The Stories

Dispatches from the Wasteland: Flailing Inanity, Tainted Perfume and Another Runner in the Night

Click here to read this story from the beginning…

 

The following events actually took place on the evening of August 21, 2009 at the “Cool Breeze” establishment on West Red Bird Lane in Duncanville, Texas. Whilst some artistic license has been allowed when it comes to the selection of adjectives and adverbs, as well as the questionable heroism of the main protagonist, the main thrust of the story is steadfast and true…

I pull into the left-turn lane on the main drag, innocently seeking some refreshing liquidity after a mammoth day of anguish working at Verizon. While waiting for an opening in the oncoming traffic, I survey the layout of the Cool Breeze battlefield. You have to do these things, plan properly, or you’re at risk. We have two cars in the small front parking lot, three in the safer side parking lot, and two cars at the drive-thru, betwixt the two lots. Good. That doesn’t look too intimidating, and I might make it through this one alive.

I turn in, and I barely make it on to the little entrance ramp, when one of the cars starts to swing out of the small parking lot. He’s got more than enough clearance to get past me should I continue on my merry way, but instinct tells me to sit tight, even though the tail end of my car is still on the main drag. Sure enough, this guy slams on his brakes and decides he’s going to do some maneuvering to get things lined up. Translation: he’s drunk.

He pulls forward, backs up, pulls forward, backs up, but completely forgets the part about turning the steering wheel to achieve the incremental adjustments that are part of “maneuvering”. I’m somewhat mesmerized by the whole spectacle, especially since his car is beyond clunker status and seems to be held together by baling wire, duct tape and a salty crust leftover from that one time we got snow in north Texas in 1987. Off to my right on the main road, I spy a semi barreling my way, still manageably-distant but safety is dwindling rapidly.

Oh boy. That big rig is not going to clear the exposed ass of my Mazda and the driver shows no signs of slowing, so I’ve got to clear the drunk and get in the parking lot. I tentatively ease forward the merest of an inch, an admittedly-weak but still definitive opening salvo in my game of parry and thrust with Wardell the Wasted.

Amazingly, our joust is over almost before it even started. My tiny ounce of timid aggression somehow registers in the fetid dankness of Wardell’s brain. He glances at me with an expression of absolute horror (“the cows done got out the gate again!”), and then he floors it in reverse and runs over the little concrete island separating the small parking lot from the drive-thru. There’s the startling sound of metal ripping, and then the car shudders and dies.

Terrific! He’s not going anywhere at the moment, so I squeal the rest of the way up the ramp and slip into a slot in the safer parking section. I hop out of my car and-

There’s a wheezy roar as Wardell manages to restart his car, and he guns the engine.

Aw, hell. I should have moved a little faster. I hunker beside my own car as Wardell defiantly challenges the block of concrete on which he is perched, rocking back and forth with lots of grinding and scraping. (It sounds like Godzilla giving birth to a Buick and somebody sure could use some lubrication.)

Stunningly, Wardell manages to get his rig off that thing, and he even avoids hitting any of the three cars that suddenly zoom into the parking and head for the drive-thru lane. (All three drivers are completely oblivious to the goings-on around them, intent on their cell phones as they are and not bothering to brake until they hit something.) Mysteriously, the scraping noise continues, and I see that the right half of his back bumper is dragging the ground, sending sparks into the air (this place could blow in an instant, what with all the spilled alcohol and tears) as he careens out into the main road and survives getting smashed by anther semi with only inches to spare.

I take a deep breath, hold it, and dash across the drive-thru lane. I slow to a more nonchalant pace in the smaller parking lot, letting out said breath. As my heart-rate drops to a more respectable level, I watch with only slight curiosity as some woman opens her car door and begins throwing empty plastic milk jugs on the ground. Instinct tells me that this is not my playground and I should keep walking.

As I approach the store door, it flies open and out stomps a very angry woman, who is yelling at someone still in the store that they are, indeed, a bitch. Of the mother-loving variety. Right then, somebody honks, a well-known threat of impending gang warfare around here, and everybody races for the safety of the store or a car or even another passing semi, leaping through the air in a desperate quest for survival and hoping they can manage to grasp a mud flap that will drag them out of here. They know the drill.

