My room

My room
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Virginia Woolf

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Gas Station Blues


I'm early for a job.

This happens sometimes. I over estimate for time and end up in some small town with time to kill and no idea how to do it. I'm still not used to picking up deliveries outside of New England; I'm one of the few lucky guys who can find work close to home pretty regularly, but sometimes I end up having to drive outside my comfort zone, hell, outside my time zone, and it’s a different experience each time. Once I drove to Illinois and back, an overnight delivery on a Saturday night, so I made triple, but it took so much out of me I slept for two days straight after.

Tonight's not so bad. I have a general idea of where I'm at, a small town in between stops, and I'm only about an hour early. Enough time to put gas in the truck and get a cup of coffee.


Thank God for 24 hour gas stations. Some people just don't realize how useful they are. When you're in the middle of nowhere and you're low on gas, a gas station is the only thing you want to see. When I was a kid and my father took me out with him, it was different then. After a certain shade of nighttime everything was closed. Looked like we were the only two people in the world still awake. In those days unless you were right off the highway, you’d be hard pressed to find a gas station that was open at 3 AM. These were the times people used maps to get around. My father, a trucker til the day he died, would sometimes take me out on trips so I could read the map and, “learn the road” as he would say. Back then that's really all he had: a CB radio and a map. It's much different now. These days most trucks are outfitted with enough mapping technology to guarantee that I'll never get lost for too long.

I stop at a gas station that I've used a couple of times before. The guy behind the counter immediately recognizes me, calls me Kojak because I'm bald, even though I'm a few shades darker and my name is Glenn. But it’s the kind of interaction I'm used to from casual acquaintances: people that I see out on the road all the time but don't really know my name. They just know that its safe to assume that I'm not going to rob or kill them. When you're out late at night like am, its probably smart to mark that distinction.

I walk up to the counter and we chat a little. He asks where I'm going and I tell him. I ask him how long he's going to be working tonight and he tells me 6 AM. I look at my watch. It’s a little after one. I mumble that he's in for a long night and he chuckles, already used to that comment, I'm sure.

I pay for my cigarettes and my coffee and let him know that I'll be sitting in the parking lot for a bit. He waves me away, not worried, and I step outside into the damp night.

Its been a muggy summer, so much rain there's mushrooms popping up everywhere. I see a few right outside the gas station as I stand there smoking a cigarette. There's mushrooms growing in the cracks of the parking lot and I remember once wondering as a teenager if I could just pick one up and eat it. What would be the chances I'd get high, I once thought. Probably right up there with the chances I'd die. I shrug to myself. I was a stupid kid. Always looking for ways to waste time. If I had channeled my energy into something useful I'm sure I'd be a millionaire by now.

But no, I'm just a trucker, just like my dad.

I step into the cabin and turn on the air. The muggy air has seeped through my clothes so I feel like I've been sweating for hours even though I was only outside for a few minutes. It starts to drizzle at one point.

I take my jacket off and start to sip my coffee (still too hot) when a gray sedan drives up to the gas station.

Its hard not to notice. Cars drive up to gas stations all the time, but this one is playing music so loud that entire car is vibrating and you can clearly make out the music.

I grimace. Some club hopper, I'm sure, or a bunch of kids looking for fun tonight, and I watch, sure that this is going to be a show. But after a long wait no one comes out. In fact, the driver is taking their sweet time stepping out of the car, doing God knows what with the music still blasting, and I wonder what could they possibly be doing that is taking so long.

After what seems like forever, the driver finally shuts off the engine. The headlights, which turn off automatically, shut off even before anyone steps out, and I wonder again what the hell is going on. Maybe they're having a cigarette too? Who knows. And then just when it starts to feel like forever, the smallest little girl I have ever seen steps out of the car, looking a little confused and uncertain, like she's not sure where she is and isn't sure, exactly, what to do with herself.

The sight shocks me. At one in the morning, I'm used to seeing club hoppers, drunk guys looking for trouble, strippers and the occasional celebrity even, in some overly expensive mobile home that costs more than my house and truck combined. What I don't expect to see is some college aged woman who moves like a ballerina, albeit a slightly drunk one. I watch her as she steps into the store. She doesn't have an unbrella but it doesn't really matter. The majority of the gas station is covered so that she doesn't really need one, but I'm so used to watching women cower and run from the rain that it surprises me that she doesn't even seem to notice that her hair might get damp. She stumbles a little, graceful still, but with the uncertain movements of someone who's either high or at least has had something to drink, and I wonder which one it is. I know this because I've been there a few times myself. I'm no stranger to drugs or alcohol, and there's been many times in my past where I've walked up to a gas station just like that: drunk as fuck and sure that everyone can tell.

Still, I'm sure now that she is a dancer now. Even though she is wobbling a little she still moves with the grace of someone who is very aware of her movements, and I'm sure she doesn't know I'm watching. How could she? For all she knows the cabin is empty, and she is alone out here in the dark.

