When I moved to this town,
Fred’s Derby was the place
for eggs and hash browns
when the bars closed down at 3 a.m.
Fred’s had been there forever,
a long, white building, windows on
the highway side of the diner,
dead flies on the window sill,
sad plastic bottles of ketchup
stationed on the Formica
huddled with the salt and pepper.
At the edge of town
where highways cross,
the building was part gas station
(that’s where the Derby comes in),
part restaurant, part bus depot.
Local police in 1982 still gave
troublesome transients a ride
to the Greyhound station,
handed them a voucher from a local charity,
pawned trouble off to the next county.
Those were still hobo days
of sorts. In my third-grade reader
I had learned about the good-natured
hobos with kerchiefs
who wandered through the 1950s.
In the ‘80s, a lot of guys still hopped trains.
Hitchhiking, however, was losing favor.
A few rapists and killers gave them all a bad name.
Once, in 1975, while riding with my brother
to Larned, Leon turned the car around to pick up
a lone young man along the highway. Leon made me sit
in the back with the guy’s backpack, the hiker up front.
The kid was suspicious that Leon had been going east
when he stopped for the west-bound thumb.
Maybe the hitchhiker thought we were going to kill him,
a brother-sister team, like the Bloody Benders,
who crushed skulls of unsuspecting travelers
at the Benders’ “bed and breakfast”
in southeast Kansas in the 1870s.
Hobos and hitchhikers
are gone from the scene,
no longer stop in Kansas.
Bars close at 2 a.m. now
and there’s nowhere to go but home.
was torn down,
flies and all.
~ Cheryl Unruh