I grew up around Denver, maybe three hours from Scottsbluff, Nebraska, where Jeff Duncan was born and raised. In the space between our two hometowns, there are about 300 miles of friendless prairie, knifed by a creek or a lake or two. And that stretch would be maddening to drive it if it weren't for that staple of the American Midwest, the trucker stop.
There, you can find the four things essential to the maintenance of the trucking industry: petroleum, bacon and eggs, and black coffee. The kitchen smells like syrup and/or cigs; a nice-looking couple in flannel shirts sits behind a counter with a guarded kind of approachability; no matter what, ensuing conversations will wander toward the Colorado-Nebraska football game.
When Jeff Duncan tells me that his folks used to run a trucker stop, I feel like I know him in a way that's both indistinct and specific: it's the sensation of meeting members of a remote branch of the family.
About 30 years ago, Jeff left Scottsbluff for Denver, where he built condos for a few seasons until a friend "just asked, 'You ever been to the Northwest?' And so we went."
Duncan worked as a ship fitter until a couple years ago. Now, as he awaits his SSI, Duncan sells Real Change; working atop a boat, he fell from the beam 25 feet, breaking his back in the process. But this he mentions almost as an afterthought -- as though, like a Nebraska rainstorm, it will pass as quickly as it came.
"All the vendors here appreciate your patronage," says Duncan. "And it's truly helpful to us who are low on money while we wait for bigger changes to happen in our life."