Local News

Salisbury Woman Voted Nation's Best Truck Stop Waitress

Posted August 1, 1996 7:00 a.m. EDT

— August 2, 1996 - 9:42 a.m. EDTBy KATHLEEN PURVIS,The Charlotte Observer

You can tell a good waitress by her eyes. They're never still.

Even when she's talking to you, her eyes are roving, looking for a coffee cup that's a sip low, an empty plate that needs clearing, a customer closing his menu.

Marsha Locklear is a good waitress. All the truckers say so.

Here's what she says:

``Cornbread or roll, sweetheart?'' A hundred times a night.

At Derrick Truck Stop in Salisbury, these are exciting times. Vivarin, the caffeine pill, recently asked truckers nationwide to vote on the best truck stops. Locklear, 40, won best waitress - in the nation, mind you. Derrick was runner-up for ``best food overall.''

Derrick is located just off I-85 North at Exit 71

Locklear won a VCR and a plaque. When Vivarin called to tell her she'd won, she thought they had made a mistake.

``I asked 'em, did they have the right Marsha Locklear? That's the best thing that's happened to me in a looooooong time.''

Vivarin printed the results of the survey in ``Guide to America's Best Truck Stop Diners'' and they filmed Locklear for a commercial (she hasn't seen it, but some of her customers have). USA Today even wrote about it.

``Oh gosh, I had two ladies from Connecticut in here last night,'' says Locklear. They saw the story in USA Today and stopped to meet her. ``They're just lucky I was on.''

Look, Locklear is a little reluctant to talk about all this, OK? She's shy, and all the attention makes her nervous. She stumbles around trying to explain it:

``I don't want people to think . . . I don't know, that I have a big head, I guess. I don't want them to think that I'm, you know, some kind of Goody Two Shoes.''

She's a lot more comfortable talking about waitressing, and the truckers (she calls them ``my truckers'') who pass hours at the truck stop during their breaks.

A single mother with two daughters and a son, ages 12, 16 and 20, she says she wouldn't mind if her daughters grew up to be waitresses. She's been a waitress for three years. It's a it's a good job. ``There's good money in it.'' Before this, she worked in a mill and cleaned buses for a company that made them.

When you're waiting on truckers, she says, it's important to look them in the face. It helps you remember them. A new driver might come in and then come back months later. She tries to at least remember if they like iced tea or coffee.

She thinks the secret to her success is her ``picking'' - teasing with the drivers. A lot of men come in with sad stories. She does her best to cheer them up.

``If you don't pick, you can't get a smile,'' she says. ``I call them sweetheart. I tell 'em, `I'm just pickin' with you.' ''

Look, why would truckers driving thousands of miles care about things like where they eat and who serves them dinner?

When you're on the road, you're usually alone. The chance to make contact, to phone home and to get a smile from someone like Locklear who makes a point of remembering you - that means a lot.

``It's lonely,'' says Joe Fiorelli of Binghamton, N.Y. ``All you got is the road and the pictures you carry in the truck with you.''

Fiorelli is in the truck stop's TV room, passing time with a disaster movie. The law requires truckers to take eight hours off for every 10 hours they drive. So that means spending a lot of time in places like Derrick. There are phones everywhere - one in each booth in the dining room, more in the hall behind the convenience store, more in the TV room. There are showers, washers and dryers, video games. No beds though - why pay for a place to sleep when your 18-wheeler has a bed behind the driver's seat?

Fiorelli makes a point of teasing Locklear - and so do all the other customers. Truckers and locals, they all seem to know her (but the truckers are the best tippers, she says: ``They know we're out here working, too''). Every customer gets a smile, usually a wink, too. But quickly - she never stops moving.

Take a look at one six-minute stretch, from 5:45 to 5:51 p.m. on a Friday:

Locklear heads around the dining room with a coffee carafe and an iced-tea pitcher, refilling glasses. Goes behind the counter and puts them up, then grabs two dinners from the window to the kitchen. Grabs a bread basket, slaps in a sheet of waxed paper and some rolls, stacks them on her arm (``trays are too much trouble'') and delivers them to a table. Fetches a bottle of Heinz 57. Heads back to the dining room, where a customer grabs her arm and pulls her down to whisper a joke. She laughs - ``Shoot, he's picking with me'' - but barely breaks her stride.

In the same six minutes, she clears the dishes from three tables, pocketing tips ($5 at one - must have been a trucker) and hauling the dishes to the kitchen in a gray bin. She takes three orders and delivers them to the kitchen. Fills and delivers two iced teas, two coffees and a glass of ice water. Empties two iced teas and wipes down the counter four times. She delivers a menu and an ice water to one booth so quickly, the customer hasn't even finished tossing his cigarette pack on the table and adjusting his jeans to sit down.

And so it goes, for her whole shift, 3 to 11 p.m. Don't they get breaks?

``Smoke break if you smoke, but I don't smoke.''

When she actually stops to think about it, Marsha Locklear really isn't all that sure why so many truckers voted for her. She struggles to put it in words.

``I guess it's just myself - being myself. Oh, I don't know. Maybe it's the picking. I just like to be myself, make everybody feel good.'' She grins quickly. ``Maybe it's the sweetheart thing, you reckon?''

Copyright ©1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.