It was nearing dusk as I finally drove away from work. Flipping open my cell phone en route, I speed-dialed a friend whom I had cut off earlier with a promise to call back. One ring. “You’re not just now getting out of there,” she querried incredulously in lieu of salutation. “I told you what to do about that lady.”
“I’m no good at it, I’m sorry,” I joked, referring to her advice on how to run out an unwelcome late customer. I rolled through the Main Street intersection and shifted into the opening second lane as Old Downtown passed by and was replaced by newer-yet-shabbilly-old buildings as I travelled north at a legal 30 mph. “She didn’t stay long, anyway. It took me a little while to close down the register, and I helped Rosa load up her empty boxes, and bagged up the newspapers she tossed into the trash bin. I thought it might not get picked up otherwise.” The dear older lady, who had been laboriously unpacking, pricing and arranging snowglobes, bells and collectible glass into her new booth all afternoon, actually drove her car around to the front of the building and waited until I had closed everything up and come out to my car before leaving, just to make sure I got out without being robbed or assaulted or kidnapped (I suppose). Although this seems not to be a concern of my boss’s, it is almost universally obvious to all the lady vendors who realize I often close up and leave alone. All young ladies should be so blessed with adopted mothers, aunts and grandmothers.
“So, did you find ‘Christmas in Connecticut?'” I asked, referring to a movie she had been hunting down at the video rental store, at my suggestion, during our earlier conversation.
“No, I didn’t. I’ll have to look it up on Netflix.”
The lanes were widening out, and I sped up with the increasing traffic through the bustling shopping-center-gorged uptown. “So, why the Christmas movies already? It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.”
“Oh, I’m just trying to get in the spirit. I haven’t got none this year. It’s almost Thanksgiving, and usually I’d be all into it. I’m going with Lee this year, and usually I’d be trying to figure out what interesting thing to make… you know. I just haven’t felt like doing anything. I was just telling my mom today– I’ve got my in-basket at work all full, and I just don’t want to deal with any of it. I guess I’m just in a funk.”
“So, what’s wrong with you? You’ve been like this for months. I guess I assumed you were Lee-distracted.” Christy is madly in love with said gentleman, whom she has been dating for almost a year. “Well, maybe that trip next month will help. Although, maybe that trip you took last month is what did you in.”
“No, I was getting like this before. Hey, what are you doing?”
“Getting gas,” I replied, parking beside a pump and going inside the station on the north-of-town-bypass service road. “Hold on.” The line gradually emptied in front of me and I handed the attendant a twenty and five in prepayment. “Gas on pump four, please,” I said, and returned the cell phone to my ear, pushing open the swinging glass door. I headed for pump four, and in a bewildering moment, realized with an “oh no!” in Christy’s ear, that someone else was parked at pump four. Spinning around, I realized, my car was waiting innocently beside pump two.
I hurried back inside and stupidly waited for the short line to clear again. “Um,” I addressed the young attendant, “I told you I was on pump four, but really I’m on pump two, and there’s somebody filling up already at four. Is there any way you can take it off?”
She looked at me rather numbly, then turned to her computer, and informed me, “He hasn’t started pumping yet. You’d better go ask him to trade with you before he starts, or…” At least, I thought she said something along that alarming line. I rushed back outside as Christy made undiscernable comments, and approached the minivan-driving man who looked to be in his mid-thirties and could have been a high-school football coach, standing poised and ready at pump four.
“Uh, sir,” I began pitifully, ” Is there any way you could trade spots with me? I’m parked there,” indicating my dirty Oldsmobile a few yards away, “And I accidentally had the lady put my cash on this pump.”
It only took him a moment to assess the situation with almost-concealed perturbation. “Go tell her to change it before I start,” he commanded.
I trotted back to the door and stuck my head in, this time raising my voice over the heads of the people in line, “He said to change it before he starts pumping.” At her still-numb expression I added, “Can you do that?”
She nodded and I began walking back toward the pumps. “She said OK,” I informed the man at pump four.
“DId she do it yet?” He demanded, obviously ready to get this over with and be on his way.
I did another brisk about-face and called through the doorway, “Did you do it?” She punched a few buttons and gave me a reassuring nod, which I quickly conveyed to the poor annoyed fellow. Then I dutifully took my place at pump two and began filling up, catching Christy, who had been waiting patiently at the end of my dangling arm, up on what all the fuss had been about.
“You get into more… debacles… than anyone else I know,” she informed me.
“That makes me feel so much better,” I gratefully replied.
As the meter on the pump hit fourteen gallons, it tripped off and my car, as is its wont when left to its own devices while fueling, spewed out a fine spray of gasoline to protest my neglect; I, however, have learned to stay out of the vicinity of the pump nozzle for a few seconds after it goes off, and I was able to avoid being rebaptized. Then it was back inside– one last time, I exlaimed to my friend– to retrieve my $3.03 in change, and I was finally good to go.
I settled into the driver’s seat and was depositting the cash in my purse when a knock on the window startled me. I rolled down the window.
“Ma’am, did you know you have a flat tire?” The man from pump one asked, indicating the left rear.
“Oh. No.” I stepped out and assessed the damage. “I’ll… I’ll pull over there,” I said, for what reason I know not, returning to my seat and shifting into reverse to pull the car away from the pump.
“There’s a compressor on the other side,” the man calmly informed me.
“Oh, thanks.” I backed up, and then maneuvered around the small and crowded lot to the air compressor on the other side of the building. “Can you believe, now I’ve got a flat tire!”
“You really need some fix-a-flat.” This is advice Christy has often given me in the past.
“Aach! Can you believe this?” Having parked by the “Air” sign, I began digging through my purse for the required 75 cents in quarters.
“I know what I’m getting you for Christmas.”
“What? A can of Fix-a-Flat?”
Her remark did elicit a laugh from me, even though I realized I would have to go inside. Yet again. For change.
“Well, I just drove up at home, so I’ll let you go. But call me later so I’ll know you’re OK.”
I made my way through the opposite door and approached the counter again, tossing down a dollar bill. “Now I have a flat!” I informed the attendant. “Can I get change so I can get some air?”
A smile finally broke through her serious demeanor. “I can just turn the air on for you,” she offered, so I picked up my dollar and returned to the car. I poured air into the flat tire until it looked almost normal… and the compressor shut off… and then, after discovering my attempts at discerning the actual inflation were in vain, since my tire gauge was totally useless, I pulled out onto the service road and headed for home.
The rest of the drive was uneventful. My refilled leaky tire held for the eight-mile stretch of highway and dirt road.
Tomorrow, I suppose, I’ll dig out my spare from the depths of my cluttered trunk, and go to learn my fate at the tire store. But not today; I’ve already had enough excitement for one drive.