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Monday, January 01, 2007
YES ARNIE, THERE REALLY IS A SANTA CLAUS
Because of an unexpected hospital visit my Christmas stories never made it to the cafe in time. But, here we are, so sit down and have a cup of coffee as I tell you about this time.....
A damp, frigid December wind blew across the parking lot of the I-40 Food and Fuel Truck Stop. Disillusioned, Arnie Erickson snubbed out the cigarette on the chipped glass ashtray that sat on the faded yellow Formica counter top.
Arnie swore off cigarettes a months ago, but today seemed to be a good time to return to bad habits. About the time his life could find no lower point, a cockroach walked across the counter, stopped and looked at Arnie's greasy grilled cheese sandwich then continued nonchalantly on his journey. Even the traveling cockroach found the greasy sandwich depressing.
There he sat, two lousy days before Christmas and not a single piece of freight could be found anywhere, let alone heading near Rock River, Minnesota. Truck driving was now more irritating than the new ulcer he found wearing away at his digestive tract. The though of sharing Christmas dinner with detestable cockroaches in some God forsaken Missouri hole-in-the-wall truck stop brought more gas pains than the day old 7-11 chili dog he battled with last summer.
Arnie nervously spun a worn out quarter on the counter. He pondered his choices, drop the quarter in the small chrome juke box that stared at him from behind his coffee cup or get up and make a phone call. He opted for the juke box. He dropped the quarter in the small slot and pressed A9 on the little red buttons hoping to hear Wolf Creek Pass, instead hit Red Solvine's sorrowful rendition of "I'll Be Home For Christmas."
"That's it," he yelled in a rather quiet shout, but loud enough to evoke a small bit of laughter from a few weary travelers in a nearby booth. He pushed the greasy remains of the sandwich and fries aside and headed for the phone room.
Arnie's only hope for a Christmas with his wife and three year-year-old daughter rested on the magic words from his dispatcher, "Put ‘er in the wind and come on home." But the voice on the other end just told him the words every truck driver has heard a million times before, "Put it to bed and call me in the morning.".
He slammed down the phone on the receiver and headed for the men's room. After a splash of cold water on his face, he looked at the reflection in the mirror, scowled at his sorrowful face and walked back to his ‘89 Kenworth. The wind tore at his body as he turned his collar up and headed to his red and black home.
"A tough guy ain't suppose to cry, so I ‘m not calling home," he grumbled as he climbed up into the truck..
Arnie pushed the key into the ignition while the diesel engine stubbornly turned over and finally kicked with a belch of white smoke catching the wind and blowing low to the ground. After waiting for the temperature gauge to slowly crawl up he turned on the heater, grabbed a hunting magazine and crawled into the sleeper. Sleep soon overtook his depression.
Angie kept busy putting up Christmas decorations. They both talked numerous times about their dream of selling the truck, buying a lake cabin back in the woods and starting a guide service for fishermen. This night she could care less if the truck up and died a thousand deaths.
When the phone rang she dropped everything, praying the person on the other end had to be Arnie, who in reality was sound asleep somewhere in the middle of Missouri. It turned out to be her mother from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. She said the weather forecaster promised the roads would be clear, but the temperature was going to fall to 15 below. "If all went right we will leave about six in the morning," her mother said.
"Great," Angie said with a false sound of joy. "I expect Arnie home about the same time." She hung up the phone and nearly screamed, but remained silent and strong as not to scare Amber, the child who believed in dreams of Christmas soon to come.
For what seemed the one millionth time she pulled the Polar Express down off the shelf and led Amber off to bed. "If only dreams did come true," Angie muttered to herself. "If only."
After praying for daddy, getting a good tuck in along with her three dolls and a ragged old stuffed dog, plus a few pages read from the Express, the young dreamer fell off to sleep. Angie walked out to the fireplace, looked at all the decorations and cried.
The hunting magazine fell to the floor of the sleeper. The rustle of the crisp pages made just enough noise to wake the other distant sleepyhead. Arnie felt very lightheaded and for a moment struggled to think where he was at. A quick glance at the watch reminded him it was 10:45 in nowhere Missouri.
