Monday, May 11, 2009


by Benjo

Last week, at a Subway restaurant in Tehachapi, California, a cashier turned everything I thought I knew about vegetarianism on its head. My two friends had just paid for their Veggie Delite sandwiches, and I was doing the same. The conversation went as follows:
CASHIER: Three Veggie Delites, huh. Y'all are vegans?
ME: Vegetarians.
CASHIER: Right, vegans. Same thing.
I returned to my table and broke the news to my friends. “Fuck dick-a-shit ass ass ass!” Dan said.

“Dan,” I replied, “what are you talking about?”

“I'm sorry,” he replied, “but you know I curse unintelligibly when I find out I've been wrong about something for years.”

Zeke wiped a tear from his eye. “This is terrible, but how do we know she's not full of tofuloney? I mean, who is she, anyway?”

Dan snarled. “I'll tell you who she is: she's a food service careerwoman. That means it's her job to be a societal knowledge center when it comes to food-related issues.”

“Okay,” Zeke said, “you're right.”

“But not only that,” Dan said. “As a member of the native Tehachapi, she has a sixth sense when it comes to health and environmental issues that you and I can't even understand. They invented veganism long before the white man ever came along and turned it into a yuppie sport.”

“I know, I know,” Zeke said. “It's just that, well, the 'etari' was the most important part of my vegetarianism.”

“Well,” Dan replied, “you're going to have to let the 'etari' go. You're a vegan now.”

I chimed in. “Guys, I just have one problem with this. Isn't it a slippery slope?”

“Oh God,” Dan said. “You and your slippery slopes.”

“No, hear me out. I mean, who's to say the 'etari' is the only thing they strip from our vegetarianism? What's next, the 'eg'? if they got rid of that, we'd be vans.”

“We're not going to be vans,” Dan said. “Vans are already a type of shoes. If they tried to call us vans, it would be copyright infringement.”

“That's what you think,” barked a voice from the next table. We looked over and saw a grizzled truck driver in a flannel shirt and mesh hat. “That's what I used to tell the other caravanseraimobile drivers: 'They'll never call us van drivers—it'll be copyright infringement!'”

“Caravanseraimobile drivers?”

“That's right,” he said. “I used to drive soccer and lacrosse teams around in my caravanseraimobile. During the summer, I drove camp kids to the mountains for the day.”

He sighed. “But then one day, in 1957, I came into a Subway just like this one to get a few six-foot subs for the kids in the caravanseraimobile to share.”

“What happened?” Zeke asked.

“Well,” he said, “the young Tehachapi cashier asked, 'Is this for the kids in the caravanmobile?' I said, 'The kids in the caravanseraimobile.' She said, 'Right, caravanmobile. Same thing.'” He wiped his brow. “I brushed it off, thinking the woman was ignorant. But the next time I came in, they called it a caravan. It was then that I understood what was happening.”

“Wait,” Dan said. “Are you saying that what we call vans, you used to call caravanseraimobiles?”

“Not just me. That was their name. Look at the catalogs—Chevy, 1957, '56, all the way back to when they made their first model in '33, I think it was, to haul groups of homeless to local churches during the heart of the Depression so's they could get fed.”

“So what happened?” I asked.

“Well,” he continued, “as I said, I told all the other caravanseraimobile drivers the Tehachapi'd never take to calling 'em vans—just like you said, it would be copyright infringement. But they did it, and got away with it—it seems the Vans company relies on a dye for their shoes that only grows on the Tehachapi Plains, so they'll let the Tehachapi infringe on whatever they want, so long's they get the dye.”

“Why didn't you keep driving vans?” Zeke asked. Dan elbowed Zeke. “Sorry—caravanseraimobiles.”

“I couldn't do it—the parts that were most important to me were the serai, and the cara, and the mobile. They took those out, and it was like they took out my heart with 'em.”

“Just like 'etari' for me,” Zeke whispered.

“All the truck drivers you see on the road today used to be caravanseraimobile drivers,” the man said. “The Tehachapi stole our identity from all of us.”

“It's just so weird,” Dan said. “We always learn in school about the white man stripping the natives of their property and their identity, but somehow the stories of them stripping us of ours go untold.”

“Some say they did it to get revenge for the centuries of injustice,” he said. “Some say it was the first step toward starting a van empire. I say that doesn't matter. What matters is that they need to be stopped. And you boys are the only ones who can stop them.”

“Us?” I said, stunned.

“They're trying to transform everyone and everything into vans. Vanna White resisted, and so did the guys from Evanescence, but most have succumbed. You must traverse the country, find all those with whose identities the letters V, A, and N are intertwined, and band them together. And start—”

Just then, his speech and our rapt astonishment were cut off by a cry from the cash register.

“Oh, that's right!” the voice said. Its owner, the cashier, walked toward us. “Hey guys,” she said. “Know how I said vegans and vegetarians were the same thing? I muffed up.”

Never had I felt so relieved. The truck driver must have overheard our exchange, written a quick fairytale in his mind, and told it to us to give himself a little bit of fun to relieve the monotony of the road. Or maybe decades of marathon driving sessions had just made him insane. Either way, it was a simple misunderstanding, and the cashier had just misspoken.

Or so I thought.

“I was just talking to Cherise,” the cashier continued, “and she told me it was actually vegetarians and vans that are the same thing.”

Dan, Zeke and I looked at each other, then at the truck driver, then back at each other, then we all ran for the door. And in a sense, we haven't stopped running since we left Tehachapi.

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