Category Archives: My True Life

Left Behind

Standard

People left weird things in the fuel center where I worked for a couple of months in the summer of 2019. While I never found a baby in a trashcan, I did find a big box of candy and a bag of prescription drugs.

Pile of Gummy Fruit Candies

I found the candy first.

It was a busy Sunday afternoon, overcast all day with a drizzle in the afternoon. If you think a Sunday afternoon was a tranquil time at the fuel center, think again. All the tourists who’d spent the weekend in town were fueling up before leaving for home. All the locals preparing for the workweek ahead were getting their fuel before their Monday rush. The only fuel center day busier than Sunday was Friday, when people were getting ready for weekend adventures.

About half an hour before my replacement was scheduled to arrive, I looked across the fuel center and saw a large cardboard box on top of an empty merchandiser. My first thought was that someone wanted to dump an empty box, but hadn’t taken the time to break it down and put it in a trashcan. I sighed and headed outside to dispose of the box.

Thankfully I looked in it before I tried to snatch it off the merchandiser

Assorted Candy Lot

because the box was full (and I mean full) of candy. There were half a dozen boxes of Cracker Jacks, lollipops. Smarties, and several other varieties of yummies. It was a jackpot for someone with a sweet tooth like mine.

Alas, the candy did not belong to me.

It was quite a dilemma for a trash picking, ground scoring scavenger like me. I was pretty sure the box had been deserted, not forgotten–pretty sure but not certain. If I had been simply a customer, I might have justified loading the box into my vehicle. After all, there was no one near the box. On the other hand, I was on the clock, and I was confident the company I worked for would frown upon an employee scavenging on company property during work hours.

Purple Liquid Poison on Brown Wooden Surface

My next thought was, What if it’s poisoned?

Let me say, I’ve eaten food from the trash many, many times. I once lived in a college town where dumpster diving at the end of each semester was my favorite sport. During the same period, my friends and I regularly scavenged from the dumpster of a local grocery store. I never limited my food acquisitions to sealed packages, and I never worried about being poisoned. But a box full of candy? It was too good to be true! What better way to terrorize a small town than to leave poisoned candy in a busy place where ti was sure to be found and eaten? Did I really want to be done in by the deadly sin of gluttony?

I hauled the box into the kiosk and called the CSM (Customer Service Manager) on duty.

I found a big box of candy outside, I explained. It wasn’t in the trash. I might have been forgotten.

The CSM told me to bring the candy into the supermarket. She was clearly over me and my fuel center problems.

She looked a bit surprised when she saw the size of the box, but she quickly handed responsibility over to one of the assistant store managers who was bagging groceries for a customer. The assistant manager looked perplexed, but after finding the name of a local day camp written on the side of the box, she said she’d get the candy back to the organization it seemed to belong to. I was glad I no longer had to think about the abandoned treats.

It was about a week later that I found the drugs.

Pile of White Pink and Brown Oblong and Round Medication Tablet

When I started my shift, I saw a white paper bag with the logo of the pharmacy owned by the company I worked for. The bag was on the ground near pump 3, and I figured it was empty and left behind by someone who had no qualms about littering. Once I got signed in on the POS (point-of-sale) system and updated by the coworker I was replacing, I went outside to condition the merchandise and pick up trash. I made a beeline for the pharmacy bag.

When I grabbed the bag, I was shocked to find it was heavy and rattled when it moved. I looked inside and saw four prescription bottles, each full of pills. Whoa! What was I going to do with this!

I brought the bag into the kiosk immediately so I could examine the bottles. While the bag had the logo of the company I worked for on it, the bottles were clearly from the corporate pharmacy down the street. The bottles also showed the name of the man to whom the drugs had been prescribed. Each bottle had a name of a drug on the label, but I didn’t recognize any of them.

Bunch of White Oval Medication Tablets and White Medication Capsules

I wondered what was going on here. Had the drugs been forgotten? Had they been dumped? if they’d been forgotten, why had they been taken out of a car and put on the ground? If they’d been dumped, why had they been left on the ground and not deposited in one of the trash cans?

I called the CSM on duty, a different one than the one I’d alerted about the box of candy. After I explained the situation, the CSM consulted with the same assistant manager who again happened to be standing right there.

The assistant manager asked if the prescriptions had been filled by our pharmacy.

