Bacon Rhubarb Meringue Pie
Every storyteller knows that a great story is one-part truth and two-parts lie. But I once knew an unlikely pair that needed no such recipe. Their adventures and antics were far from believable and, therefore, would’ve made for terrible fiction. However, a study of their tales and troubles as a work of non-fiction would’ve also proved unfruitful as rhyme and reason rarely came to play. So I’m left with no choice but to lay their deeds before you with no expectation of meaning or moral, only the promise of a great story.
Woodruff and Bob met in a way that would’ve been considered by most to be very out of the ordinary, but for them it was just Friday.
Bob dangled his feet out of the open boxcar door and let the crisp mountain air blow in his face.
“How long are you going to hide back there?” Bob asked the shadows behind him, with his eyes out on the horizon.
Woodruff stepped out from a fortress of crates and steadied himself against the rickety wooden wall.
“I’m not hiding,” Woodruff said, as he straightened his shirt. “The center of the car offers the smoothest ride. Everybody knows that.”
“Not much of a view behind those boxes though,” Bob replied, looking down at his tennis shoes and watching his feet float around on the breeze.
“Maybe I didn’t come for the view,” Woodruff said.
“Your loss.” He twisted around and held out his hand. “Name’s Bob.”
Woodruff stepped out of the shadows, extended his long arm and shook Bob’s hand. Bob scooted over and patted the dusty floor next to him. Without a decent excuse to refuse, Woodruff accepted the invitation and sat down next to his new traveling companion.
“And you are?”
“My name is Woodruff.”
“So where’re ya headed, Woodruff?”
They both smiled at the happy coincidence that two men, on a train bound for Santa Fe, shared an intended destination. In their day, Woodruff and Bob had been accused of many things, stealing the free samples at Panera Bread, illegally impersonating an Ostrich wrangler, gambling on elevator races, and at least one incident of public plumbery and scribblement, but one thing they’d rarely been accused of was overthinking.
“What’s your business in Santa Fe?” Woodruff asked.
“I will not.”
“I’m going to Santa Fe for pie!”
Bob lifted one leg back into the boxcar and turned around to face Woodruff more fully.
“On the count of three, say what kind of pie,” Bob said. “One, two…”
“Wait!” Woodruff interrupted. “Say it on three or three and then say it?”
“Three and then say it,” Bob clarified. “One. Two. Three.”
“Bacon Rhubarb Meringue,” they shouted in unison.
“Outstanding,” Bob said.
“Are you going to Raul’s Bakeshop?” Woodruff asked.
“I am! How do you know about Raul’s?”
“I met a hobo in Flagstaff.”
“Kenny?” Bob asked.
“You know him?”
“Sure do,” Bob said. “Kenny and I go way back. He once saved me from a raccoon stampede.”
“That sounds terrifying.”
“So, are you a hobo?” Woodruff asked.
“They prefer Vagabond American,” Bob said. “But no, we just seem interested in the same things.”
Woodruff gripped the rusty iron door frame as the boxcar rocked hard from side to side. Bob pushed up with his hands and lifted his read end off the floor as he swayed with the motion of the train.
“There are two types of people in this world, Woodruff,” Bob began. “Those who cling tighter when life gets bumpy, most times getting the pudding knocked out of them, and those who just close their eyes and groove with what life’s putting down.”
“People like that are why we have to have warning labels on everything,” Woodruff argued.
“I’m starting to understand this whole business casual look you’ve got going on.”
Bob gestured with circular hand motions from Woodruff’s long sleeve bottom up shirt, to his slacks, and brown Doc Martens.
“Grown-ups wear pants.”
“Not this grown-up. Too restricting,” Bob said. “Plus, I have fifty percent more pockets that you. So who’s more sophisticated now?”
He pulled at the side pockets of his khaki cargo shorts, with a synchronized eyebrow raise.
“Classy,” Woodruff said with a pronounced eye roll.
Woodruff shook his head at the oblivious satisfied look on Bob’s face. They road in silence, except for Bob’s occasional humming of the Growing Pains theme song, for the next hundred miles or so. Woodruff twice stood up to throw himself from the train but didn’t want to chance landing on an innocent prairie dog or an orphaned coyote, so he sat back down and counted potential chupacabra dens in the high desert landscape.
“So why are you riding the rails anyway?” Bob finally asked. “Don’t you have a car or a high horse to ride on?”
“I have a Karmann Ghia, for your information,” Woodruff said indignantly. “But Kenny could only give directions from the rail yard. They were fairly specific and involved an inordinate amount of detail about rat burrows and the number of decapitated doll heads you’d pass before making a left turn.”
“Plus, now I can cross ‘hopping a train’ off my bucket list.”
“You have a bucket list?” Bob laughed. “How old are you?”
