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Today's Story by Roger Poppen

"German," she repeated. "Guys I know are into Nazi stuff, but they ride Harleys."

Waffle House

Somewhere past Memphis I saw the trademark yellow-and-black sign. Waffle House has the best road food and my stomach growled in anticipation. I eased the motorcycle into the right lane and looped around the interstate exit ramp.

I rode slowly through the parking lot until I found a pull-through space so that I was facing out. I hate having to back out of a spot, bull-dogging the big Beemer by the handlebars. My foot could slip on an oil slick and the whole thing come down on top of me. It had never happened but I thought about such things, getting cautious in my old age.

The place was full but a guy at a low table at the end of the counter was leaving. I slid in and pushed away the remains of his meal, bits of waffles sodden in syrup that looked like motor oil. It was a good spot, eye level with the curving buttocks beneath the tight skirt of a waitress who pirouetted between the juice machine and the counter. Nice legs, too. She probably put in ten miles a day back there.

I caught her eye as she bent to clear the detritus of the previous customer. “I’ll have a cuppa coffee when you get a minute.” Spying the nametag atop the mound of her breast, I added, “Molly – that’s a pretty name.”

She straightened and gave me a look that said I’d gotten right up to a line that I better not cross. So I just smiled instead of continuing with the follow-up, ‘What’d you name the other one?’ “No hurry,” I said. I shrugged off my leather jacket, then sat back and finger-combed my hair, trying to cover the bald spot.

In the proper sequence of things, a steaming porcelain mug resembling a plumbing fixture plunked down before me. “What’cha eatin’?” Molly asked.

“I’ll have the scrambled eggs with cheese.” I pointed to the picture on the menu. “Grits, ojay, raisin toast.”

“No meat?” She sounded surprised, like I’d violated a local eating ordinance. I noticed a small band-aid covering a bulge on the corner of her eyebrow and stainless steel studs in her ear lobes, with a row of little punctures that continued up the cartilage of each ear like the borings of small insects. I wondered where else she had piercings.

“Meat?” she repeated.

“Ahh, let’s live dangerously. Sausage patties.” I smiled up at her.

She yelled something in code to the fry-cook and whirled, like a ballerina on a music box, to fill a glass with frothing orange juice. I sipped my coffee, enjoying the performance, until I discovered a dark brown ring around the inside of my cup.

I waved to catch her attention. “Don’t like to complain, but this cup’s not clean.”

She muttered something and whisked it away. Taking another cup from the rack, she inspected the inside before filling it. Setting the cup on my table, Molly nodded toward the window. “That your bike?”

I’d parked where I could keep an eye on it. “Yeah.”

“What kind is it? Never seen nothin’ like that before.”


“Is that a Jap bike? Looks weird, like a big grasshopper.”

The GS1100R had twin road lights with grills that looked like an insect’s compound eyes, and the pointed, high-riding front fender resembled a proboscis. I laughed. “No, it’s German. Dual-purpose, on-off road.”

“German,” she repeated. “Guys I know are into Nazi stuff, but they ride Harleys.”

“BMW’s Nazi days are long gone.” I doubted she knew what I was talking

“Order up!” the cook yelled, and she spun away.

Moments later, an array of plates clattered onto the table. My mouth watered at the spicy smell of sausage. “Enjoy,” Molly said.

I had almost finished my cholesterol feast when a blatting roar jittered the silverware and set off seismic waves in my coffee, drowning out all other sounds. I looked up to see a chopper – front forks raked at a ridiculous angle and ape-hanger handlebars – cruise by the front window.

Molly, who was totaling up my check, muttered something that sounded like “oh shit,” and hurriedly placed the bill on my table. She had a few words with the other waitress, then disappeared through the swinging doors at the rear of the diner.

A few minutes later, a large man, sporting a shaved head and biker-gang regalia, strode in and straddled a stool at the counter. I could make out the tattoo on his beefy upper arm: a double-headed eagle and SS lightening bolts against a Confederate flag background. The waitress brought him a cup of coffee and they conversed in a familiar manner. I took a ten-spot from my wallet and left it with my bill next to the cash register, retrieved my jacket, and sauntered out the door.

As I was unlocking my helmet, I heard a female voice say, “Hey, mister,could you give me a ride?” It was Molly, standing at the corner of the building out of view from the windows. She had changed her waitress uniform for low-cut jeans so tight they looked like denim paint. The band-aid over her eyebrow was gone, revealing a silver circlet, and a larger ring winked from her belly button. She wore a short denim jacket with a blue-and-white paisley bandana, and a fringed leather purse hung from her shoulder. “Just a few miles up that road there?” She nodded at
the road leading away from the interstate.

“I don’t have a spare helmet,” I said.

“That’s okay. I never wear one.”

I hesitated, like a kid at camp holding a rope swing and looking out over the cliff edge to the chilly lake below.

“Please?” She tilted her head down and looked up at me with big eyes. “I’d be really grateful.”

“Sure thing,” I said, before she could sweeten the offer.

“Pull up there a little.” She pointed to the end of the parking lot.

I put on my full-face helmet, slid my glasses into place, pulled on my gloves, snapped down the passenger foot pegs, pushed the bike off the center stand, mounted, and pressed the starter button. The big twin burbled nicely, nothing like the cacophony that came from the straight pipes on the chopper. That machine sat glowering near where Molly stood waiting. It had a black gas tank with silver SS lightening bolts highlighted in red; just about everything else was chrome-plated.

Molly hopped on behind me and I wheeled out of the lot and down the frontage road. She pressed into me, rubbing the tops of my legs with her fingers. I imagined I could feel her breasts through the padding of my jacket.