I said no, the bag was from our pharmacy, but the bottles had lables from our competitor.

Throw them in the trash, she instructed.

It seemed so wrong to me. The patient had probably paid a lot of money for that medicine, and the guy was obviously sick if he needed four bottles of pills. Wasn’t there something we could do?

I knew the assistant manager had made up her mind, so I didn’t argue. I put the bag of drugs on top of the trash can in the kiosk. I figured the owner of the bag would come by in the next five hours while I was working and ask about it. When he identified himself, I could grab the bag from the top of the trash and hand it over.

I waited in vain. No one asked about a forgotten bag of prescription medication. No one skulked around the fuel center looking for a lost item. The drugs stayed in my trash can until I brought the day’s load of garbage into the store and over to the baler in the stockroom.

I hate an unsolved mystery. I’ll spend the rest of my life wondering about

Question Mark Illustration

those candies and drugs. Where did they come from? Who left them? Were they left on purpose or accidentally? If leaving the items was an accident, what did the person who’d left them think when the loss was discovered? How did the guy do without his medication? If the items were left on purpose, why weren’t they put in the trash can?

Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/pile-of-gummy-fruit-candies-1050300/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-candy-lot-1656600/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/purple-liquid-poison-on-brown-wooden-surface-159296/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/colors-colours-health-medicine-143654/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/bunch-of-white-oval-medication-tablets-and-white-medication-capsules-159211/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/ask-blackboard-chalk-board-chalkboard-356079/.

Early April Thankful Thursday

Standard
Photo by Wilhelm Gunkel on Unsplash

First of all, I want to say thank you to everyone who commented on my post “Update, COVID-19 Edition.” I appreciate all of your concern and input and will respond to each comment soon. I love it when my readers comment, so please keep it up.

Secondly, big thanks go out to my friends and readers Sarah and Russ for their financial contribution this month. Your support really warms my heart and helps make ends meet.

Sometimes I’m grumpy because I’m stuck at home with no mail and a lack of yummy snacks, but really, I have so much for which to be thankful. Here are some of the things for which I am grateful on this early April day:

  • My good health, The Man’s good health, Jericos’s good health, and the good health of all of my friends and family members. No one close to me is currently dealing personally with a case of COVID-19.
  • Our tiny piece of land and our tiny trailer where we can hunker down safely away from other people. I’m so glad that we’re not on the road right now.
  • Our lack of mortgage payment, car note, and rent. It’s a blessing to live simply without huge bills hanging over our heads.
  • A pantry stocked with (at least) seven pounds of oatmeal; fifteen pounds of beans (pinto, Lima, black, red, kidney, garbanzo, and lentils); thirteen pounds of potatoes; several onions; seven pounds of rice; two pounds of texturized vegetable protein; five pounds of cornmeal; a couple of pounds of flour (white and whole wheat); five pounds of sugar (granulated, brown, and powdered); two dozen eggs; three packages of pasta; a head of cabbage; a loaf of bread; 3/4 of a jar of peanut butter; three bags of tortilla chips; assorted canned goods (corn, peas, spinach, pasta sauce, tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and pumpkin); a pound and a half of butter; a jar of popcorn; spices; condiments; baking supplies; a little bit of powdered milk; and other odds and ends. We might have some…interesting…meals before it’s all said and done, but we won’t starve. (We opened a 35 pound bag of dog food for Jerico last week, so he’s got food for a month, maybe six weeks.)
  • The Man just kicked the tobacco habit!!!
  • My phone which allows me to stay connected to my family, my friends, and the world and provides a hot spot so I can access the internet on my laptop too.
  • Noise cancelling headphones and Relaxation Radio on Google Play.
  • Plenty of books to read.
  • The end of winter, warm spring weather, and plenty of sunshine.

Thank you for reading, today and every day that you join me here. Thank you for your support and encouragement. Let’s continue to get through these tough times together.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Update, COVID-19 Edition

Standard
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

I don’t feel like writing.

I don’t feel like doing much of anything.

Don’t worry. I’m not sick. As far as I know, I’m totally healthy. I don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19 and no risk factors other than going to town (The Hot Zone, The Man calls it) last Tuesday to pick up Jerico’s dog food and drop some postcards into the mail slot.

