Click here to read this story from the beginning.
Brief Re-Cap: In my apparently unending quest to simply drive out of my neighborhood during a snowstorm and purchase a few food staples at a local supermarket, I have encountered a few obstacles. My current station of the cross? I’m behind a busload of elementary students who apparently know way more than I did at their age. (Granted, I was their age in 1872, but let’s not muddy the waters.) These miniscule hooligans have been flipping me off and fornicating with the exit door of said bus for a good half mile. And here we go…
I’m just on the verge of flipping the bird back at this obnoxious pack of pre-teens, when I decide that perhaps I should refrain. After all, I have horrible luck. The very second my business finger starts to extend, there will be a “whoop-whoop” from a passing patrol car and within five minutes I will be in jail, charged with digital criminal mischief and a slew of pedophile-tinged accusations that will simply not look good on my LinkedIn profile.
I keep my hands on the wheel, even though I’m not the tiniest bit happy about taking the high road and pretending like I can’t see the Nickelodeon version of Sodom and Gomorrah playing out in the back of the bus. I’m just stunned that mere third-graders already know offensive moves that my generation didn’t learn until high school, if even then.
Suddenly, the gyration party comes to a halt. All of their anarchic little heads whip around toward the front of the bus, and two seconds later they all race to their seats, exuding auras of innocent grace and non-responsibility for anything untoward that may have taken place. Apparently, the bus driver had some choice words to share with the hyperactive heathens, and they have been chastised accordingly.
Two minutes later, the signal lights on the lumbering vehicle activate and the school bus turns into the parking lot of St. Monica’s, the largest local Catholic church in this area. Said enclave also includes a private school. Great. Not only are these children out of control, but they apparently learned their interpretive dance skills whilst attending a supposedly morally-rigid educational environment. I guess the nuns aren’t quite as restrictive as they were in my day, because I can assure you that dry-humping the back of a bus would have gotten my ass kicked off a Catholic campus in 1975, no questions asked.
Right after the Yellow Breadbox of Gyrating Madonna Wannabees veers into the Parking Lot of Hypocrisy, I pull up to the next major intersection, where all I want to do is just turn right. Instead, I am presented with a clear example of why some third-graders no longer act like third-graders should. It’s because they have been raised by third-rate parents that have lost their minds, evidenced by the next abomination that this day presents to me.
I’m just sitting there, waiting for the light to change so the obnoxious jerk in front of me, playing rap music so loud that I’m surprised his wheels don’t fall off, can pull through the intersection and allow me to turn, fleeing and screaming. But fate is not on my side, as if it ever was. I suddenly hear bleating sirens and realize that an emergency vehicle of some kind is approaching our intersection.
Turns out, it’s a fire truck, barreling along from the opposite direction. Since the cross-traffic is still whizzing through the intersection, the truck understandably comes to a halt and the driver pounds on his horn. As a decent human being, I would think that there are enough environmental clues in this situation that everybody should get the hell out of the way and let this fire truck sally forth so that the brave and noble fire-fighters can go save somebody’s ass.
But no, decency is not a given on the cultural spectrum. The cross-traffic keeps flying across the intersection, not slowing down at all. (Did that one guy just throw a beer can out his window?) None of the drivers idling directly in front of the fire truck are making any effort to get out of the way, despite the presence of a massive parking lot on their right, with an entrance right there. And the whack-job in front of me actually turns up the volume, apparently annoyed that the fire truck has a better sound system than he does.
What has happened to humanity that we have come to this, where some degenerates are so focused on their own personal needs that they blithely ignore civil servants who are quite possibly trying to keep somebody from dying? The fire truck has to wait until the light for the cross-traffic turns red. And even then, there are morons running the red light, despite the sirens and the warning-honking from the few humane people at the intersection who are trying to get some control in this situation.
Words fail me. Something has gone fundamentally wrong with society.
Eventually, the intersection clears enough that the fire truck cautiously eases through and then punches the gas, bleating its way to wherever the fire might be, a destination that is most likely mere smoke and ruin at this point. In my rearview mirror, it appears that the fire truck turns into the entrance of St. Monica’s Church of Errant Children (did the property burst into flames when the gyrating mini-hooligans stepped off the bus and onto hallowed ground?), but said church is far enough down the road that I can’t quite be certain.
