The University of Georgia Bulldawgs and the Florida Gators.
The Hatfields and McCoys.
Kentucky Fried Chicken and Popeye’s.
Lee Best and the National Organization for Women.
Bitter blood rivalries where each side simply would not stop the fight until there was nothing left in the wake on the other side of the boundary line. Each day, even if the battlefield was quiet, both teams piled rage on top of strife in simple anticipation to what the other might do next.
But none of these feuds could even come close to the sheer hatred between the residents of Comer and Colbert, Georgia.
Colbert (pronounced CALL-bert, as would any town that lacked a certain amount of sophistication) boasted a local pizzeria, a Dollar General, and the only golf course within a thirty-mile radius. Its primary tourist attraction was a refurbished boxcar and a historic train depot that sat in the middle of town. There were also two gas stations, but we’ll get to that here momentarily.
Comer (pronounced CO-mer, although COME-r would have been much more appropriate for a molasses drawl) hosted the tri-county carnival every year on their fairgrounds, a Family Dollar, and one of those dilapidated downtown areas that hadn’t housed a successful business in a half-century. There was a pizzeria there at one time, but it closed. They also have two gas stations.
Up until recently, Colbert seemed to have more towards bragging rights. Comer citizens would often try to shoehorn Watson Mill in as a selling point for why their town was better. However, around one year ago, they had stuck another arrow in their quiver in the fight for territorial supremacy.
A local boy named Zeb done got himself on the TV.
As for said local boy in question, although he certainly wore the colors of his official hometown with pride, he carried a very dark secret that he would never dare utter to any resident of either place…
He preferred Colbert.
Because Colbert not only actually had a restaurant. They had his favorite restaurant. Not the pizza place, but rather a Zagat-snubbed eatery known as the Bread Basket.
While it wasn’t a well-kept secret for the locals, you’d have driven right by this place without giving it a second glance if you were only passing through. The Bread Basket was actually a Chevron gas station across the street from the aforementioned train depot. Travelers unfamiliar to the area would normally take one look at the twenty-five cent gouge in fuel prices and opt to find a cheaper stop down the road. The residents also knew better than to fill up here. The only reason to visit lay inside.
When you walk in, it doesn’t appear to be much more than your average convenience store. Of course, since it was plopped right in the heart of the southeastern United States, the only noticeable difference was the overabundance of Mountain Dew. Not only could you grab a can or a bottle in the beverage cooler in the back, the Basket had an additional display to head up the candy aisle.
Once you caught the aroma over in the far left corner, though, you unearthed the secret. The smell of succulent sustenance drenched in a metric ton of margarine wafted from within the silver tins that sat within a glass-lined display. Scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, smoked sausage, chicken-fried steak, chicken-fried chicken, pork tenderloin, and a valley of golden biscuits just within striking distance of several metal tongs awaited you.
You never imagined heaven to have steam lines coming off its floor, but here it was.
Clad in typical Wrangler Five-Stars, chocolate-colored layaway boots and a gray Gwinnett Stripers T-shirt, Zeb Martin had a grin on his face like he was first laying eyes on a newborn. His pride and joy, and the only thing he had touted as the place “we gotta go to” for any out-of-towners that he might be hosting at his childhood home.
You first had to walk past a couple of aisles of gas station kitsch and traditional snack items, but once at the food display you would come face to face with St. Peter. Or something like that. Taking your order and serving you was a portly woman, her torso draped in a plain white apron that reached just down to thigh level. A regulation hair net covered a graying perm, and a wart the size of a moon crater accentuated the right side of her cleft chin.
Behind her gave a great mantra for the area. An embroidered cloth sign that read “FAT PEOPLE HAVE MORE FUN.”
Zeb took a passing glance over to the front entrance of the convenience store after giving the woman his order. Sure, this wasn’t the only gas station on the planet that could fix you up with a quick meal. Wawa, Sheetz, and QuikTrip were arguably leading the charge in this concept on a nationwide basis. What did seem to be an anomaly here was that people actually sat in the booths that had been set up inside the store itself.
Although he’d only been inside the Bread Basket one other time in the past year, one thing still remained consistent. It was around 8:30, and the same crew of old men, like clockwork, had occupied the space of two of these tables. It was a ritual for all of them, seven days a week except for holidays.
People had often joked how they’d avoided running out of things to talk about. The undisclosed reason to everyone else was that they’d typically recycle the same subjects. How the liberals were ruining this once great nation. How the kids around here didn’t understand what it was like to put in an honest day’s labor. Unbeknownst to Zeb, when the news hit that a local boy would be a featured television wrestler, he ended up as a topic for discussion for a couple of weeks. (Oddly enough, while the men were usually in agreement on most everything, the jury was a bit split on the Watson Mill Kid. The rural South tended to be a bit more sympathetic when it came to “rasslin.”)
Growing up, Zeb always carried a bit of resentment toward that group. Partially because his grandfather had long touted them as “a bunch of fuckin’ hens thinkin’ they roosters,” but mostly it was just due to their resistance to see the world from a thirty-thousand foot view. Hell, when this very place had decided to offer turkey bacon as a substitute for the pork product, it was treated as if they’d built a mosque next to the Coca-Cola fountain.
Now, a little more to the wise, Zeb just felt sorry for them. The routine and complacency was simply an invisible security blanket that shielded their fear of change. Instead of being able to drop their guard and embrace it, they just weren’t equipped enough to accept any inclination of something new treading on their property.
While flimsy at best, these men at least had an excuse. They’d never had the exposure to anything different than what they were used to. There would never be a crop of spry youngsters looking to have a seat at their tables.
Wrestling had its own breakfast crew, arguably on a much larger scale.
But right now, Zeb was jealous. At least they had something.