"Oh crap,' he yelled, "Angie is going to kill me." Grabbing his jacket he jumped out the door of his cab and bolted for the truck stop and ran right smack into a portly old gentleman.
Arnie knew he must be suffering from delusional food poisoning after seeing the old man, who now had his haunches firmly on the ground. The old man was big. Not only that, but he had an awesome white beard that neatly curled down to his chest. "Nah," he thought as he helped the old man back to his feet. "It couldn't be him, but he sure would make a good double."
"Sorry old-timer, I kinda dozed off and forgot to call my wife back in Minnesota. Man she's gonna kill me."
"Minnesota," the old man asked inquisitively. "I don't suppose you're going that way anytime soon, are you?"
Arnie figured this guy was trying to hit him up for a ride so he hemmed and hawed around for a bit.
"I'm not really sure, won't know until tomorrow at best," Arnie told him.
The red faced old man dusted himself off and the two walked slowly back to the half deserted truck stop.
The old man patted him on the back. "Well that's to bad young fella. Headin' in for a cup of hot chocolate, won't ya join me. Hopin' to find an empty truck goin' up that way. You see I got me this load...."
"Don't tell me, let me guess. You got this load of toys, right," laughed Arnie as he held the door opened. "Next I suppose you will tell me your old Santy Claus."
"Well I'm glad to make your acquaintance, Arnie. It is Arnie, isn't it? Why don't you just call me S.C. Most do ya know. Now about that load, I gotta know right now, got me some animal problems and I'm in a real mess. I have less than two days..." The old man rambled on in a rather animated way, arms flying here, feet jumping there.
"Gadzooks, maybe I should go back to the truck and wake up," Arnie thought. "Gotta lay off those greasy sandwiches."
The old man sat down at the counter and started in again.
"You know, maybe I should buy me one of those diesel jobs. I bet a guy sure could move a lot of toys with one of them buggers. You wouldn't consider trading your rig for a lake cabin? You see, I got tangled up with a guy who owed me a bundle for some raw material and when he couldn't pay up, well he gave me this lake cabin. You see, you don't mess around with ol' S.C. I been around for a while you know."
Arnie just sat there and listened to the old man ramble on. He knew he had to make that phone but just couldn't pull himself away.
The old man finished his hot chocolate, wiped the milk off his mouth and beard with the corner of his sleeve then packed a little tobacco into his long stem pipe, lit up and leaned back with a very satisfied look on his face. He pointed the end of the pipe and looked Arnie straight in the eye and told him about the place.
"It tain't much of a cabin as far as cabins go. Only has four bedrooms, a sauna, boat house and 24 acres. To small for me, my animals need at least two hundred acres, besides to many hungry fishermen hangin' around, if you get my drift," the old man said nudging him on the shoulder.
The old man pulled out a bill of sale for a "89 Kenworth with a forty-eight foot dry box. He dug a little deeper and found an airline ticket to Duluth, deed for a cabin and nearly $24,000 cash. He let a laugh that nearly blew the napkins off the counter.
"Maybe I got a screw loose, but there is just so much I can take of them reindeer. So we got a deal or what?"
Arnie sat there in a daze. Somehow he knew better than say no. After all, you don't mess with ol' S.C. ya know. Arnie scribbled his name on the dotted line and ran to the bathroom for obvious reasons.
About three minutes later Arnie emerged from the men's room to find his belongings neatly piled by the door.
A little guy came up and said, "Come on now, we better hustle off to the airport. Don't bother calling home, your wife and daughter are on the way to the cabin to get it cleaned up before your in-laws arrive. The stupid elves were supposed to be there but you can't depend on them this time of year. At least they got the tree up before and the firewood...., oh bother, let's go."
"How did you know about my in-laws coming up," Arnie asked, grabbing his suitcase and shaving kit. "I never said a thing about them."
The little guy picked the rest of Arnie's belongings and started singing, "You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town. He knows what you been doing...."
Merry Christmas from Shelly's Cafe and Doorpost Productions