Chapter 15

Roadside Restaurant

Along Route 66, in truck stops and hamburger stands, Steinbeck talks about Minnie or Susie or Mae, waitresses middle-aging behind the counter and about Joe, Carl or Al, cooks slapping down hamburgers. Mae is described as the contact, the one that smiles, passing the time of the day indicating great things, great times and great jokes. Al, on the other hand never speaks. He is moody and silent.

Steinbeck also describes the rich travelers stopping at the stands: women with “mouths panting, the eyes sullen, disliking sun and wind and earth, resenting food and weariness, hating time that rarely makes them beautiful and always makes them old” and men “little pot-bellied men in light suits and panama hats; clean, pink men with puzzled worried eyes, with restless eyes”. All the Maes and Als have more sympathy for truckers, their manners and big tips than for the rich travelers that they consider trouble makers.

One of the families going West stops to get water. They want to buy, not a full loaf of bread, but a fifteen cents loaf of bread; that is all they can afford, they have to finish their trip.

However, it is not the contact, smiling Mae who will show first compassion but Al, the quiet one, by asking Mae to give them the entire loaf of bread for fifteen cents. Mae looks to the truck drivers to show them what she was up against. But she will later give the kids two candies for the price of one.

This is the same empathy I have seen in the libraries, that make us forgive a fine, waive printing fees, help someone download a form from the internet or fill out an application. I recently helped a customer find an old court case in another state. His goal was to prove that his past infractions were minor ones. When he left the library, I could see relief on his face.

More on Route 66  in  the San Diego County Library online library catalog.

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Published in: on January 19, 2010 at 12:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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