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,

Greyhound busses

no longer stop in Kansas.

Bars close at 2 a.m. now

and there’s nowhere to go but home.

Fred’s Derby

was torn down,



flies and all.

~ Cheryl Unruh


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