I ask Sam if he’s free Thursday and he says anytime after 4pm, when he gets off work. I price rental cars, but they’re through the roof these days. Zipcar turns out to be cheaper. Never took one for longer than three hours, nor left the city, much less the state in one before, but what the hell? I think back to when I drove my leased Yellow Cab all the way to Columbus just to see a band.
Off the interstate in Michigan an hour after leaving Chicago. I text Sam I’m close. He asks if I’m hungry. I say sure. I drive into his town and squint for the street number. There’s a garage/carwash where the house is supposed to be. I loop back around and get some suspicious looks from a couple guys not working on the cars. I call Sam and tell him I don’t see his place. He explains I have to keep going to the north side of town. Who knew a one-horse town would require north and south sides?
He’s standing by a truck in the parking lot. I get out and we shake hands. We’ve never met before. He says to hop in the passenger’s seat. We make a couple turns and pull into a grocery store lot. He walks straight to the meat counter and asks for four rib-eyes. The counter man tells him how much it’ll be, tries to talk him out of it, but Sam insists. Then asks if I want water. He gets a bag of charcoal and lighter fluid.
We turn off the road onto a gravel path. He takes it real slow, saying there were huge divots and potholes the last time. We park and carry the meat, paper towels, charcoal, lighter fluid, water, a small grill, and two folding chairs decorated in the stars & stripes down to the river’s edge. A couple fishermen cross paths with us, nod, then keep walking. This is Sam’s grill spot.
He says he never thought much about grilling until a friend gave him this little boxy number with fold-out legs. It looks like it was soldered together in someone’s garage. He says he comes out here all the time now as he stokes the coals. We talk about art and books as the steaks slowly turn from red to brown.
An official-looking SUV with a canoe on a hitch rolls down the boat-launch a few feet from us. The park ranger in the driver’s seat asks Sam a bunch of innocuous questions that Sam answers curtly. I can tell his attitude toward cops is about as good as mine. Satisfied for the moment, the ranger reverses back up the path and disappears.
——Guess I should’ve gotten some plates.
The rib-eyes cool on a piece of tin-foil on the grass. We each unroll a bunch of paper towel. There are no utensils, so we just gnaw at the meat like cave-dwellers, talking some more about the stupid racket we’ve devoted our lives to.
——It’s really good!
He nods agreement. The sun has set and we can barely see one another now. We talk more, but now there are more pauses, gaps. We lapse into silence. Neither of us is a chatterbox and it’s a wonder we kept batting the ball back and forth for as long as we have.
We pack up the gear and get in the truck. Back outside his place, I reach into the Zipcar, grab a book, and give it to Sam. We say goodbye and I drive back to the city.