It’s a straight shot down U.S. Route 1 from this Sheetz to PayJays, equal thirds gas station, diner and retail operation. One hundred and sixty miles and three hours to convenience, to that saccharine, smoke and salt of barbecue Utz potato chips and Sundrop.

There’s no convenience in a Sheetz. Or a Wawa, or a Texaco for that matter. There’s no joy in waiting in a line of cars for one of fifteen gas pumps. No love in using a touch screen to order food.

Convenience is pickled eggs at the counter.

It’s even past the Horseshoe Diner in South Hill, Va. where they caught that guy who wanted to be machine gun Kelley so badly that he rode into town on fumes of grandeur and a few rounds of ammo on New Years Eve 1938. At least that’s what the owner, Gus the prodigal-diner-son who returned from Richmond to lay down some deep roots, told me.

Payjay’s is just past the border of North Carolina at a crossroads of fields. On one side of the road it’s cotton. On there other there are soy beans. Its faux brick exterior finish and cheap hamburgers are the first stop to the Outer Banks and the last stop to Lake Gaston. Opening the bait cooler just outside of the front door is a reprieve from summer heat and smells like rotten fish, which my father Dick Tracy, the person not the comic-strip as he likes to say, equates with open water and freedom.

Those chips and soda were the wafers and wine of sacrilege Sundays when rather than spend our time with Christ, Dick Tracy and I sat in the his blue Toyota pick-up truck outside Payjay’s, talking to his friends the hunters about Breezy Valley Pete, his prize-winning hunting dog.

“Pete was a champion,” the hunters informed me. “He always brought back the kill, loved a good chase.”

Their own hunting dogs were cooped up in cages on the beds of trucks. They howled, I thought to the sound of Pete’s name, but more likely to the steady tone of legend relayed by the bait cooler.

     by Lindley Estes