Chapter Two - Pepsi and Lime

The plane was two hours late. Alberto sat patiently, scrolling absently through his dull Facebook feed as he awaited his flight from JFK to Pittsburgh International. As night had long since come, restlessness had settled in after. The sound of rain swept the over the airport lounge, scattered sounds of thunder and flashes of lightning on the horizon identified the cause for the flight’s delay. All of the restaurants in the airport were closing, and the stale, half-eaten blueberry muffin sitting on his backpack was not going to sustain him much longer.

Finding the nearest eatery that could provide him with a cold soda and a bacon cheeseburger, with extra mustard, Alberto sat and allowed his focus to shift from the delayed flight and onto the news. A perplexed reporter stood on an empty street in front of a general store, in Rockville, Pennsylvania, framed by the headline “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

“Could you turn it up for me?” Alberto motioned toward the bartender, who grabbed the remote and raised the volume, adding “Talk about some typical small-town-news sort of stuff.”

Alberto chuckled, intrigued. “I’m, uh, actually headed there for work - well, just outside of there anyway.”

This intrigued the bartender in return, and as he poured Alberto another Pepsi and lime he pondered aloud, “If you’re headed that way, you might want something a little stiffer than a Pepsi.” He’d incited another chuckle from Alberto who declined politely. “So, what work takes you that way? Hope it isn’t dognapping - business might be a little slow right now.” The clever bartender cast a thumb over his shoulder toward the TV monitor as he spoke, with all of the charisma of a man whose friday night shift was nearing its end.

“No, not dognapping,” Alberto amusedly responded,  “I work as a geological surveyor for AeroTrust, the wind power company.” He didn’t want to talk about work, especially not when he’d be showing up to the site late after likely sleeping in this airport. “The name’s Alberto De La Roso, and yours?”

Alberto put on his most charming face, but he was sure he looked as tired from traveling as he felt. A smile crossed the bartender’s face, all the same, and he replied “My name is Trei Bridges, nice to meet you.”

“So, Trei, the clever bartender, think you’ve got enough Pepsi back there to get me through a night sleeping in the airport?” They shared a laugh, and light chatty conversation continued for the next half an hour until the announcement of closing time from Trei indicated to a hopeful Alberto that laughter and conversation were all the two men would be sharing that evening.

After friendly goodbyes were passed, Alberto trudged back to his gate, stretched out on a row of seats and found sleep.

 

***************

 

The following morning’s events carried on exactly as a morning of air travel typically carries on. Standing in the same line, with the same people, to pass through a door into another part of the same room. Alberto found himself in various standing and seated positions all morning, until, hours later, he finally shifted his compact rental car into park in front of the “Rockville Inn and Eatery”.

The old, paint-chipped building stood two stories, with a bustling diner dominating the ground floor. Diagonally parked vehicles lined the wide-set, brick-inlaid street. Autumn leaves piled around the bases of rowed trees and occasionally trailed shoppers as they breezed from florist and greeting card shop, to bakery, to family pharmacy, or to general store, all enjoying the glow and warmth of early-afternoon.

As Alberto approached the large windowed door of the diner, he paused to admire the placard above: “Family owned and operated since 1939”. Pushing into the well cooled building with a “ding”, Alberto was met with many faces, from bar and booth, expecting to greet a regular. Friendly enough faces quickly turned suspicious, each shining a spotlight on this unfamiliar patron. “Good afternoon, there! Welcome to the Rockville Inn and Eatery, would you like a table or the bar?” A peppy, early thirty something with what looked to be three ink pens in her hair approached from the kitchen area across the room.

Removed from the spotlight momentarily, Alberto replied. “A booth for now, but I would also like to inquire about a room for the week, if possible?”

“Oh no problem at all! Right this way.” As the hostess turned to escort Alberto to a well-lit corner booth, she offered an inquiry of her own, “What brings you to our small town for a whole week? Looking to move in?” She gestured to the booth, and placed a cardboard menu on the table in front of him, adding with a smile, “I’m Gene, by the way, and I’ll be your waitress this morning.”

“Hello Gene, I’m Alberto. To answer your question, I’m here for work. Doing some land surveying just outside of town.” Alberto assumed that was all that needed to be said on the subject, but before he was able to ask about a room for the week Gene pressed.

“What sort of surveys you doing? New housing development, or something?” Gene seemed well meaning, but Alberto noticed her interest was shared by more than a few on this side of the diner. Conversations in their vicinity had hushed, heads leaned toward the booth, and Alberto could sense the small-town paranoia he’d become all too familiar with in his line of work.

“I work for AeroTrust, we are looking to survey a patch of land north of the town for potential turbine placement. Pretty routine and nothing too involved.” Alberto enunciated, projecting to as much of the diner as possible without drawing undue attention to himself. “Now, how do I go about booking a room for the week, and may I have a black coffee?”