We turned right at the intersection and headed into the countryside, the road curving and undulating in a manner much more entertaining than the interstate slab. The blacktop deteriorated as we went on, with cracks, washboard ridges, and sprays of gravel, the kind of road the GS was made for. I could tell Molly was an experienced rider, leaning with me through the curves. The air was warm and I pushed up my visor to feel the breeze on my face. I reached back to squeeze her thigh, regretting that I was wearing gloves. She responded with a hug around my chest.

This pleasantness lasted maybe ten minutes when, over the wind noise in my helmet and the rumble of my engine, I heard the machine-gun explosions of a huge unmuffled V-twin. In my mirrors I saw a headlight and flash of chrome, and glancing to my left, the big dude on the chopper pulled alongside. His skull gleamed like the chrome on his bike and his black wrap-around sunglasses were standard issue for bad guys.

He was shouting unhearable words and waving something in his left hand. My stomach somersaulted when I saw the pistol, its huge silver barrel the size of an exhaust pipe. Molly was pounding her fists on my thighs and I sensed rather than heard her yelling, “Go! Go! Go!”

Instinctively, I twisted the throttle and we shot ahead. We gained a couple hundred yards and then it seemed that the gap began to narrow. I’d lose sight of him around a bend or over a rise, but the next time I’d catch a glimpse in my mirrors he’d appear to be a little closer. It was incredible that a chopper could travel at that speed. I was riding way beyond my comfort zone, but still cautious about the possibility of oncoming traffic or gravel on the apex of a corner. He had the advantage of knowing the road, riding solo, and, most of all, being stark raving crazy.

After a long, sweeping curve that put us out of our pursuer’s view, I saw a field filled with tall weeds. Without thinking, I braked suddenly, angled across a shallow ditch, and headed into the unknown. The ground was very bumpy; I stood on the foot pegs, motocross style, and Molly bounced on the seat behind me like a paddleball. I hoped the big guy wouldn’t see that we’d turned off, or even if he did, he would not try taking a chopper into such terrain. But no, judging by the sound of that infernal motor, he passed by, then turned around after us.

The ground rose slightly, then dropped into a kind of crease. At the bottom, the weeds parted and a dry creek bed suddenly yawned in front of me. There was nothing to do but hang on and gun the engine. How Molly managed to stay on, I don’t know. She could have a career as a rodeo bronc rider.

We ascended a slope beyond the gully, went up a slight embankment, and reached a grassy trail that once might have been a farm road. I halted and listened. The only sound was the mutter of my engine and a panting noise inside my helmet; I was hyperventilating. I switched off the ignition and felt Molly dismount. I followed, removed my gloves, and tried to take off my helmet, jamming my glasses into my forehead.

When I finally got untangled, I went over to stand by her. She’d taken off her bandana and her honey-blonde hair hung in damp curls. I put my arm around her shoulder and looked over the field we had just traversed. A faint track through the weeds marked our route, but no chrome glinted down in the bottoms, no movement except for a ripple of wind across the goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace. No sound except the buzzing of insects.

“He probably hit that ditch,” I said. “Might be hurt.”

“I hope he broke his goddamn neck, the sonofabitch.” Molly spat out the words. “I told him to stay away from me.”

“Yeah, well, we still should call an ambulance or something. My cell phone’s in my tank bag.”

She grabbed my arm as I turned toward the bike. “Them things don’t work out here.”

“Well, there’s a pay phone back at the Waffle House,” I said. “Do you think this trail leads back to the main road?” I did not want to ride through that labyrinth a second time.

“I think it does. But hey…” She grabbed my hips and rubbed her belly against mine. “That ride got me awfully riled up. I could use some calming down.” She looked up with half-closed eyes and parted lips. “I got a tattoo you might like to see.”

A jolt went through me. I could see myself in flagrante delicto with Molly, and that big, bald dude suddenly appearing over the embankment waving that silver cannon in his hand. Or him down in the ditch, lying crumpled beneath a heap of chrome.

I put my palms on her shoulders and gently pushed. “Molly, you are no doubt the sexiest woman I’ve ever met. But we really have to call someone to help that guy.”

She stepped back, her face contorted with anger. “Whatta you want to help some bastard you don’t even know? He just tried to kill you. You wanna know what he done to me?” Her eyes filled with tears and her clenched fists trembled. “Dyin’s too good for that bastard.”

I reached out and pulled her toward me. She hesitated, then we embraced and I lay my cheek against her forehead. The tang of cinnamon and pepper tickled my nose, and I felt the stirrings of desire. “I’m sorry for whatever he did,” I said gently. “But we can’t let him die. You have to do people better than what they did to you.”

She looked at me, defiance in her eyes, but did not draw away. “What’re you? Some kind of preacher?”

I smiled. “No, far from it. I just think we should treat people like you want to be treated, not like they treated you. Otherwise, we’re no better than them.”

We were interrupted by the thunder of an engine starting, then rumbling away into the distance. Like a hound dog at the back door, he must have been parked alongside the road waiting for us.

Molly raised her eyebrows suggestively. “Looks like you don’t have to make that phone call after all.”

“Guess not.” I looked past her at the Beemer, patiently waiting. My ‘escape machine’ I called it, my accomplice in getting away from the hassles of everyday life. Today we’d escaped God-knows-what at the hands of a macho maniac. Yesterday I’d fled an argument with my wife, slamming the door and roaring off. ‘Treat people like you want to be treated’ echoed in my head.

I looked Molly straight in the eyes. “I have to get home.”

Road food is one thing, but I needed some home-cooking.


Roger Poppen took up creative writing after retiring as a professor of behavior analysis. He finds making up people more fun than dealing with real ones. He has published one novel, Mister Lucky, and several shorte rpieces in online literary magazines. You may read more of his work at http://mypage.siu.edu/drrock/


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