Queen of Coal Burgers Rocks Drive-thru

You really can’t beat the meatloaf special with string beans at the Five-Points Highway Diner. Yum. Now that’s eating. But Morris Crimpanfortis V is not especially enjoying his meal this evening. The projected launch date for Anthracite Tonite is bearing down on him like a ton of sizzling ingots, and the all-important decision for a co-host hangs in the balance. Jonas Cider is trying to make a case for himself, but Morris knows he’s all wrong for the part. The erratic yokel can’t be trusted around celebrities. There is only one person in this entire burg that Morris deems worthy of the exalted co-host mantle: Twilz Grimsby, who handles the drive-thru at the Coal Miners Burger Shaft. She can trade celebrity gossip with the best of them, and won’t back down when a customer complains about cold fries. Will Morris get the stones to approach Twilz for the coveted co-host position? Or will be fall back on the old tried and true, with the prospect of Bigfoot lurking in the wings?

Coal Dust and Burgers

Holding out Co-Host Hopes for Twilz Grimsby

I order the meatloaf special with string beans, then glance at my watch. Where is everyone? It’s tough trying to keep the troops motivated when a project seems so far away. The problem is the launch date will be here before anyone knows it, and then what? People will be scrambling around like chickens with their heads cut off. It’s up to me as captain of the ship to keep everyone on point. I wonder if disciplinary measures are in order. It’s tough keeping people in the ballgame when they’re not being paid.

“I can handle both the music and co-host chores,” Jonas Cider offers. “Think about it, a twofer. You can’t beat it.” The scrawny man makes a mock toast before taking a self-congratulatory sip of tap water.

I pick at my salad, wondering if I should say anything about the wilted lettuce. I dump on more Russian dressing from the bottle on the dirty checkered tablecloth.

Where is everyone? Is the snow keeping them away? I sure hope so; I hope it’s not the fact the project is running out of steam.

I chew restlessly, thinking about my options for co-host. I’m still holding out hope for Twilz Grimsby over at the Coal Miners Burger Shaft. Twilz mans the drive-thru and seems to have a pretty good handle on celebrity gossip. She can dish the dirt with the best of them without coming off as being star-struck.

Keeping it real around Celebrities

I definitely need someone who won’t lose it around celebrities. I can’t trust Jonas any further than I can through his scrawny behind. The minute my back is turned there’s no telling what big name he’ll be riling up on the set. Don’t forget, those celebrities are my guests; they’re my bread and butter, my meal ticket. No one can be messing with them.

I finish my salad and slump back in my chair wishing Jonas Cider would just get up from the table and leave. The brooding artist has been bugging me to be co-host ever since I announced the inception of Anthracite Tonight! I remain noncommittal as the search unfolds.

Now, on top of everything else, melting snow starts trickling between my shoulder blades and down my back.

The Lengths to Which Some Will Go

Get this: Mayor Perry Quinnion, misguided intentions and all, came up with the perfect bribe for me to make him co-host: building a fifteen-foot-tall bronze statue of me to replace the beaver in the middle of town square.

“I have a confession to make,” Jonas Cider says, somberly drawing up at the table. “My ancestor, Clement Cider, did not originally discover coal as everyone thinks,” he says. “Instead, it was Sasquatch,” His eyes bore holes into me. “You know… Bigfoot.”

“Okay…” I say. “Bigfoot.” I feel a bout of indigestion coming on. “Charming.”

“Do you want to discuss film rights?” he asks.

Jonas Cider: Portrait of an American Liability

It’s no secret, everyone tries to hone in on the action when there’s the faintest whiff of stardom or instant wealth on the horizon. Jonas Cider, bless his antagonistic, ingratiating soul, is no different. Ever since Morris Crimpanfortis arrived in this squalid, two-bit former coalmining bastion, people have been trying to hop aboard the gravy train for a nonstop journey to perpetual fun in the sun. Jonas Cider contends that he not only wants to be, but has the right to be, Morris’ sidekick for the new talk show: Anthracite Tonite! Jonas’ claim to fame is that he’s the lone surviving descendant of Clement Cider, who discovered the coal that would fuel the Pre Sunspot Era (PSE) nearly four centuries ago. In an impromptu meeting at the Five-Points Highway Diner, Morris gets down to brass tacks about just what the cohost job entails:  Jonas admits he can’t impersonate Elvis, but he is “pretty good” at handling poisonous snakes.. . .

Jonas Cider: Waiting Centuries for a Co-host Gig

Open Auditions for Co-host

Ah, the pleasure of being a show host and running your own TV production company. People at booths and tables greet me and nod as I triumphantly stride down the center aisle of the Five-Points Highway Diner.

Deluded that I’m still living in Burbank, I am not wearing an overcoat, Shivering uncontrollably, I head to the rear of the diner where the “Boca Grande Room” is located. Snow falls from my shoulders, cascading in slushy clumps on the worn carpet. I suffer the indignity of being told not to melt so close to peoples’ food. I expertly sluice winter mucus with the back of an ungloved hand, and am warned not to do that so close to diners either.

These sad sacks may not know me as a household name yet, but they surely must sense something big in the works. Maybe it’s my air of confidence, indicating I’m on the brink of something important – something groundbreaking. I can only imagine what it will be like when I start appearing live and direct across the U.S. on a nightly basis.

Tripping on Delusions of Grandeur

As I round the corner, I fully expect to be hailed by a teeming complement of bookers, writers, segment producers, brand and editorial managers, social media execs, sales and marketing guys, digital asset managers and associate producers eagerly assembled to discuss topics and offer suggestions for the design and overall feel for the show. Instead, the only person in attendance is the bane of my existence: Jonas Cider.