The Man is fine too, as is Jerico. We’re all in good health.

I quit my job a week ago. The hand washing facilities where I worked were inadequate. In the three months I worked there, I never once saw the woman I assisted wash her hands. Another frustrating problem was that she did not believe COVID-19 was a big deal. If they’d quit calling it a pandemic, people wouldn’t be so frantic, she said on more than one occasion. She certainly was not practicing social distancing, so I was exposed–directly or indirectly–to everyone who came over to visit her, everyone she hugged, everyone who touched something in her house. I was also expected to take her to a friend’s home to shower once a week, so I was exposed to her friend, her friend’s husband, the hired hand, and anyone else who happened to be there on a Friday afternoon.

This is from the frequently asked questions from my state’s unemployment website.

The state I work in won’t pay unemployment to anyone who quits a job due to “a medical concern.” In the eyes of the state, I was supposed to keep working until either I got sick or my client did. Hell, I might have been expected to continue to care for my client had she gotten sick even though I had no protective gear or even a place to wash my hands other than a sink that drained into a bucket that I had to dump outside when full.

While I received emails from my credit union, the gas station and supermarket to whose rewards clubs I belong, and every fast food restaurant and craft store with whom I’ve ever shared my email address explaining how each business was working to keep both customers and employees safe in the time of COVID-19 and telling me how to keep myself safe, the company I worked for didn’t so much as text me to remind me to wash my hands. I heard nothing from my employer. Nothing. Not a peep. The silence did not instill confidence in me. In fact, the silence underscored the reality that my employer did not give a damn about me.

At first I was excited about the prospect of not going to work.

I’ll get some writing done, I thought. I’ll work on my blog. I’ll let people know about the postcards I have for sale. I’ll get so much done!

Instead, I’ve been dragging my ass for a week.

The Man and I decided to stay home and take social distancing and flattening the curve seriously. The Man is talking about totally staying home for two months, maybe three. Is he overreacting or saving our lives? I guess we’ll never really know.

The Man and I have enough food for for a month, maybe six weeks, if we eat two conservative meals a day. We started out with about 15 pounds of dried pinto beans, along with a few more pounds of dried black beans, lentils, white beans and Lima beans. We’ve been eating oatmeal for breakfast so we can save the eggs for baking. I’ve been working hard to vary our dinners so we don’t burn out on beans early on. There may come a day when we’re eating all pintos all the time, but I want to delay that day for as long as possible.

Jerico is set with food for now. Last Tuesday we picked up a 35 pound sack of food we’d had shipped from Chewy.com. That much food will last him at least a month, probably six weeks. He’ll be out of medication too, sometime in the next couple of months. We order that online too.

Unlike most people in the United States, we don’t get home delivery of mail. No one in this part of the state does. Folks either get a box at a post office or at a private company like the UPS Store. So while most of you can order online and have groceries or dog food or medicine or craft supplies delivered to your home, we don’t enjoy that convenience. Our mailbox is 20 miles away, in The Hot Zone.

The nearest outgoing mailbox is at least 12 miles from our home, and The Man really doesn’t want me driving there to mail letters and postcards. He fears the virus is going to be concentrated anywhere that people live. He fears I might breathe in the virus and bring it home. Again, is he over cautious or just cautious enough?

What did I decide to do after considering my prospects of neither incoming nor outgoing mail for a month or more? I decided to make postcards, of course. Something about cutting paper and gluing it down in new ways is comforting to me in times of stress. The actions give me a feeling of control, I suppose.

These are some of the 38 postcards I made. I took this photo too.

Two days and 38 postcards later, I ran out of the decoupage glue I like to use for all my collage work. I won’t be getting any more of it any time soon, so I guess my postcard creating is on hiatus.

This past Saturday, I tried to file my taxes online. It turned into a fiasco because I don’t know last year’s Adjusted Gross Income. I had to give up after a couple of hours of struggle until my sibling (whose mail is delivered to the front porch) receives some documentation and calls me with the information.

After I was unable to achieve my big goal for the day, I fell into despair. It was tool cold and windy to go for the walk The Man suggested. I didn’t feel like writing. I didn’t feel like talking or watching a movie. After I cooked dinner and washed the dishes, the rest of my life stretched before me, long and boring.

