Hunched over the diner's long counter was a haggard figure. Dirt coated the shirt on his back and the old work boots on his feet. His hands, which held an empty mug, were calloused by hard work. Tousling his hair, he was able to free some dust from the locks.
He watched as the diner's only waitress moved from table to table, wiping each surface with a ragged cloth. A few minutes was all it took for her to clean the majority of the tables. Standing over the last sullied surface and only a few feet away from John, she scrubbed tenaciously at a single stubborn smudge.
With no intended audience, she commented, "Looks like this spot doesn't want to come out."
After several more minutes, she finished her task and disappeared into the kitchen.
Looking out the diner's front windows, his thoughts were carried to the long road that lay ahead of him. He remembered the waitress's statement that only a handful of towns stood along this two-lane highway. Fueling stations would be even scarcer. This piece of information troubled him. His truck sat outside the diner with less than half a tank of gas remaining.
Turning back to the front of the diner, he pulled a heavily worn map from his jacket pocket. He spent some time unfolding it and set it on the counter. While studying the map, he glimpsed the approaching waitress. She carried a pot of black coffee in her right hand and the rag in her left.
When asked if he wanted some, he responded, tersely, "Please."
After filling his cup, the waitress asked him, "Well, John, where are you going to go from here?"
Tracing a long highway on the map with his index finger, John replied, "I'm gonna follow this road all the way here." He tapped a fork in the highway. "Then, Anna, I'll head north to one of the bigger cities."
"You mean like Los Angeles?"
"Yeah." He folded the map and returned it to his pocket. "I'm sure I can get work there."
She nodded in agreement and told him, "I'll be right back with your burger."
While watching her leave the room, John grabbed the steaming cup in front of him. Once it had cooled some, he sipped the coffee and waited patiently for his meal. He could hear the sound of the grill. Although he was unable to see into the kitchen, he knew that burger was being prepared just a short distance away. He did not have to wait long, as the kitchen door swung open just minutes later.
Seeing Anna walk from the kitchen, plate in hand, he held his empty mug up and told her, "You make a mean cup of joe."
She set his meal before him and remarked, "Here you go."
Sampling it, he added, "You make a great burger, too."
She moved to fill John's cup.
"No thank you," he said, shaking his head.
She asked him, "Are you sure? You have a long way to go before the next town."
John considered this and conceded. "Go ahead and fill it up."
After following John's instructions, Anna left him alone in the dining room. He only took a few minutes to finish his meal. Sifting through his pocket's contents, he managed to find enough cash to pay the bill. John placed these crumpled bills atop the counter, stood up from his stool, and walked towards the end of the silent dining room. Standing by the door, he fastened the buttons of his jacket and readied himself for the trip out into the cold, desert air.
A voice cut through the silence. "Goodbye, John."
He looked over his shoulder and saw Anna standing behind the counter, keys in hand.
"Goodbye, Anna," he replied.
Opening the front door, he felt the cold air rush to meet him. He closed his jacket tightly about his body and strode quickly to the lone truck sitting outside. Once there, he pulled a key from his pocket. The cold air rattled his hands and he fumbled at the door's lock. After managing to open the door and setting himself in the driver's seat, John looked about the cab and spied a few supplies. On the floorboard laid a pair of work gloves, covered with dirt. A pair of sunglasses and a canteen, half-filled with water, both sat in the passenger seat.
He placed his key in the ignition. Turning it, the truck came alive. Its bright lights cut through the expansive darkness and its engine let loose a low growl. Checking the fuel gauge, John saw that its needle hung precariously above the "E." He pulled away from the diner and accelerated quickly down the highway. In his truck's rear-view mirror, John was able to watch the lights of the diner grow fainter and fainter.