Mr. Tomato Frog had been teaching at Reynolds Middle School for twenty years without taking time off. Every summer he stayed behind and taught while Mrs. Tomato Frog took her tadpoles (as she called their kids) on a cruise to different parts of the world. He didn’t have his wife’s appetite for strange cuisines or adventure, preferring to eat Spaghetti-o’s and watch reruns of Walker, Texas Ranger. This year though, he developed an urge to take the train to Spokane, hang out in a strange bar, and order cocktails he’d never tried. Hopefully, they’d have free peanuts.
There wasn’t a sign of anyone when he stepped off the train in Spokane because Amtrak’s schedule led to arriving at one a.m. He hadn’t booked a room in advance and planned to stay awake till morning, then choose a place to stay. This plan allowed him to roam the quiet streets and experience a strange environment without conversation. Since he spent a lot of time talking at work, it was nice to just listen, look, and smell. This plan was working well until he rounded a corner and discovered a young boy sitting on the curb crying. His first thought was to turn around and not get involved but the teacher in him couldn’t ignore the plight of a child.
As he approached, the boy sniffed, rubbed his eyes, and looked up expectantly. “What’s wrong? And why are you out alone this late at night?” Mr. Tomato Frog asked.
“Wasn’t sleepy, went for a walk and got lost. The boy replied, then continued. “Stepped on a rock and sprained my ankle, now it hurts to stand up. Can you help me?”
“Well, we’ll take a look at that ankle, then see about getting you home. As you can see, I’m on foot and have never been here before so I don’t know where anything is. Most cities don’t like people calling 911 if it isn’t an emergency but they might send someone.”
The ankle didn’t appear broken and calling 911 did the trick. It turned out the boy’s frantic parents had already called the police when they discovered him missing during a midnight bathroom excursion. The police eyed Mr. Tomato Frog suspiciously at first but the boy assured them he was a rescuer, not a kidnapper. It still took a while to explain why he was roaming the streets at night and he was relieved when allowed to go on his way. Dawn found him sitting on a bench in Riverfront Park watching the early light sparkle on the Spokane river. He asked a passing jogger where he could get a good breakfast and they recommended the Satellite Diner. After eating, he checked into a hotel with a view of the river, took a short nap, then went in search of a neighborhood bar. The one in the hotel was pricey, brightly lit, and didn’t have salty snacks.
It took a few tries and some walking, but eventually he wandered into a place called Fat Lulu’s. It was dimly lit, had creaky floorboards, and smelled like stale beer, but the back bar displayed a huge variety of booze bottles. No free peanuts but it was Taco Tuesday and they were a dollar apiece, and chips and salsa were free. As he sat down on a well-worn wooden stool, he was hoping that the skinny bleach-blond bartender was capable of creating miraculous beverages to sample. She was, and by late evening Mr. Tomato Frog was having so much fun he was reluctant to leave but was rip-roaring drunk so he called a cab. As he staggered though the lobby, the night manager asked to see his room key, then clucked with indignation as he oozed into the elevator. He didn’t mind. The next few days were going to be fun since Spokane was brimming with dive bars and his wife wouldn’t be home for a week.