The Man and I ended up watching some King of the Hill on Hulu. (Thank goodness for free trials from streaming services.) That cheered me up a little, but all I really wanted to do was play the matching game I put on my phone. I don’t have to think too hard about it, so it doesn’t tax my brain, but I have to pay close enough attention to it that unwanted thoughts are kept away. It’s an unproductive activity, but after hours of reading news sources and thinking about COVID-19 and people refusing to isolate and the lack of ventilators and all the horribleness that’s coming down the pike, my brain enjoys being blank.

I don’t know what to do with this blog right now. Should I carry on as if nothing is amiss and our whole world isn’t crumbling? Should I go all COVID-19 all the time? To be honest with you, I don’t have it in me to go all COVID-19 all the time. But if no one cares anymore about a free camping spot in Colorado or stories from my past or photos of my first Little Free Food Pantry, I’m not going to bother. However, if my blog helps you feel a little more normal, I’m all for continuing with it.

Please, let me know what you think. If you’re reading these words, please, please leave a comment (as short or as long as you like) letting me know what you want to see here in the coming days. Your input will help me make some decisions.

In the meantime, please keep yourself safe. Stay home as much as possible. Work from home if you can. Stay away from people outside your immediate family. Wash your hands. Be kind. Above all, please be kind.

Contrary

Standard

Perhaps the most frustrating customers I encountered during my two months working at the supermarket fuel center were the ones who needed help but got pissy when I tried to remedy their situations.

The intercom that was supposed to allow me to communicate with the world on the other side of the bulletproof glass was a piece of crap. The sound cut in and out; sometimes there was no sound at all. The fuel center definitely needed new communication equipment.

One morning I pushed the button on the intercom and began speaking to a man on the other side of the window.

I can’t hear you, he smirked.

I put my mouth right next to the part of the intercom box that picked up sound. I kept my voice low, but since it was right next to the amplifier, it must have been loud outside.

What pump are you on?  I asked the fellow.

You don’t have to yell, he chastised me.

I guess there was just no pleasing him.

Customers often had trouble getting the pay-at-the-pump feature to work. Strange, because 98% of the time when I went outside to help, I could get the pump to accept the troublesome debit and credit cards. Maybe I had the magic touch, or maybe I have the attention span, patience, and mental capacity to follow the step-by-step directions given on the pump’s computer screen. Customers often acted as if our pumps were the cause of their hardships, but if the pumps were at fault, I don’t think my success rate would have been so outstanding.

People are funny. I thought folks would be happy when I got the pump to accept their credit/debit cards so they could get their fuel. However, over the course of two months, more than one person (more than twenty people) seemed to get angrier when I got the pump going. Of course, these people couldn’t very well complain when they were able to pump their fuel, but I could tell when people got angrier after I’d gotten the pump to accept their card. I think those people wanted to be upset and they’d decided (subconsciously, probably) to be upset whether they got what they wanted or not. 

Of course, some people were so invested in their anger, they didn’t even want me to try to help.

I do this all the time, customers said to dismiss me on more than one occasion after I’d gone outside and was trying to talk them through the steps necessary to get the pump to give up fuel. I knew the customers were having trouble because they’d come up to the kiosk and told me so, but when I went outside to help, I obviously wasn’t wanted.

I do this all the time, I was told, and I wanted to say, So what usually happens? Do you always fuck it up and have to ask for help, or can you usually muddle through?

Of course I kept those thoughts to myself. I also refrained from demanding to know why someone came up to the kiosk and reported a problem if they didn’t want my help. Do you just want to complain, or do you actually want to put gas in your car? I often wondered.

Sometimes when I was outside trying to help, the customer decided they’d had enough of my chipper personality. (Really, I was chipper when I went outside to offer assistance. I dare say I was friendly too, and pleasant.)

I’ve got it now, customers sometimes said pointedly, trying to get rid of me.

Uh, no, I’d say in my head while politely refusing to leave. I wasn’t going to walk back to the kiosk, unlock the door, and go inside only to have the same person up at the window again, complaining through the intercom that something was wrong with the pump. We were in this together now, and we’d see it through to the end, side-by-side, until the nozzle was in the gas tank and fuel flowed freely.