Now that things are more in order, and we have a valid green light, the decibel-shattering car in front of me low-riders his way across the intersection and I finally get to turn right. Once I’m around the corner, I plow through the icy slush a bit more exuberantly than I should be plowing. After all, my vehicle is operating on the scantest of fumes, and I need to find a gas station post haste or I will descend even further into madness.
Roughly a mile later, just after I pass the exit from my neighborhood that is on the opposite side of the Death Valley mess from the previous posts, I pull into the very skanky parking lot of a nasty convenience store. Even though this hell-fest is technically close to my house, I never stop here unless I have no other choice in the world. It’s just not a good place to transact business of any kind, unless you are in the pursuit of purloined pharmaceuticals. It’s a rough crowd. You dare to take the last sausage link from the questionably-sticky, rotating warmer box on the checkout counter and you may not make it back to your car. But I need gas, desperately, so we have to put aside any trepidation.
I pull up to an available pump, hoping that it’s still working and wasn’t damaged during the last gang shoot-out, and I exit my vehicle. Immediately, my senses are assaulted by the overwhelming smell of rubber. This is due, for the most part, to the fact that immediately adjacent to the convenience store is another questionable retail establishment where they sell tires, wheels, and cheaply blinged-out accessories for your vehicle. Basically, it’s “Pimp My Ride” for people without money, pimps, or any chance of actually achieving full-ownership of their car in the foreseeable future.
I’m somewhat used to the surrealistic carnival atmosphere of the two buildings sharing the same parking lot. (After all, it is the closest convenience store, so I’ve sucked it up a few times in order to snag a gallon of milk when I was in a pinch, hoping said milk didn’t expire during the War of 1812.) Anything can happen here.
So, I’m not surprised when I overhear two women at the chop-shop getting into a catfight, one that involves multi-lingual and intense wordplay over which wheel rims look better on the modified piece of crap that their shared boyfriend, apparently named Pedro, is having tricked out. It doesn’t phase me when there’s a guttural exclamation of surprise (did somebody snatch off a weave?), followed by a reckless and vengefully-thrown tire bouncing out of the auto shop and rolling across the asphalt before it strikes a parked car, setting off a shrill alarm.
What does bug me are the gas pumps. I should be used to them by now, and I should have learned my lesson from prior visits, but it still sends me over the edge.
For one, the convenience store owner (or somebody with at least a minimal degree of authority) has altered the pumps. Instead of a range of fuel grades like you would typically find, they have made all the button choices the same, documenting the changes with crappy handwriting in black magic marker. All the buttons give you the same thing: low-grade fuel. Nothing fancy here. (Then again, I should have expected that with the sign in the store window advertising “Fresh Shrimp in the Deli!”. There is no such thing as fresh anything in a convenience store next to a tire store. Not gonna happen.)
Second, although this bullet-riddled emporium actually has a “pay at the pump” option, it’s a very antiquated payment system. This place still has a dial-up internet connection. So, you swipe your card, and then you wait an eternity for credit recognition. Entire countries can be overthrown in a military coup before you get a response. (For that matter, both of Pedro’s girlfriends have plenty of time to get pregnant before you are approved. I can rest comfortably at night knowing that a new generation of weave-snatching toddlers have been unleashed on the neighborhood.)
Finally, after the stone-age international transponder has done its thing, the wretched pump pings chirpily to indicate that I can proceed. Knowing full well what kind of quality I’m dealing with here, I only allow a couple of gallons to flow through before I slap the thing off like I’ve just seen a cockroach. Who knows what vile fluid I have just injected into my innocent RAV4. I then hit the “YES” button when the pump asks if I want a souvenir record of our transaction, because I’m anal about such things.
“Please see attendant for receipt!”
Wrong. I’m not seeing anybody. Even if I had the remotest desire to actually enter the health-violating inner sanctum of this ethics-challenged example of manifest-nondestiny, I don’t have time for this. I’ve got things to do.