Inside, while I’m waiting for smelly, dumb-ass people to move out of the way so I can get to the beer coolers, the woman with the plastic jugs comes clattering in with the grace of a buffalo. She now has a little dimwitted friend with her. Said friend points in the direction of the manager’s office door and mutters that the bathroom is over there. Then Dimmie proceeds to fondle some Slim Jims while Juggie heads that way, mission-bound.

They don’t have a public restroom in here. Just like the sign on the wall and the sign on the front door explain. I shake my head, work my way past yet another woman, this one waving her polyester-clad butt in the air while she reviews the pork rind selection on a lower shelf, and grab a 12-pack of Michelob Ultra. (I only wanted six when I turned into the parking lot; circumstances have changed.) I turn around and head for the counter to pay.

And the day suddenly shifts toward the Apocalypse as I stand in line, as if we weren’t already at that station on the Subway to Hell.

Juggie is throwing open every door in the building and then slamming it shut, unable to find the nonexistent bathroom and bitching about it the whole time. She even pauses at one point, right in front of one of the “no bathroom” signs, scratching her head and seeing if she can spot another door. Still clutching those jugs with he intensity of the Damned.

The lone girl working the counter is swamped, dealing with the craziness of the people in front of me, so she just ignores the door slammer for now. (The current customer is insisting that he wants one of those little brown bags for EVERY can in the case of beer he just bought. Dude, how many people can possibly be in your car? Do you have an issue with re-using the same bag? You certainly don’t seem to have a problem wearing the same ripe trousers for a week.)

I can hear somebody talking over near the drive-thru, so I’m assuming there’s one other employee around, but at this time of day there should be at least five. Must have been a drug bust or something. This place is always short-staffed after one of those, with half the employees appearing on the local evening news, wearing “Cool Breeze” smocks in their mug shots.

There are two little kids beating and clawing the crap out of each other, apparently debating ownership of the candy bar they are both gripping as they roll down an aisle, ricocheting off the bumper guards, discarded cigarette butts tangled in their hair. Mom completely ignores them as she sniffs one of those suspect vials of fake designer cologne. (“Three for five dollah!”) Based on the unnatural gleam in her eyes, she has apparently engaged in some chemical recreation recently and isn’t currently aware of her purpose in life or the fact that she has procreated.

Juggie hooks back up with her counterpart, Dimmie, and there is fierce discussion on whether or not there is indeed a comfort facility in this establishment. Juggie keeps dropping the jugs, because they’re so heavy, being empty and all. Dimmie retains her hold on the Slim Jims, proving that her relationship is more stable than Juggie’s.

One of the racks stuffed with hundreds of cheap, garish t-shirts crashes to the ground. I immediately suspect Polyester Crack, but she’s suddenly nowhere to be found. Maybe the rack has just had enough of ugly people touching it, and it took its own life.

Someone loudly clears their throat, so I look to the left. And there he is, one of those guys. We’ve all run into their type, and none of us can stand them. They’re usually middle-aged, trying to be super cool with their walk and talk, think they are the smartest person in any room, and, here’s the kicker: everybody owes him. Everybody. Nothing is ever his fault.

You can tell this just by the expression on his face.

He’s standing at one of the obviously-closed registers. Counter girl notices him as well. “That one’s closed,” she informs him (as if you can’t tell, moron). “The line’s over here.”

“I’m gonna stand right here. You can come to me, got something to talk about.”

Hoo boy. Counter girl is not up for that. “I’m stayin’ RIGHT HERE. What do you want?”

“I wanna know why I can’t use the bathroom.”

“We don’t HAVE one.” (You know the poor girl is so tired of having this discussion with belligerent, clueless people every day.)

Juggie and Dimwit overhear this last bit and can’t believe it. Juggie actually screams across the store “YOU AIN’T GOT NO BATHROOM?!?” Her partner chimes in with “Why AIN’T you got no bathroom?”

Counter girl is over it, time for reinforcements. She yells for the manager. “Mr. Kim, man wants to talk about the bathroom!”

Holy cow. Am I really witnessing three separate people all bent out of shape because they can’t pee in the damn store? Come ON. What does that sign say? That sign. Right. Over. There. And that one. And that one.

