evening and although the sun was rapidly disappearing over the horizon, I decided to drive for a few more hours. However, from across the plains I saw a storm developing. The puffy clouds grew dark as they rolled toward me, quickly turning from white to an angry gray. The rain started slowly, but within minutes was pouring down in buckets. Water dripped from a hole in the canvas roof of my old Jeep CJ7 and onto the back of my shirt.
A few minutes later, without warning, the rain turned to hail. The hard pebbles of ice pelted the windshield like stones, threatening to burst through. The gusting wind suddenly whipping across the open fields made it difficult to hold the old Jeep on the road. The wipers, which desperately needed replacing, were totally ineffective. The clouds had turned black and ominous. It was only 8 P.M., but could have been midnight. I was a city boy from Philadelphia and never experienced the kind of dangerous storms that blew up without warning in these Mid-Western plains.
Still, I was undeterred. At twenty-three years old and full of self-importance, I was finally headed for college and a storm wasn't going to stop me. I was a bit old to be starting college. I was one of "those" people that had joined the Army to obtain money for college. My parents were too poor to afford it and my grades were not worthy of a scholarship. My three-year stint in the Army, while often dangerous during the war, was ultimately rewarding. I had gathered enough money to attend UNLV and was already late getting there. The school had graciously made an exception for me since I couldn't get out of the Army until the end of August. I planned to drive all weekend in order to be there by Monday morning.
Suddenly as the storm worsened, I realized that I was in the middle of nowhere and questioned my rash decision to continue driving. I swerved on the road, fighting for control of the Jeep. Fortunately, the road was flat and straight or I would have surely run into a ditch. My bravado quickly vanished as I strained to see past the hood of the Jeep. The storm now scared me and I was about to pull off the road when I saw a speck of light ahead. I was hoping I had found civilization. As I drew closer, I could see that it was but a sign for a small roadside café/diner. It seemed to appear out of nowhere. With great relief I pulled into the almost empty parking lot, wondering if the restaurant was open. But it was Saturday night and the lights were on.
I opened the door of my Jeep and jumped out and into a puddle of water, almost to my ankles. By the time I rushed up the steps and into the café, my hair and clothes were soaked. My Army green tee shirt was plastered to my chest. My jeans were wet and dripping water onto the floor around me.
"My, my, look what the cat drug in," I heard from behind the counter and then a laugh.
I saw a pretty woman, who looked to be in her mid-thirties, with short blonde hair, leaning on the counter. She had a friendly, if sardonic, expression on her face. Her blue eyes sparkled and her face lit up with her smile. I figured I might be the first customer she had seen all week.
"It's raining buckets out there. Are you open?" I asked stupidly.
"Everyday but Sunday. Would be then too except folks go to church on Sunday mornings around here."
I ran my hands across my still short military hair, pushing the water to the back and down my neck. I shook my hands, flinging more water onto the floor.
"Here, this should help."
Suddenly, the pretty woman was standing in front of me with a clean dishtowel in her hand.
"It's all I have in the restaurant."
"Thanks," I said, gratefully taking the towel and wiping my head and face, then my hands. "Sorry to get your floor wet."
"No problem, the linoleum can be mopped up."
The pretty woman's eyes sized me up and down before she said with a laugh, "You look like a drowned rat. Have a seat and I'll get you a cup of coffee."
"Thanks," I said and stared after her, watching the sway of her hips. She was wearing a white waitress uniform that hugged her trim waist and hips, showing the faint hint of her panty line. I shook my head clear and sat down at a booth overlooking the parking lot. The rain continued to pour down relentlessly, covering the parking lot with several inches of water.
"Rains a lot like that around here in late summer," the waitress said as she sat a steaming cup of coffee in front of me.
"Never seen anything like it." Thunder shook the windows and a bolt of lightning lit up the sky. The lights flash and threatened to go out. I looked up apprehensively.
"We have a generator out back if the lights go out."
"Good," I said as I glanced around the diner. There wasn't anything fancy about the place but it seemed to have warmth to it. There was a long counter with padded stools running the length of the room. Then there were ten or so plastic and metal booths next to the windows. It appeared that someone had taken great care to make the place look like something out of the 50's. There was even an old jukebox at the end of the room. Maybe the place had been around since the 50's, I thought.
"All original décor," the pretty waitress said, answering my unasked question. "The diner's been in my family for several generations."
"Very nice," I answered. I looked out the window again as the wind blew harder.
"The weather service has a tornado warning out. I have to keep the radio on," the waitress said, nodding toward a radio playing in the background.
"Heard about tornadoes, but I've never seen one."
The waitress laughed and said, "And you don't want to either."
"What do we do if there is one?" I asked, with a worried look on my face.
"We'll be okay. We have a storm cellar."
I almost sighed with relief.
"Can I get you something to eat?"
I saw her name badge for the first time. "Stacey" was on a gold plate pinned to her uniform. I also noticed for the first time that she was well endowed. I found myself staring at the opening of her uniform where I could see a hint of the soft swells of her breasts. When I made eye contact, I knew she had seen me staring. However, her smile didn't change.
"Uh... what?" I asked.
"Do you want something to eat? I was planning on sending our cook home, but she can rustle up something for you. We're not exactly packed tonight."
"Thank you Stacey. Anything would be great. I haven't eaten since this morning."
"Meat loaf and mashed potatoes... our specialty, coming right up." She turned away.
"I'm Rory James," I said.
The waitress stopped and turned back to me with a smile. "Roy?"
"That's an interesting name."
"My mom wanted something different."
"I love it." She held out her hand and stepped back toward me. "Pleased to meet you Rory James. I'm Stacey Allen."
I took her soft hand in mine and squeezed it. A sudden and unexpected shock went through me. Maybe it was static electricity from the storm. I could see that Stacey had felt it too. We paused, looking at each other.
"I need my hand back if I am going to put in your order."
My face turned red and I quickly let go of her hand. "Sorry."
"You're cute," she said and went behind the counter.
I quickly sipped my coffee to hide my blush.
Stacey yelled through the opening into the kitchen, "Macy, need an order for meatloaf and mashed potatoes before you go please."
I continued to watch the rain for a few minutes until a soft hand sat a plate of steaming food in front of me. I looked up and saw Stacey smiling at me again. "Thank you," I said, suddenly famished. With military precision I dug into the food.
"Mind if I join you?" she asked.
"Mmmmm, no," I mumbled with a mouth full of food and gesturing with the fork for her to sit across from me. Military life hadn't exactly helped my manners... at least not at the dinner table.
Stacey sat down with a cup of coffee and watched me eat.
I engulfed the delicious food. A few minutes later the plate was empty.
"My, but you were hungry," Stacey said in astonishment.
"Sorry," I answered sheepishly. "That was delicious," I added.
"Macy is a great cook, even if it pains me to say so." A wry smile crossed her face. "Old coot," she whispered in a conspiratorial tone.
"So what brings you out in this no-man's land?"
I wiped my mouth and took a quick drink of coffee. "Headed for college... UNLV."
"Nevada... that's wonderful. You a gambler?"
.... There is more of this story ...