Max LeMonk, the monkey puppet, and I wandered into a roadside diner that sits alone along the side of the dusty dessert road. The low angle of the setting sun sends light though the glass tubes of the broken neon sign in the diner’s window.
Then the neon word “EATS” begins to crackle randomly, like a beckoning, or perhaps an ominous warning. Perhaps it is both. “Wish we hadn’t had our last Snickers ,” Max confides. I nod.
We enter the diner, disturbed by the stillness and confused. The lights seem to be both on and burned out at the same time. A condition of the sun-faded sign telling us to “Please seat yourself” leads us to wonder if we should try instead to make it to Joshua Tree.
We sit down in a booth with tall sides. Then we hear a voice from behind us, a voice from the next booth.
This little place here is called The Crossroads.“Please tell me I didn’t hear who I thought I heard,” Max said with a sigh of exasperation. Max and I turn and peer over the top of the divider and into the next booth. There sat don Rey Ortega, patiently savoring a bite of what appeared to be a Denver omelet. It was a hardy one, too.
Max and I looked at don Rey, the omelet, and each other. Then we looked at the handwritten, partially erased menu board behind the counter: Breakfas Erved Al Da . Though the presence of don Rey always makes me reverential, even I had but one question for the nagual. “How’s the food here?”
Max was busy looking around. “Bet there’s still lead paint on the walls. This place is a dump!” Don Rey stomps his foot under the table, and Max felt dirt inexplicably being thrown on his shoes.
The rusted corrugated metal and barnwood that decorates the place was collected from old broken down homesteads shacks out in the desert.I look around, and notice that faint outlines of human figures are appearing all around us. Behind the counter, a young boy appeared, covered in tattoos and flipping burgers. Max, believing don Rey was distracted, tried to steal a piece of his toast. Don Rey just smiled, and the toast turned into hash browns before out eyes.
And the people that gather here are just as unusual as the surroundings, from the tattooed kid taking orders at the counter to the variety of desert rats that this place attracts.“Rats? Did he say rats?” Max murmured.
Then the juke box turned itself on, playing a 1950s standard, "I Got A Crush On You, Sweetie Pie..." Don Rey’s head bobbed lightly, enjoying the tune like an old romantic fool. Then he gestured to the haunting figures which have gathered.
The smelly homeless looking guys walking out the door are actually attorneys from Los Angeles. There's the local chain smoking vegetarian and the dreadlocked hippy kids with their drums and backpacks along with their cardboard signs that say Arizona or San Diego. They all gather here to eat and drink at this desert watering hole.Max’s eyes rolled back in his monkey head. His hunger overtaking his sense, Max rants. “Lawyers, he says! Vegetarians! Dreadlocks! If the old fart were Irish, he’d tell us their names are all Malarkey!” Don Rey simply smiled, and Max’s mouth filled with a side of bacon. Don Rey’s eyes looked out into the hazy figures in the now crowded diner.
They come to listen to the quiet and fill their souls.“Oh, god," Max said with his mouth full. “Now he rhymes? Next he’s going to make us call him don Bob Dylan or something.” I covered my eyes, fearing don Rey’s wrath at the monkey puppet’s impertinence. But I heard nothing. Then I felt Max tapping my shoulder. He told me to open my eyes; they I won’t believe what I’ll see.
Before returning to the city that is full of holes.
Don Rey was gone, leaving only his check… and enough money to cover a tip.
And the tattooed boy smiled.