“You don’t have to be old to have a bucket list,” Woodruff said. “You don’t have anything you want to do before you go?”
“I want to do everything.”
“That’s your list?” Woodruff asked. “Everything?”
“Well you’d better get after it then.”
“Oh I intend to, right after a try a slice of Raul’s Bacon Rhubarb Meringue Pie.”
Bob winked at his lanky boxcar mate as the train lurched forward and began to slow. Woodruff jumped up and headed back behind the crates as they rolled into the rail yard.
“I knew you were hiding!”
“No,” Woodruff shouted from behind the boxes. “I’m just getting Sylvia.”
He emerged from behind the crates holding several small wooden tubes bound together with a brass strip. They were all different sizes and lined up from tallest to shortest. Bob swung his legs into the boxcar, stood up and walked over to Woodruff.
“Is that a pan flute?”
“Sure is,” Woodruff said. “I never go anywhere without her.”
“You mean we could have been making sweet music this whole time?”
“Do you play?”
“No, but I’ve been told I sing like a goose,” Bob said proudly.
Woodruff furrowed his brow and his mouth fell open as the train came to a stop. Bob hopped down into the gravelly rail yard and led the way over the tracks. They passed a giant rat burrow, ducked through the opening in the chain link fence and headed between the red brick buildings with the first decapitated doll head in the alley.
“Like a goose?” Woodruff asked.
“Oh yeah,” Bob nodded vigorously.
“The second doll head!” Bob said excitedly. “We’re almost there.”
Across the street and through another alley they found the third doll head with brown curly hair, just as Kenny had described. Directly to their left they saw a sign that read Raul’s Brake Shop.
“I thought he said Bakeshop, not Brake Shop,” Woodruff said.
“Does it matter?” asked Bob.
“Doesn’t it?” Woodruff replied with widened eyes.
Bob shrugged his shoulders and pulled on the grimy handle of the glass front door. Inside was a dirty little lobby with two worn chairs, and a small end table littered with magazines. Behind the counter stood a dark haired man with a scraggly beard and a collared shirt, with Raul stitched just above the pocket.
“Raul, we’ve come for two pieces of your Bacon Rhubarb Meringue Pie,” Bob declared.
Raul looked back and forth between Woodruff and Bob as he wiped his greasy hands on an old rag.
“Bob, I don’t think…”
“Coming right up,” Raul mumbled, unenthusiastically, as he disappeared around the corner.
Bob turned around to Woodruff, leaned on the counter and winked. In moments, Raul returned with two large pieces of heaping meringue-topped pie. Bob handed the first plate to Woodruff and pulled a banana money clip from the side pocket of his cargo shorts.
“I got this,” Bob said.
“You don’t have to do that.”
“You can get the next one.”
“Thanks,” Woodruff said. “Oh, wait. I have a coupon.”
Woodruff pulled an old chewing gum wrapper from his shirt pocket. He unfolded it and showed it to Bob. In crayon the words BOGO Raul’s Pie were scribbled above an illegible signature. Bob gave an approving nod and Woodruff handed it to the burly man behind the counter.
“Kenny said you’d honor this,” Woodruff declared hopefully.
Raul barely examined the wrapper and placed it under the register.
“All right, two dollars,” Raul said.
“Sweet!” Bob exclaimed.
They sat on the tattered old chairs in the lobby and consumed their pie.
“Mmmm,” Woodruff hummed.
“So good,” Bob agreed.
“Worth every mile.” Woodruff stood up, took Bob’s empty plate from him and stacked both their plates on the counter. “Raul, my good man, my compliments to your baker.”
“Thanks,” Raul said, as he removed the plates from the counter. “You get a 10% discount on brake pads with every piece you purchase.”
“I’ll remember that,” Woodruff said. “For next time.”
“Later days, Raul,” Bob said with a double finger point and a twirl as he backed out the front door.
A right turn at the decapitated doll head and they were headed back to the rail yard.
“So what’s next?” Bob asked.
“On your ‘before I kick the bucket’ list,” Bob clarified.
“I don’t know,” Woodruff said. “There’s lots of stuff.”
“Well if I’m going to do everything, we might as well start with your stuff,” Bob said. “So whatcha got?”
Woodruff ducked through the opening in the chain link fence and stepped carefully around the giant rat burrow. Bob skipped over the rails and tracks toward the waiting trains.
“I’ve always wanted to go flamingo dancing,” Woodruff said.
“You mean flamenco dancing?”
“Nope,” Woodruff said as he hopped up into the boxcar. He reached back down to Bob and extended his hand with a wry smile. “I mean FLAMINGO dancing.”
“Outstanding!” Bob grinned and grabbed Woodruff’s hand as he stepped up onto the train.
And so began the many adventures of Woodruff and Bob.