The Smokin’ Pig BBQ, attached to Chu’s Convenience Mart, behind the BP Gas pumps, adjacent to the RacTrac’s retaining wall, was not the final stop on Danny Thomas’s journey. He was destined for more. However, as a waystation, the Pig couldn’t be beat. The restaurant smelled of hickory wood-smoke and the manager played Waylon Jennings on the fake-plant-hidden speakers. Plus, they gave him a free meal most nights. The Pig was a good place to figure out his next move.
Danny was holding down the register on a Tuesday when his old shop teacher sauntered in.
The teacher ordered a pulled pork sandwich, looked at Danny, and frowned. “I didn’t know you still worked here.”
“I do,” Danny said.
The teacher shook his head. “I always thought you were sharp. I figured you’d make something of your future.”
“I’m trying. The future’s not here yet.”
The teacher shook his head. “The future is already passed, son. You need to recognize opportunity when it comes, strike while the iron is hot.”
Danny nodded. “Yes, sir.”
The teacher pulled out a twenty. “A man shouldn’t leave his fate up to fate.”
Danny returned the change.
The teacher pocketed the cash, he didn’t tip. “Are you still singing in those dive bars?”
“You got more potential than this. Have you ever considered computers?”
Danny shrugged. “No. It seems like a solid career, but too boring. I need action.”
“Excitement gets you in trouble. You want trouble?”
“That’s right. Security. Everyone just finished freaking out about Y2K, a fear-fest. A man can make money off other’s emotions.”
“I guess. I do get a CD from AOL every day,” Danny said. He hoped the banter would earn a on second thought tip.
“See? Computers are imminent,” the teacher said. “You know how to use them?”
“No, but I’ll look into it.” Danny had no intention of looking into it.
The teacher reached across the counter and patted Danny’s forearm. “Take charge, son. If you drift, the wind will blow you astray. I see so much potential in you. Sorry if I come across harsh, but the world could be yours, if only you’d try.”
Danny nodded. “You always gave good advice.”
A few minutes later, Danny brought out the food. The pork was glistening and moist and the beans smelled of bacon. The teacher was reading The Savannah Morning News and didn’t look up. Danny left the platter and went back to his counter.
The teacher exited without saying goodbye. His trash remained on the table. Danny cleaned the mess. He sighed and realized, people always left behind their junk, and it always landed on his shoulders.
Sand gnats ate Danny’s neck and buzzed his ears as he walked from his rusted ’79 Datsun pickup into the Dew Drop Inn. The bar was a long way from stardom. Decades of stale beer mixed with cigarette smoke put off a powerful scent. The décor looked like a redneck’s yard sale threw up on the walls.
Danny played the Dew Drop every Thursday, his only consistent gig.
He was wrapping up a Merle Haggard cover, when a long-haired man came over. The man put a twenty in the tip jar. Danny smiled and dipped his chin.
“You got talent.” The man raised his glass. His arms were covered in tattoos, colorful, professional. Not the hazy prison-lines most of the customers had.
The man winked. “I know about that kind of thing.”
Danny thought the guy looked like every other good ole boy in the place, but his ink was better.
The following Thursday the guy came over again. This time he brought Danny a shot of Beam. The whiskey smell covered the stale-beer smell. A better scent.
“Thanks,” Danny said.
The guy stuck out a chewed-up mitt. “Name’s Greg.” He had the same south-Georgia accent as everyone else in the bar.
They shook hands.
A few weeks later, Danny and Greg were drinking at the Dew Drop. They’d bonded over outlaw country and domestic beer. “Dear Landlord” by Bob Dylan played in the background.