I try not to leer at Jonas as Tony, my regular waiter, places a water with two squeezes of lime on the soggy coaster in front of me. “Thank you Tony,” I say. The glass is a little smudged, not entirely clean, but I grin and bear it. “I hope you can make the meeting later on.”

“I get off in another hour,” Tony says.

“That’s fine,” I say. Tony is my Director of Catering and Craft Services. I don’t know if he’s any good, but he seems eager enough. Apparently he’s a quick study; at least that’s what his shift supervisor tells me. I just wish they’d spruce up the aprons around this place.

An Offer Genuinely Worth Refusing

“Have you thought any more about my offer to be co-host?” Jonas asks.

Juice flies as I pulverize the lime wedges and douse them with my chilled fingertips in the overflowing mouth of the milky glass. “No,” I tell him.

Jonas Cider claims to be the long-lost descendant of Clement Cider, the man credited with discovering coal in the region nearly four centuries ago that fueled the Pre-Sunspot Era. Actually, a beaver discovered the vein but why muddle history with facts?

An angular man in his thirties with long, scraggily brown hair, Jonas struggles with entitlement issues. Everyone wants to be a co-host, and I have grown to resent Jonas’ arrogance. I know it’s wrong of me, he’s only trying to get ahead; I just don’t like how he’s going about it.

Jonas also fashions himself a Renaissance man: he’s a finish carpenter, plays the Dobro, and designs women’s sportswear.

But can he sing like Elvis?

And, more to the point: can he handle himself around poisonous snakes?

Peach Pie and Poisonous Snakes

They should really make a national landmark out of this place. The venerable Five-Points Highway Diner has seen its fair share of drama. It was one summer day in the shadows of the veranda that Vick Banzler pointed to the fulminating sky with the head of a venomous snake and proclaimed that the next installment of the Great Sunspot Dilemma was hurtling toward Earth. These days, the local hangout is home for Morris’ legendary preproduction meetings in advance of the launch of his hour-long national TV talk show Anthracite Tonite. This evening’s discussion veers off-topic to Las Vegas, and Morris hopes his father doesn’t catch wind. The estimable Morris Crimpanfortis IV makes no bones about his disdain for all things Vegas, which is fine – that’s his prerogative. But the rest of the production crew can’t ignore the importance of the market. Morris grows antsy as he contemplates how anyone could question Daddy’s disdain for anything . . .

The Five-Points Highway Diner

You Can’t Miss It – Trust Us

Up ahead, the Five-Points Highway Diner is bathed in light.

The restaurant sits inside a massive traffic circle at the confluence of State Routes 510, 628, 415, 408 and 560. With eight lanes of traffic going five different directions, it’s understandable why the diner has bullet-proof glass. To make the chaotic intersection even more challenging, there are fountains and traffic islands. At various times of the year the water is dyed different colors to suit the occasion. Don’t ask me how they keep the water running in the middle of winter. I wonder why tonight’s designated water color is sea-foam green.

The spokes of the hub of the coalescing highways are brilliantly illuminated to make the diner appear a spaceship ready for takeoff.  When the wind blows from the east, incoming commuter flights, corporate jets, medevac and state police choppers use this building as a landmark on their approach to the municipal airport.

The diner is atypical in design. The stucco building encompasses the sleek deco lines not unlike those found on the abandoned skyscrapers downtown; the overall motif suggests a scaled-down version of the Pentagon. There are blinding columns of light shooting into the sky at each of the five corners of the diner. The lights are reminiscent of the iconic Sky Beam emanating from the top of the Luxor in Las Vegas.

Mindless Las Vegas Diversion

I am quite familiar with Las Vegas, having been in and out of the city on a number of occasions for the NAB and NATPE before the latter confab moved to Miami. I’ve seen the Strip over the years become an international brand. I prefer the old school Vegas when things were a lot more easy-going and friendly. The colorful fountains in front of the Five-Points Highway Diner remind me of the fountains Evel Knievel once challenged on his motorcycle in front of Caesars.

Daddy, I’m afraid, was never a big fan of the desert paradise. If there was ever a town where his sprawling billboards would be a big hit, it’s undoubtedly Vegas. And maybe that’s the real reason Daddy holds ill-will toward the region – to the extent of refusing to do business in the entire state!  He might be afraid that his displays would get lost in the shuffle, and that they’d become one more garish display on the way to perdition.

A couple things wrong with this flimsy line of reasoning: Daddy isn’t afraid of anything. He takes a backseat to no one. And his billboards do not, and let us repeat, do not lead to perdition. They are fresh and genuine in their wholesomeness as the day is long. Is it too much of a stretch to realize he just doesn’t find the atmosphere agreeable to the furtherance of his values?

Making the Most of Your Merge

I look in all directions before entering the circle. Thankfully, traffic is fairly light. You have to get over however many lanes in order to reach the entrance to the parking lot. Sometimes you have to circle the drain a number of times, merging one lane at a time. There was no such need tonight; I made it after only two times around. I park in back where the rest of the employees are parked. I consider myself an employee of sorts. I have a trade deal with the diner in the Silt Ridge Valley Midnight News. I also will provide free airtime locally in the Anthracite Tonite telecasts, whenever the show gets off the ground.

The snow keeps falling. I exit the car, remembering to lock the doors. I debate putting the top up. No, I’ll just keep it down. Besides, the snow blends in with the white bucket seats.