I hop back in the car, fire the thing up, and pull away from the pump in what I assume will be the end of my dealings with the fine citizenry surrounding me. This assumption is proven incorrect in roughly three seconds. At that point, the front door of the convenience store slams open and two male youngsters race into the parking lot, not bothering to slow down and certainly not bothering to check for oncoming traffic. They both skid to a questionable halt in the mushy snow, directly in front of me. They both reach down and scoop up some of the dirty, exhaust-flavored ice crystals and begin to form a ball.
You’re kidding me. Am I about to be attacked for the second time today by uncontrolled urchins with a penchant for winter-themed violence? Why is there so much hatred in the world?
But no, a different madness is afoot. They drop the hard-packed balls back into the snow and begin rolling said objects around in the clingy wetness, increasing the girth and heft. It’s possible that they are just maximizing the damage potential of their weaponry, but it quickly dawns on me what the truly intend to accomplish.
They are building a snowman. Right here. In the middle of a convenience store parking lot. In front of a running car that is waiting for them to get the hell out of the way. Driven by an astonished neurotic who could not be less impressed with the latest development in his increasingly mind-numbing quest to simply buy an onion.
I can’t get around them. There’s not enough room, what with the gas pumps on the left and a line of parked clunker cars on the right. I could possibly back up, but I don’t have the greatest skill when it comes to doing vehicular things in reverse. Besides, the pavement behind me is dotted with customers from the sordid chop shop, all of them standing around and arguing over which heavy-metal decal would look best on the back window of Pedro’s baby-making ride.
So, I’ve got to go forward, and these kids need to get out of the way. Where are their parents? Surely there’s at least a guardian figure of some kind with minimal responsibility for the welfare of the budding minions of Satan. I glare at the convenience store door, focusing my mental powers on creating the sudden appearance of an adult who can yell at the bad little boys and make them go away.
Lo and behold, here comes a woman who does seem to have some influence with the degenerates. She’s talking on her phone, and she initially doesn’t seem to be paying any attention. However, both boys call out to her, requesting admiration for their handiwork. She pauses in mid-sentence, assesses the situation, then breaks into a broad grin.
“Isn’t that CUTE!” she pronounces.
(No, it’s not.)
“Gloria,” she says to the person on the phone, a woman I thoroughly despise due to whatever association she might have with these people. “We’re building a snowman! I’m going to send you a picture. Hang up and I’ll call you back.”
(NO! We don’t need photography right now. We need you to drag your offspring out of my way so I can finally roll forward and crush that damn half-built snowman.)
Momma then takes her phone and starts snapping away while the boys mug it up, cavorting about and pointing at their creation. It’s all I can do to suppress an anguished wail of misery and doom. This is the clueless society that I live in?
Fine. I’ll just have to honk my horn, an action that I had avoided up to this point because I didn’t want to be like the crazy people who had honked at ME earlier over a situation that I couldn’t control. (And there’s the related fact that my car was currently idling in what was clearly gang territory, with the thugs at the auto shop behind me and the guys on the sidewalk to my right who were most likely selling crack along with the stack of bootlegged DVD’s on the table between them.)
I gently tap the horn, and a tentative squawk issues forth from under the hood.
Momma stops taking pictures and finally notices me five feet away. She is no longer smiling, instead giving me a look filled with venom instead of the anticipated apology. All of the people at the gas pumps, waiting for their credit cards to be approved, turn as one to regard the situation. The suspicious DVD hawkers stand up to get a better view. In the shop behind me, what had been the incessant sound of power tools adjusting lug nuts suddenly stops, with the customers all racing out to see who had just done what to upset the delicate balance of power in the hood. I’m completely surrounded, and nobody looks like they have the slightest ounce of appreciation for my existence.
I’m about to be killed, ripped to shreds by an angry mob driven to violence because I dared to honk at angelic toddlers who are just trying to enjoy the snowfall. As if to give his blessing to the impending carnage, the owner of the convenience store steps outside to survey the melee. He has a look of anticipation on his face. He also has the look of someone who is not pleased that I took the last sausage link from his sticky warming box.
I am so screwed right now….
Click here to read the next installment in this series.
Categories: The Stories