Mr. Kim trottles up, and AssHat starts in. “I bought this here beer. And you gotta let me use the bathroom.” (What the hell kind of logic is that? I bought a beverage and therefore I should have access to your plumbing? Don’t tell me, you’ve never been handed a diploma, right?)

And it goes from there. It’s doesn’t matter what Mr. Kim says, AssHat is just gonna keep whining and moaning, saying the same idiotic things over and over, like he has for his whole sorry life. (Why do stupid people repeat themselves like that? Saying the same phrase 47 times is NOT going to change anything.)

Juggie waves her jugs at the counter girl. “We need some water in these.” Counter girl gives her a look that clearly shows she is two seconds away from climbing over that counter and cutting the hell out of Juggie and her bonehead friend. Our entire line backs up a little bit to give her clearance, because we’re done, too.

Luckily, another female cashier wanders around the corner just in time to take the jugs and prevent any bloodshed. (Because she would just have to mop the blood up later, and who has time for that?) Interestingly, no one asks Thelma and Louise why this water is so crucial in their lives right now. It’s better not to know, because knowing could make you an accessory to a possible crime of some kind, and this place has already filled its dance card on the local evening news.

When it’s finally my turn, Counter Girl (we’re buds) gives me a look that says “if you would like to shoot me in the head and end all this, I’d certainly appreciate it.” I give her a look back that says “How thoughtful of you to ask. However, I’m a little pressed for time. Please ring up my beer before I pick up this enormous piece of ghetto jewelry and start swinging, ending up in yet another Lifetime movie about poor choices. But thank you.”

Behind me, I hear a very loud ripping noise that sounds suspiciously like cheap polyester giving up the fight to contain a very large ass. I don’t even bother to look.

I finish my business and head toward the door. To my horror, “Everybody Owes Me” is also leaving at the same time. He’s done berating Mr. Kim, but he’s still talking, apparently to me. Great. For some reason, perfect strangers always think they can talk to me. And that I care in some way. I don’t. At all. Ever.

So, we walk out, and he’s ranting away. (I avoid eye contact and try not to encourage him in any way.) He’s never gonna come here again. (Thank you.) What does a man have to do to get some respect? (Uh, act like a man in the first place?) Why does he have to put up with this BS everywhere he goes. (Gee, I can’t even imagine why.) And I’m gonna piss in his parking lot. (Um, what?)

Surely, he’s joking, but I’m not sticking around just in case. I quicken my pace and hop into my car. And as I’m backing up, he actually unzips and hauls it out. Not kidding, right there, in front of the baby Jesus and everything. And he lets it rip.

Now, trust when I say that the tableau in my rearview mirror was not anything that I would ever order off the menu. But the water pressure on that man? It was like Tara was burning and Rhett Butler just showed up on a pumper truck. I’m surprised the Volvo in front of him didn’t flip over in defeat.

Still, not my playground. I calmly shift into Drive, and I head out.

At the intersection down the street, I come to rest at a stoplight, one with a notoriously extended cycle time, hours going by with nary a color change. I glance in the rearview again (yes, a small part of me was curious if I could see the gusher from here, but mostly it was just habit). Off in the distance, a considerable way back as this is a very long road, I perceive what I think are flashing lights. And I might be hearing the initial warble of a siren. Are the police headed to Cool Breeze? Probably. They have their own reserved parking spot, after all.

Suddenly, a car darts out of the Breeze exit, zipping along until it slides beside me in the next lane. I take a peek at the driver, because it’s a long light and I’m bored, and my eyes widen.

“Mr. Kim?”

 

Click here to read the next installment in this series…

 

Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 08/21/09. Considerable changes made, mostly concerning the adjectives, adverbs and lack of heroism that I babbled about in the opener. For those of you who have been asking, I do plan to revisit Cool Breeze before I end this series. I haven’t been there in years, but I’m fairly certain it’s still open, as I regularly hear police sirens headed down Red Bird Lane on a Friday night…

 

12 replies »

  1. Okay, I can see that my refusal to shop at convenience stores has seriously limited the amount of colorful characters in my life. And yet, I am in no way bothered by this. I am, however, pleased that you shop at them. Carry on.

    Liked by 1 person

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