Tom Rinkes: A Night at Cemetery Mary’s

(Most of the following is true)

So, it’s May 18th, 1984 and I’m rolling eastbound in my “big truck” along Route 30 in Lancaster Pa. I’ll always enjoyed the jaunt over to Vineland, N.J. for my last produce delivery. I did this run twice a week and got to know the terrain, the people and the best places to eat. Tops in my log book was Duke’s Diner.

It was known by all the local truckers as “Cemetery Mary’s” place—but nobody ever called her that to her face—because the manager’s name was Mary and her hubby was the caretaker of a local cemetery two miles north on Witmer Road. She was a handsome woman in her late forties, I’m guessing, tall of stature and slim of build whose hands and face showed she was no stranger to hard work. She treated her regulars like family, and we all loved her for it. Anyway, things changed that full, moonlit night when he arrived. Mary said “Hi, Leonard,” and got him a coffee.

He wasn’t a trucker, but he liked to hang with us. He was among the counter-culture of the day we called Night People. They were the group of misfits you would never see in the daylight. Truck stops and casinos are full of them. He came dragging in about three in the morning, unshaven, unkempt, a little ragged in dress and demeanor. In other words, he fit right in.  Finally, after sizing the dude up—and figuring he was an okay guy—I invited him over to drink coffee and shoot the breeze. That was my first mistake.

“Leonard, my name’s Tom, but most people just call me Tom. What’re you into tonight?”

Mary waved her hand at me behind my guest so he couldn’t see her, giving the “touched in the head” sign with a finger. Then she rolled those pretty, baby blues back into her forehead and retreated to the kitchen.

(The rest is not so true)

“Aw, Mr. Tom, I’m having a bad night.”

“Why? What’s the beef?” I asked as I lit a smoke. Then he pulled out a Camel regular—no filter—and I lit his too. I thought, What the hey? You did press him for a sit down.

“Well…it’s a long and strange story. Sure you wanna hear it?”

(Here’s where my imagination ran wild, and I just imagined being there at that time of morning. I drawed on many of the different “Dinerviews”, as I called them, that I’d had from years on the road.)

“I got time,” I said, confidently. “Lay it on me.”

“Okay. Here goes. Today’s my birthday.”

“Why’s that freaking you out?” I asked, taking a sip and a drag.

“Because a man named Suranson is coming to pick me up.”

“In what? Truck, car, Amish buggy—what?”

He stared right at me and didn’t blink. “In a UFO.”

Immediately, something biodegradable inside me got chilled, and I knew it wasn’t the Western Omelet.

“…You said what?”

“A UFO. You now, a spaceship chock full of those extraterrestrials.”

Now the Ginn on my left shoulder was telling me to ditch this phsyco and run, but that smartass Ginn on my right kept telling me to milk this for a while, so I did.

“Tell me something, Lennie. I heard on the History Channel that they got this crazy-ass type of cruise control when they hit light speed. Any truth to that?”

“Slicker than snot on a doorknob, I’m telling ya’. You don’t even feel it kicking in. You just look at something out there in the universe and BAM, it’s behind you.”

“When they coming for you?” I asked as I grabbed my tab and spotted Mary a good tip.

“4:02 am. That’s the time I was born. In 1913.”

“It’s been enlightening, my man, but I got a 5 am drop in Jersey. Take care of yourself …and give my best to Surname or whatever he’s called. By.”

After I ran to my truck and then a red light to get rolling, I looked at the time on my AM-FM radio. It was 4:01. I breathed a sigh of relief, went a half mile and then got the shock of my trucking life. From outta nowhere there appeared this brilliant and blinding white light into my cab. It came from behind me, and I almost ran off the road. It hung there for two or three seconds and then was gone. It did a number on my eyes and I got tunnel vision. I had to stop at a rest area and walk around so I could get my vision and my mind right. And then I saw it. That light was coming at me. It stopped and hung right over top of me. From one of those portholes Ezekiel called “eyes” Leonard waved at me, and then it vanished so fast my eyes went crazy again.

I ran that route for three more years. But, every May 18th I bypassed Mary’s. Maybe I’ll drive over there someday after I retire. There’s a Pennwriters convention in Lancaster this year, and I might make an early morning coffee run.

Yeah, maybe. But I doubt it.

Note: This is the way I do it. Get fixated on an idea and then start typing until I get what I want. Anybody else do it this way?



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