December 2001. My dad and I, accompanied by my grandparents, set off on a road trip to Houston. Grandaddy and Granny packed a cooler. Dad brought his box of cassettes. His best music was on cassette.
Dad drove. Grandaddy navigated. Granny read Danielle Steel. Thirty minutes into our drive, we arrived at the Thunderbird Cafe in Hillsboro. Attached to the Thunderbird Motel on I-35, it was my grandparents’ favorite place to stop for breakfast. Dad and I had never been.
What we entered was a small-town twilight zone; I wouldn’t be surprised if second hands were spinning counter-clockwise at the Thunderbird that day. I don’t remember the contents of our breakfasts, I just know there were biscuits. A basket of biscuits appeared before our drinks arrived. And before we finished those, someone appeared from the kitchen with another basket of hot biscuits.
“Biscuits?” he asked with an encouraging, if not slightly demented, smile. Before Dad and I could complete a silent “What the fuck is with the biscuits?” exchange, my grandparents ushered another batch of biscuits to the table. Dad and I must have exchanged a dozen glances during that breakfast. The Thunderbird Cafe was run by Biscuit Pushers.
When we got back on the road, Dad popped in a cassette: Eagles – Their Greatest Hits. Grandaddy watched the road. Granny read. For the next few hours, Dad and I sang. We sang all the hits, both volumes. Sometimes I stopped to listen to his harmonies. Sometimes I matched them. Mostly, we just sang.
Occasionally, I’d break from song to mimic a Biscuit Pusher. “Biscuits?” I’d ask shrilly, shoulders pulled up to my ears, mouth in a crazed half-smile. I would catch Dad’s inaudible laugh in the rear view mirror. Grandaddy would watch the road. Granny would turn another page.
The Thunderbird Cafe is gone now. Dad is gone, too. Grandaddy and Granny are still here, but these days he does the driving and she can’t read. They don’t remember the biscuits and they don’t know the harmonies for “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”
But I do. And on occasion I journey past the shell of the Thunderbird Cafe, whose last days were spent as a mediocre taqueria. Sometimes I let the 17-year-old in me come out. Sometimes I resurrect the biscuit joke, alone in the car, with the face and the inflection and all of it. I used to not, but I don’t see the harm these days… I’m already standing on the ground.