Just as many of the dealers and pickers active in the Victoriaville area in the eighties would meet at the Esso Station across from Kojak’s place on the outskirts of town for breakfast; the same bunch would turn up for lunch at a trucker’s diner twenty miles away, on the north side of the big highway 20, in a tiny place called St. Eulalie. At lunch time the parking lot of this busy establishment would have from 6 to a dozen pickers trucks lined up, and typically you would find small groups of men checking out what was tied down there, and discussing the possibility of a transaction. Most of these pickers were loyal to one or the other of the half dozen antique centers in the area, so they would not sell to you directly, but they may tell you where a piece was going and to whom you needed to inquire about it. There was always a lot of lively dialogue and laughing going on. Tips, news and gossip in equal measure. Sometimes you would witness heated arguments. Eventually everyone would make their way inside, and take their favorite seat in the crowded dining room, and the talk continued.
I loved the scene. If we were nearby at lunch time we would turn up there along with everyone else. After checking out the action in the parking lot, we would make our way inside to order a lunch special, or sandwich, followed by a nice piece of sugar pie. A Quebec delicacy that is as disgustingly sweet as it sounds, but it goes well with a cup of coffee and dialogue.
It was always crowded with locals, and those who were travelling on the Grand Route 20, and the wait staff was plentiful and efficient. The joint was jumping.
I remember one sunny summer day in particular sitting in a booth looking out onto the parking lot with one of the main dealers of the area, and a good friend, Ben. Ben was always smiling, and his sunny disposition rarely changed. On this day however, we were sitting there peacefully having a coffee before ordering when he looked out the window, saw a man get out of his truck, and suddenly jumped up and said” I’ll be right back.” I watched as he raced out the front door, crossed the parking lot, and went right up to the fellow, parking himself about an inch from his face; and then started yelling. I could not hear the conversation but you could see that it was heated. The intense conversation continued back and forth for another moment and then suddenly, bam, Ben hauls off and punches the guy in the face. The guy falls back a couple of steps rubbing his chin A few more angry words are said, and then to my surprise both of them come together back into the restaurant and sit down at our booth. “You didn’t have to hit me like that Ben. I told you I was sorry about the deal.” “I didn’t have to but I wanted to, and I told you that if you ever crossed me again like that, you’d pay for it.” Well, o.k. I was wrong but I’ve apologized and now it’s water under the bridge, right? “ Yes, but don’t you ever try to pull anything like that again. You know I will find out about it and It’s no way to treat me after all the business we have done.” “You’re right Ben. I’m sorry.” After that it was all sweetness and light. Pleasant conversation, jokes and eating a good meal together, as if nothing unpleasant had happened. I realized then that the Quebec guys ran a little hotter than we do in Ontario, and they have ways of resolving differences that we wouldn’t consider. I respected that they could be so open in expressing their feelings, and that issues got resolved quickly, and then they moved on. Still, I made a mental note to avoid pissing off Ben.
I cannot remember the name of the place. It was something generic like Voyager’s Inn or the like; so I went on to google map to see if I could see the sign out front. I was shocked to discover that there is nothing there now save for the big paved parking lot and a lot of weeds. The place must have burnt down. It made me feel sad that if we were to go there now, we would have to discover where the new place to meet is, if they are still even doing it, and it would surely not be the same. That’s the problem with going back after so many years. Everything changes and some things disappear. Brings to mind Thomas Wolfe who so succinctly put it in his 1940 novel, “You can’t go home again.”