Kitchen Trans Am
by Tyler Nelson
Everybody was hungry and nobody cared. They had to make-up time they said; there was no chance of stopping to eat, not after what had happened at that Denny’s in Kalamazoo. “We spent 45 minutes chasing you around the parking lot after those rutabaga pies you packed away! And I won’t even mention how much we had to pay that manager to account for the tooth marks in the table top and the drool pools in the bench seats!”
Dad was hot about it, and Mom was sick and tired of the whole thing. “We won’t stop to eat again until Tallahassee, so buckle up and chew on the sweet oxygen!”
Morgan looked at Sebastian and Margaret, and she could see the worry showing. They’d never make it to Florida without food, real food, and they all knew it. Twelve hours of peanut butter and jelly would be the death of life and the rebirth of old animosities, and the siblings had just started getting along.
“We need the food to come to us,” whispered Margaret.
“Oh, come off it, Maggie,” snapped Morgan, “no food is going to find us on the interstate and fly in through our moon roof.”
Silence settled over the back seat as the children sank into the idea.
“Through the roof,” muttered Sebastian, adjusting his neck pillow.
Mac McCallahan woke up ready. He had been driving fast in last night’s dreaming, and he came-to confident that this was his day, his time, to prove that all the training had been worth the work. His dad had taught him how to drive, how to steer into turns, how to drift corners and draft off other cars; and he had shown promise: the only junior driver to complete the Waxahachie Run in under 20 minutes without nitrous oxide, he had been turning heads and blowing up leader boards all across the Mountain Circuit.
His secret was a modified 1977 Pontiac Trans Am that his grandfather re-built with his dad years ago, a machine so well-tuned that it turned on a dime and made change before other cars could shift gear. He called it Thunderhawk Windfire and he spent his weekends polishing its phantom black coat with a soft Pampers diaper.
It was fast, and it was bad. It was badly fast, refusing to make mediocre racing maneuvers and always defying expectation. It split lanes on two wheels; it flipped ends and accelerated in reverse; it could barrel roll and stick the landing, and it had once set a land-speed record, crossing the Bonneville Salt Flats finish line sliding on its roof. There was very little that that Trans Am couldn’t do, and Mac knew it, which was why the scare tactics weren’t working.
“So you want to be a Highspeed Food Driver, huh? Sign the waiver. HFD’s die every day, son.”
The checkpoint official was firm but fair, smelling faintly of gasoline and small explosions. His clipboard was singed at the edges and dangled from his hand like a dog after trash held back by a leash.
“You’ll want the five-point harness for these runs. Kitchen Trans Am Inc. is not responsible for injury or loss of property incurred while driving their chefs to clientele. KTA is not liable for damage to persons or vehicles on the road, and international liability is waived in the event of transcontinental deliveries. KTA is absolved of all culpability regarding roadway violations and recognizes all driving done by drivers as their own affair, separate and apart from the business of Kitchen Trans Am Incorporated. Do you accept these terms?”
“When do I leave?”
“We just got an order. Family wagon on Highway 24 from Michigan to Florida. Your intercept coordinates fall within a Tennessee area code; you should catch them just outside Chattanooga.”
“What’s the payload?”
“Sushi rolls, teriyaki rice bowls, and hibachi steak.”
“Just be careful out there, young buck. These are kids’ lives we’re talking about. They won’t make it to Georgia without this food, and their folks couldn’t care less. Make it fast; make it fresh. Godspeed.”
The landscape was an Impressionist painting as Mac transferred power to the track, moving past traffic like the cars and trucks were up on blocks trying to get it figured out. His line was clean and efficient, the truest vertical down-line of an Olympic skier shaving time.
“We’ve got 3 minutes to intercept, Chef!” he called to the backseat, shouting over the thunder of 903 horses caged under the hood.
“There will be no rush. Hurry is blind.”
The Chef had come out of retirement to make this one run, and Mac knew better than to question his ideas. Legend held that before becoming a chef, he had spent untold years eating nothing but rice cakes and glacier water while meditating on food, creating imagined dishes entirely in his mind, until he could actually taste the difference between real and not real.
Then he began to create the most unreal dishes anyone had ever known, embarking on a career in food that would turn the culinary world upside down. He paired dishes no one would think of; he threw combos no one saw coming; he made food that didn’t exist.
His specialty was a rare Icelandic sushi roll called The Aurora Borealis, which tasted like a golden drop of sunshine and looked like two dragons in mid-air combat, complete with breathed fire, a trompe l’oeil.
The Windfire’s tires grabbed at the road like a hungry lava flow, pulling the frame through bends with trampoline force. 120, 140, 180, the speedometer needle hugged the upper limit of the dial.
“We’re coming in pretty hot, Chef. I’m going to have to cut power to the back and spin her to bring you into window range. Are the knives put up and the grill off?”
Mac checked the rearview mirror and saw The Chef seated with his eyes closed and his hands folded in his lap. There was no sign of food anywhere in the backseat kitchen.
“Ah, we’ll be there in 45 seconds, Chef. It all smells great up here.”
“The scent of food is but an invitation to being.”
“Being hungry, maybe,” Mac muttered under his breath.
Then the wagon was in sight, light blue with wood-paneled sides, parents in front with the half-moons of small heads slumped above seats in back. They looked bad: lethargic and fugue-afflicted.
“These kids aren’t going to make it, Chef! We’re too late!”
“We have already won; they are already well.”
Mac checked the mirror again. The Chef was still seated motionless with eyes closed, but the sleeves of his coat were rolled back to the elbows.
“Okay, we are in-the-pocket with a 10-second window. Initiating docking sequence.”
Mac pulled the emergency brake and hit switches while the Trans Am bucked and skittered through a 180-degree arc. Then the wheels caught and transferred torque as the turbo reverse bore down on the drive train.
The family wagon swung into view on the right, just beyond the back windows of the Trans Am.
“It’s now-time, Chef! This is all we got!”
Mac shook his head and white-knuckled the maple wheel as the car shot backward through traffic next to the wagon. The engine red-lined and kept climbing. The harness straps dug in.
“5 seconds, Chef,” Mac cried weakly, his vision blurring, his grip fading.
“It is already done, and was and is already.”
A flash and then something like a dream. Mac watched moments suspended mid-action: a spark of flame, a dazzle of glitter color, the smell of fresh-caught fish smoked and preserved in glass, the memory of a picnic by the lake. And then it was there: The Aurora Borealis.
It was beautiful, and Mac wept as The Chef loaded the sushi roll into a potato gun, tiny jets of flame leaping from the roll’s dragon heads.
“For the children, for now and always.”
A blast shook the cabin of the Trans Am, then two more in rapid succession. Three full meals launched into the space between the cars, and sushi rolls flew through the air, the dragon shapes unfurling dragon wings which slowed their flight and dropped them neatly through the open roof of the family wagon.
Morgan woke to a wonderful feeling, as though she had eaten something too delicious to describe, just beyond remembering. She turned to Sebastian and saw that he was half awake and wiping drool from his shirt collar which left a faint glimmer in the setting light.
Margaret whispered sleepily, “It’s as though I’ve been chewing the very air of a faraway place.”