“If you’re ever lost, take a right.”
— the prophet steven rowley
“Coffee’s ready,” he says. “It’s Folgers.”
It’s a little after 7 a.m. and I’m sitting in the waiting room of a Honda dealership in a little West Texas town. The new-fangled computer on the new-fangled car decided I needed new-fangled oil before starting the long drive back to new-fangled Phoenix. So here I am.
He and I are the only people in the room. Seems like a nice enough guy in that good ol’ boy kinda way. An incredibly bad sit-com is showing on the TV. “Watch this,” he says. “This guy just asked her out, but he doesn’t know she’s pregnant because she’s holding a laundry basket in front of her belly.” Half asleep, it takes me a minute before I realize he’s talking to me. “Oh, ha,” I offer. I am a master of morning banter.
He watches for a while and then pulls out a dusting device for the red sports car in the room, the only vehicle deemed worthy to hang out inside.
“Folgers,” he tells me again, pointing to the pot. “It’s not fancy, but it’s good.”
I take this as a cue and get up to pour a cup. It’s what I grew up on here in this same city. We would buy Dad expensive, exotic coffee and he would act appreciative, but then on the next visit the Folgers would always be back. It was cheap, dependable caffeine, and you used the empty container to store your nails and screws. What more could you ask for in a breakfast beverage?
The show ends, and he switches to Fox and Friends. A woman is complaining that she wasn’t able to say the pledge of allegiance at a school board meeting.
I taste the coffee. Yep, Folgers. He dusts the red sports car again.
“A lot of people don’t know refrigerators have air filters,” he tells me. I just look at him. What the hell is he talking about? I glance over my shoulder to make sure he’s not addressing this to someone else. He is not.
“No kidding,” he says. “I used to work at the appliance store. People would come in and say their refrigerator isn’t working right. I would ask them, ‘when was the last time you changed the air filter?’ They’d say, ‘refrigerators have air filters?’ ” He shakes his head. “Some people.” I nod my head in agreement, although I had no idea refrigerators have air filters. I wonder if cars have air filters too. I’m sure my new-fangled computer will alert me eventually.
He seems determined to keep me amused and caffeinated. Maybe mid-30s, work uniform with shorts, sunglasses on the back of his head, tan line showing above ankle socks. Maybe a second-string linebacker in his high school days. I picture him on the local softball team, at the lake with a cooler on a hot summer day, sharing a beer with friends while screaming at the TV when the Cowboys fumble. That’s the thing about West Texas. People aren’t fancy, but they’re good. They’re like the Folgers of humanity.
An hour and a couple of styrofoam cups later, my car’s ready. I tell him thanks and take off.
We load up the cat, drive up to I-20 and take a left. We drive through Midland and Odessa before pausing at Monahans to lay a nickel on the track. Twelve hours later, we’re home again.
A couple of days later, my sister Jami texts, asking if we’re in Arizona or Texas. Arizona, I say. Oh, good. I just wanted to make sure you were safe, she says.
I have no idea what that means. And then I see the story about the shooting. I think about how we were just on that stretch of interstate, white pickups and semi-trucks and simple people living their lives.
I don’t know why the world has gone to hell. I don’t know why we’re killing each other. But I know West Texans. They’re good folks, even if they don’t change their refrigerator air filters as often as they should. Another day, another massacre. Live and learn and waltz and die.
My heart aches for the millionth time.
I still don’t like Folgers.