Day 37: Today, eat and run.

I have only attempted this once.

When I was younger, I used to go on impromptu “road trips” – I put that in scare quotes because they didn’t usually last longer than 16 or 18 hours. I’d go out driving, try to get lost, succeed, consult a map (a paper one – remember those?), figure out where I was, and head home.

On one of these trips, I ended up in Athens, TX. I was hungry, so I stopped in at a local diner to eat while I consulted my map. I can’t remember the name of the place, but I do remember that I had a bacon cheeseburger, fries, coffee, and the most disgusting coleslaw I’ve ever eaten.

At some point, I looked in my wallet, and realized that I didn’t have enough cash to pay for my dinner and put enough gas in my car to get home. No credit card, no cell phone (it was the late ’90s, after all) – no choice but to skip out on the bill. It was late-ish, on a Friday night, and the place was busy – so I figured I’d get away with it. Trying to act like nothing was amiss, I just got up and headed for the door. I made it into the parking lot before I heard someone behind me yell: “Hey, you! Get the fuck back here!”

I turned to look, and a few members of the waitstaff – along with a big burly dude who must have been a cook – were headed toward me, looking less than friendly. They were too close, and my car too far away (and not exactly parked for a quick getaway) – so, perhaps foolishly, I just took off running.

They gave chase. I eventually managed to lose them in a wooded area on the edge of town – one problem solved, but now I had no car. I thought about this for a bit, and decided – once the coast looked clear – to sneak back to the diner, sneak into my car, and get the fuck out of town.

I waited about an hour, I think, before heading back over. I had the good sense to stay fairly hidden once I got back to the vicinity of the diner, because they’d posted a lookout on my car. And I do mean on it: a different burly dude was sitting on my hood, waiting for me.

Athens is a small town, and this diner must’ve had a fairly regular clientèle, which would have made my car – otherwise unremarkable – stand out. However they figured it out, they did, and they apparently had decided to deal with me without the aid of the local constabulary. I was, at this point, scared shitless; after indulging in panic for a few minutes, though, I forced myself to calm down and think through my options.

Turning myself in was, of course, out of the question. I decided to wait the situation out, and watch for an opportune moment to create or take advantage of a diversion. The diner was apparently a pretty hot little nightspot – or as hot a nightspot as a place like Athens has – and I figured that, sooner or later, a few rowdy drunks would cause enough of a ruckus for me to quietly get in my car and get gone.

That didn’t happen. After closing – 1 am? 1:30? – the burly dude on my hood was replaced by another, equally burly dude (a third one, not the one who chased my ass out of the parking lot). This was a wrinkle I hadn’t foreseen. Well, alright, no choice but to stick to the plan, at least for the present. There was a small crowd of employees hanging out with the lookout, smoking, drinking, talking and laughing. Sometime not far from 3 am, though, the crowd broke up, and the lookout was left alone. A little past four, he fell asleep – still sitting on my hood.

This was my only chance, right? Very quietly, I removed myself from my hiding spot, stretched (it wasn’t a comfortable spot), and walked cautiously over. He didn’t wake up as I opened the door, or as I closed it – he came to, though, as I started the car, and looked around confusedly for a few seconds before falling off the car as I reversed it out from under him. I sped out of the parking lot, but slowed down once I was out of sight of the diner – it wouldn’t have done to get nabbed by the cops just as I was escaping – and I didn’t stop for gas until several towns later.

Most expensive meal I never paid for.


4 Comments on “Day 37: Today, eat and run.”

  1. Bernice says:

    Not an unhappy ending. In fact, happier than most. Have you contemplated going back and paying the bill? Or you could send it, if you think the burly brigade might be bearing a grudge. The possibility of moments like this makes road trips so appealing. My best friend and I used to head out on weekend mornings and see how far we could hitch hike in 6 hours and then try to get back in the same amount of time. We had some harrowing experiences, but survived and, of course, it never crossed our minds we wouldn’t. Now, I know we were bloody idiots and incredibly lucky.

    • hgoldsmith says:

      If this had actually happened, then yes, I’d go back and pay the bill. The only time I’ve ever been to Athens was much less exciting than this.

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