Bensenville is the kind of town you don’t want to be walking alone in late at night, but not for the reasons you might think. There’s no crime here; there’s not much of anything here anymore except for the old folks. The area has the kind of creepy quiet that comes from a once bustling main street now full of abandoned storefronts. There’s something about the quiet sounds of freeway hum and crickets mixed with the visuals of darkened windows facing an empty street that sets your hair on end. It seems like a main street, even if it is in a small town, ought to have life to it. There ought to be people and cars and children. Instead, there are boarded up stores with glass so dusty you can’t even see through it. In the window of what used to be Bensen’s toy store, there is one wooden wheel attached to a wooden axle from some long forgotten toy. In the barber shop window, there still hangs a poster of the latest hairstyles you could get if only they hadn’t been closed for nigh on ten years. Dillon’s Hardware still has their weekly ad from the Bensenville Gazette on display. You could get all of your Y2K supplies on sale there that week. The date reads October 27, 1999. The silence on Main Street is something the mind can’t quite reconcile. It sets humans and dogs on edge. It makes you want to stand in the middle of the intersection of Main and Spring, wave your arms around and shout, for all the good it would do. It’s sad to see America’s post-war small town entropy on display like that. No one can even be bothered to tear it down.
Mazey’s Diner lies curled up at the feet of the eastbound exit 14 off ramp on the tail end of Main Street. Bensenville sits almost plumb in the middle of the twenty miles between exit 13 at Thomas Creek and exit 15 at Victorville. Mazey’s takes full advantage of freeway travelers, which is probably the only reason they’re still in business. The restaurant has billboards all the way from Thomas Creek to Victorville and back that read “Only X miles to the best home cooking in Bensenville! Stop in at Mazey’s for coffee and a smile! Next exit.” The signs get more frequent as you go until they seem like they’re yelling at you. It works though. Mazey’s is the only place in town that’s busy. Truckers stop in and park overnight in the big parking lot in back. People in cars stop, lured by the billboards, afraid that there won’t be anything for another ten miles and there won’t be. In the middle of the night on a Tuesday, Mazey’s is as busy as your typical Sunday morning after church eatery in a bigger town.
Shannon never walks down Main Street if she can help it. She takes the long route down Spring Street to Arbor and comes in the back way to Mazey’s instead. Arbor Street is lined with houses and gigantic oak trees cracking the sidewalk. They’re pretty, old stately homes with huge bay windows, cupolas and widow’s walks. Arbor is the nicest street in town where Bensenville’s elite lived when the town had need for them. Some of the houses are empty now, but most of them are in good repair. A little paint peeling here and a downed branch there, but it’s almost as pretty as it’s always been. When she was a kid, Shannon dreamed of living on Arbor instead of in the little bungalows on Chester where she grew up. Nowadays, the sight of Arbor is just as depressing as the rest of the town. Shannon would rather live anywhere but Bensenville. She’s been saving up almost all of her tips, living on her tiny hourly wage, so that one day soon, she can afford to move away. She shares her sadness with the houses she passes. She knows each of them intimately. They are old friends. At the end of the block, Shannon cuts through the alley and makes her way through the trucker lot to the back door of Mazey’s. Carl and Mike are outside smoking. “How is it tonight, boys?” “Same as always,” Carl says. Shannon walks past them into the spotlessly clean and brightly lit locker room. She puts on her apron and tucks her brunette ponytail into a hair net without so much as a glance in the floor length mirror; she’s long past caring how she looks. As she walks out of the swinging doors from the kitchen to the reception desk, the noise overwhelms her. Nearly every table in the front is full. A haggard looking couple with two sleepy, young children who have clearly been driving all day are standing in the entryway waiting for a table. She’ll have to put them in the back. Shannon surreptitiously sighs, grabs two kid’s and two adult’s menus from the holder, prepares a smile and walks over to them. “Welcome to Mazey’s! How many?”