I can see clearly inside the store and, before I question myself, I watch shamelessly as she steps in. She nods in the attendants direction and then turns to browse. I sip my coffee absentmindedly now, watching her browse the aisles like she is making serious selections at the grocery store and not a gas station in the middle of nowhere where everyone knows everything is twice as expensive. Even the attendant, I  quickly remember his name is Hanif, told me so a bunch of times, is paying attention to her but trying to not be obvious about it. Not in a , I Think You're Going To Steal kind of way, but in a, Hey, You're Cute and Unfamiliar kind of way. I can tell. It's a guy thing.
It doesn't help  his case that Hanif fixes his jacket and checks his breath, confirming that she's not a regular who lives close by and gets her milk from the gas station because the grocery store is too far. No, Hanif is clearly surprised by her presence, and I wonder for a second if Hanif is even married, I never really paid attention, or he if he is the kind of guy who hits on anything that moves, no matter the situation.

I watch her as she picks out eggs and milk, another surprise. Not chips or soda, munchies or junk food to go with the alcohol, if there is any. Maybe she's a young mother, I think. On her way home from work and has to pick up milk on the way home. Maybe its none of my business, I think, realizing that I'm intruding somehow in this girl's personal space. I mean, how would I like it if some random dude sat in a gas station and watched my every move? I'd punch him in the face, that's what I'd do, and I make it a point to focus on my coffee like it’s the most important thing in the world.

I glance at my watch. I still have a good twenty minutes to kill. I'm only three minutes away from my stop and there is no sense in driving around just to kill time.

I look up despite myself. She's walking out to her car now. I missed her interaction with Hanif, missed whether he made pleasant conversation or just rung up the items, and it bothers me somehow. Like missing the first couple minutes of a tv episode even though you know all you missed were the recaps. It doesn’t matter if Hanif hit on her or not. It doesn’t matter if anything was said, but somehow, it matters to me.

I watch her as she walks to her car. She goes to place the groceries in the passenger side but the door is still locked. She must've assumed she left the door open because for a split second she looks confused, unlocks the car and tries again. Then after the groceries are put away she turns around to pump gas in her car, and I get to see her face in full. I catch my breath. There is no denying she's beautiful, stunning even, even though she's wearing casual clothing and has her hair up in a ponytail. But what takes my breath away is her smile, wide and undiluted and glorious, like she hasn't a worry in the world. Like she's doing some amazing, fun, exiting thing when she really is just pumping gas at one in the morning.

I watch her as she walks to her car and picks up the gas pump. Then, she turns around to open the gas cap and… she can't get it off. I watch her straining, trying to turn it but I can see its giving her trouble. She looks down and tries again. Crouches down and stares directly at it and tries again, only its not budging. She looks both ways, takes a step back and looks at it, pump in her hand. It shouldn't be this hard, I'm sure she's thinking. Then she steps back up to the car and tries again.

At this point I'm not sure what to do. Self-consciously I look up towards Hanif, who is also standing by the window watching her without trying to seem too obvious. He senses me looking at him so he turns in my direction, shrugs a little, and turns back to stare at her, as if he'd like to help, but isn't sure if help is welcome, or honestly needed. So we just stand at our respective spots, watching her as she tries to get the gas cap to budge, until finally, after it seems like forever, it finally does.

I let out a sigh of relief and I see that Hanif does too. The girl, who really is a full grown adult and I'm sure, not much younger than me, punches a fist in the air and mouths a clear, "yes!" like she's won something. I wonder if this is a regular occurrence.
At this point my coffee is ice cold so I gulp it. She's pumping her gas so I take a chance and light another cigarette, my last one for tonight, I promise myself. She's dancing a little now, to some song in her head, and I can see her lips moving. She's singing.

I wonder what her voice sounds like. I absentmindedly smoke my cigarette and wonder what her story is, if she'd tell me.

She's done pumping her gas and grabs her receipt. Then she walks over to the driver side of the car and gets in, turning it on so quickly that the sheer volume of the music shocks me, even though I was fully expecting it. That's when I realize that she took so long getting out of the car because she was waiting for the last song to end. Now with a new song playing, I can imagine her sitting in her car, singing along to the words, and I can only wish I could see her through the window, but all I get is a faint silhouette.

I wonder, for a second,  if she can see me. It’s the first time the thought occurs to me, and it surprises me a little. What if she can? Do I care? And I realize that I do. I realize that I want her to, in a way, to acknowledge me and glance in my direction. I want her to smile at me.

I shake my head at the thought. What if she CAN see me? Of course she knows she's not alone, right? What if she knows I've been watching her the entire time? I panic at the thought, and realize that she hasn’t started driving. How long has it been?

Finally, she makes a move. My truck is parked in such away that I'm partially blocking her way from the front, so I assume that she plans to drive out the same way she came in. But no, she surprises me again, making the smoothest, most skilled U-turn using the narrow path that I'd left between my truck and the gas pump next to me. I look out the passenger window, and a pair of the biggest, darkest eyes stare back at me. 

And that smile. Oh, God that smile. 

She drives off, using the path that I was sure no other car could fit through, taking a right so that I can't even follow her headlights in the distance. 

It takes me a second to realize that she forgot to turn her windshield wipers on. Something tells me I don't need to worry. She'll figure it out.





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