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Plot inspired by the song West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown copyright Jimmy Buffett.

Richard Lobinske

West Lawndale Grand Ballroom Gown

The spring Florida sun shone down on the slender brunette in a tie-dye shirt as she waved my eighteen-wheeler down near the I-95 onramp. Something in the sadness about her made me stop, despite my usual immunity to hitchhikers. I'm paid to haul cargo, not passengers.

"Thanks," she breathed as she dropped her small bag on the floorboard and slid into the passenger seat.

"Any destination in particular?"

"Just heading north before it gets too hot."

"I'm headed clear to Maine, so you'll have plenty of options."

"Sounds good."

As I drove, she leaned against the window and drifted off to sleep. She looked weary, but maintained the bearing of a good upbringing.

A couple hours later, she awoke as I pulled into a truckstop. After stopping, I turned and said, "I need to fuel up and get some lunch. Join me if you want."

She nodded, still mostly asleep. As I told the attendant to fill up both sides, the young woman climbed down and waited for me.

The diner was a typical truck stop greasy spoon: simple, edible food at moderate prices.

Since this was on of my regular stops on my east coast runs, the waitress knew me and brought over my coffee with the menus. "Eddie, new partner?" She wiggled her eyebrows at me.

"No, Annabelle, just a passenger, and nothing else."

"If ya say so. One check or two?"

"I've got it, just one."

"Sure thing, Honey." Annabelle rushed off to another table. The girl gave me a brief smile of thanks.

For most of the mean, we made senseless small talk.

Suddenly, she felt like telling me about herself. "Daddy was one of those guys that took his old family wealth and just made more of it. I think he saw his family more as accessories than as loved ones."

"Doesn't sound like a whole lot of love around that house."

"Momma, she could show her love, for my brother. Nothing was ever too good for him. Show him and his girlfriend around colleges? No problem. Get him into the family heritage school? No hesitation. Comfort him when said girlfriend dumped him? You bet. He was the family's future and had to be properly prepared."

I nodded thought, Sounds like these people have a screw or two loose.

"Me, I was like some seventeenth century princess waiting to be married off for the best political gain. I had to be properly dressed and shown off for every occasion, no matter how boring or silly. I used to call them 'West Lawndale Grand Ballroom Gowns' and hated them."

"Never been to a ballroom. I'll take your word for it."

"Twenty-two years I put up with all their society plans. My brother is already a Vice-President of the family business. But, I knew they would try to get me married off as soon as they could after I finished college a year ago. So, after I got my degree confirmed, I walked out of my dorm with this bag and the cash I had on hand and didn't look back."

"Hmm. Interesting. Future plans?"

"More of the same. I've lived more in the last year than I did in the whole time before. I spent the last month with the Rainbow People over in the Big Scrub."


"Friendly, generous with what they have, if a little odd for most tastes. Kind of like hippie refugees."

After lunch, I said, "If you've spent the last month like you said, you've been camping."

"Yes, I have."

I fished out some cash from my pocket. "No offense, but I know one of the first things I want after a stint of camping is a good hot shower." I handed her the money and pointed toward one end of the building. "The ladies showers are that way, pick up what you need and meet me back at my rig."

"Thanks, I wasn't expecting anything. It's been months since I've had a real, hot shower. I appreciate this."

"Don't worry."

After she crawled back into the rig, we headed north on I-95 and she quickly fell asleep again. I looked at her and wondered where or when she had last slept.

Approaching evening, I pulled into another diner. After setting the air brakes, I gently shook her shoulder. "Hey, I'm stopping for dinner."

Tired, she looked up. "Where are we?"

"Outside Washington."

She gave me a soft smile. "That's close enough to Maryland for me and time to head west. Thanks for the ride."

As she picked up her bag, I handed her some cash. "Take care of yourself."

"Thanks." She smiled, leaned across the cab and gave me a quick kiss. "If you have the chance, could you drop this off for me?" She handed me a folded sheet of paper, then quickly left the truck. On the paper was written:

To Kay Sloane
Lawndale, Maryland


I'm fine, if you happen to wonder. I don't have much money, but I still get around. I haven't made church in near thirty-five Sundays. So, fuck all those West Lawndale Grand Ballroom Gowns.


Lyric fragment derived from West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown by Jimmy Buffett.

Thanks to Ipswichfan and Kristen Bealer for beta reading.

September 2004
Revised January 2005