Photo by Sandra Seitamaa on Unsplash

Strange Night At Denny’s Restaurant

I never was a big fan of rock and roll, or the further devolution of American music that followed. Classical music however was hard to find on a car radio, from my ’52 Chev forward. Since I spent a lot of time on the road from 1961 to the end of the century, and needed noise to keep me awake, much of what I disliked became, perforce, the soundtrack of my checkered life. Eventually I noticed a few tracks that were less awful than others, and a singer or two whose words were mostly intelligible. One of those was Bob Seger, whom the internet calls A roots rocker with a classic raspy, powerful voice…an example of a heartland rock artist….Not that it’s relevant to this piece, but my favorite became Against the Wind. Felt as if I’d been running against the wind my entire life.

Tonight, over two decades into a new century, my lady-love and I were listening to Seger’s songs on YouTube, complete with printed lyrics, since my hearing has gone steadily downhill. She and Seger share a home town, Detroit, and she has seen him in concert. (I have never attended a rock concert. The very notion makes me shudder.)

We came to Turn the Page, a touring rocker’s lament about life on the road. When we got to the following stanza, my memory did one of those peculiar little double-shuffles. The evocative lines:

Well, you walk into a restaurant all strung-out from the road

And you feel the eyes upon you as you’re shaking off the cold

You pretend it doesn’t bother you, but you just want to explode…”

Full-blown, an image flashed alive from the turn of the century, a Denny’s Restaurant near SeaTac Airport during the witching hours. “I saw a guy like that one time,” I told her. “Can’t remember his name. He wore a bandanna around his head, a rocker who’d just finished a gig and came into a Denny’s to eat…”

I had expected the usual quiet of a Denny’s at that late hour, patrons keeping to themselves, concentrating on their food, talking quietly if at all. There was only a thin scatter of tables occupied when this guy kind of erupted into the near-silence. He greeted the woman at the register loudly. Loudly told the waitress seating him that no, he was not expecting anyone. I thought he spoke like a man who’d had his eardrums battered by loud noises. Like a Basic Training firing line, sighting in M-14s, where the muzzle side-blast from both sides was deafening. Like sighting in my deer rifle at a municipal range before I started using hearing protection — too late. Like the roar of heavy shotguns in a lifetime of duck blinds.

The guy’s cell phone rang, another loud jarring sound in the Denny’s. He began to talk as loudly as if his caller might be hard of hearing as me. Yes, the show had gone well. He was just winding down before sleep. No, he did not need company. He preferred quiet time alone to wind down from the performance…we all were privy to his remarks whether we wanted to be or not. He fairly vibrated in his seat as he talked, discussing potential meetings tomorrow. But cut his caller short, not too rudely, insisting he needed decompression time.

I don’t know what his waitress asked when she brought his order. But he loudly admitted he was a rock star, though he didn’t use the term star. Had just finished a performance (I didn’t catch where) and needed to eat. He alluded to his blood sugar. That was years before I was diagnosed diabetic, but I knew people with the affliction all the way back to my maternal grandfather, so the way he dug in was familiar. The waitress station was near my table.

“You believe he’s a rock star?” one asked the other.

“Yeah, and I’m Queen of the May. Honestly, the kind of people we get in here!”

Not a precise transcript, but close. His every interaction with the staff was in that loud voice. My personal view was he did not seem to be showing off; if he was telling the truth his loudness was self-explanatory. There had been plenty of literature about hearing damage caused by blasting rock music. So I reserved judgment. Seemed I was the only one, when I mentioned loud music to my waitress. She was convinced he was a wannabe, pretending. And said other diners shared her view. And wished he’d tone it down. She said a couple tables had left early, annoyed by the display.

He did quiet down while he ate, gazing out the window at the night. But the phone rang again, another caller evidently solicitous of his well-being. This time he was impatient — and loud — insisting on his need for alone-time after the performance. If he was a phony, he was persistent. And consistent. It was time for me to go. At the register I said why not ask him for a couple tickets to his next show? Got the patented female eye-roll. She wasn’t going to be the one suckered by his pretensions!

“And that was it?” my lady-love asked, all these years later. “You thought of it because of Seger’s song?”

“Wish I could remember his name,” I said. “He did say it. But it’s gone. I do remember his bandanna and the long hair.” Since there was a pause in the Seger music, I pulled up Google Brain and asked about singers and head bandannas. My lady-love predicted Willie Nelson as first hit. But she was wrong. First hit was Bret Michaels. “That’s it!” I said. “That was him.”

We read a little. His original band was called Poison. (I did say music continued to devolve after rock and roll came in.) Never heard of it; unwilling to correct the oversight now. He evidently had some success solo as the century rolled over, which comported with the Denny’s apparition. Further, in an early performance he collapsed from insulin shock. (Wrongfully described by the media as a drug overdose.) Which squared with his Denny’s remarks about blood sugar that night. And he evidently spent lots of hours on the road, just as Seger had written in Turn the Page:

But your thoughts will soon be wandering, the way they always do

When you’re riding sixteen hours and there’s nothing there to do

And you don’t feel much like riding, you just wish the trip was through

Here I am, on a road again

There I am, on the stage

Here I go, playing star again

There I go, turn the page….”

Modern-day troubadours both, wanderers as surely as the twelfth century’s legendary Blondel de Nesle, supposed favorite of Richard the Lionhearted. Wonder if innkeepers back then doubted the man tuning his lute by the crackling fire was a well-known performer. Poets not being without honor save in their own country and all that.

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Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.

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Bill Burkett

Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.

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