Forgot to Pump

Standard

It was early in my brief career as a clerk in a supermarket fuel center (aka gas station), and the day had started early. (I’d crawled out of bed at 4am and clocked in to work before 5:45.) The place had been busy since the sun came up, and my brain was already on overload when the woman stepped up to the kiosk window. I asked how I could help her, and she told me pump 6 was authorized to pump $60 worth of gas.

At first I thought she was reading the numbers above the pump’s communication screen. The very top number told how much money the previous customer had spent at the pump. The second number showed how many gallons of fuel the previous customer had pumped. Many, many customers thought the presence of those numbers meant there was a problem with the pump and they wouldn’t be able to get their fuel there. They didn’t realize that once a payment had been made to me in the kiosk or a card inserted at the pump and the fuel nozzle lifted, those numbers would zero out and the pumping could begin.

I assumed the woman had been looking at the very top number, the amount the previous customer had spent. (When you assume, my late father would have said, you make an ass of u and me.) I told her when she lifted the nozzle, the $60 would zero out and she could begin pumping.

She shook her head at me. When she got out of her car, the screen said $60. She didn’t put in $60. She was going to pay with her credit card, but she didn’t want to put her card in if someone else’s money was already on the pump.

Slowly it dawned on my poor tired brain that the woman wasn’t talking about the uppermost number on the pump. She was talking about the communication screen. The communication screen said that someone had paid $60 on pump 6.

I looked over at my POS (point-of-sale) system. The screen showed me the activity on every pump in the fuel center. I could tell who had prepaid by giving me cash or letting me run a credit or debit card. I could tell who had paid at the pump. I could see who was pumping gas and who had yet to start pumping. Sure enough, pump 6 had been authorized for $60.

You didn’t pay me $60? I asked the woman. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell if I had ever seen her before, much less if she had stood before me a few minutes ago and handed me $60. She shook her head no.

You didn’t already use your card on pump 6?  I asked her. I certainly didn’t want her coming back in five minutes telling me she had paid twice and wanting money back.

She shook her head no again. She repeated that she hadn’t put her card into the pump because she thought someone else had already paid $60 for that pump and she didn’t want to mess anything up.

I thanked her for being honest. It would have been so easy for her to simply put that $60 worth of gas in her tank. No one would have known…but her.

I’ll clear that out for you, I told her. I reached over and went through the procedure to refund the $60 on pump 6. I didn’t take any money out of the drawer because I didn’t know exactly what procedure to follow in such a situation. I figured I would come up with something before my shift was over.

When my screen showed pump 6 was available, I told the woman she was all set to go and thanked her again for her honesty.

The customers continued to line up and hand me money and credit cards. I authorized pumps and sold cigarettes and told people how many reward points they had. I’d forgotten about the $60 on pump 6 until a frantic-looking man stood before me.

I was here about half an hour ago, he told me. He was all but panting. I gave you $60 for pump 6, then went out there and put the nozzle in my truck. I thought it had pumped, but it didn’t pump, and I left without my gas.

I totally believed his story. He seemed genuinely upset and out of breath, and he knew what pump the money had been left on and how much money it was. I didn’t see how it could be a scam of some kind.

You’re really lucky, I told the guy. An honest woman told me about the $60 still on the pump. She could have just used the money, and I would have never known, but she told me about it. Then I told him to pull into whatever pump he wanted, then to let me know what pump he was on so I could authorize it for $60.

I don’t know if he realized how lucky he was. If that lady had used his $60 then he had come in later with some sob story about how he had forgotten to pump his gas, I would have thought, sure, right and sent him on his way. If he had insisted, I probably would have called a manager to handle the situation.

Who forgets to pump their gas? I wondered aloud when I related this story. Apparently it happens. It happened to this guy, and it happened to a friend of mine. She said she was flustered, had been getting repeated phone calls from a needy friend. She said she paid $20 for gas, got into her car, and drove away. When she realized what had happened she went back to the fuel center but found someone had already pumped her fuel. The person in the kiosk was not trusting and kind and told her she was out of luck; there was nothing he could do.

Moral of the story: If you forget to pump your gas, hope the person who rolls in after you is honest. 

Cones

Standard

When I worked at the fuel center, we used safety cones whenever we needed to block a pump because it wasn’t working correctly or a fuel spill needed to be cleaned. Some of the cones were yellow with the word “caution” spelled out on the sides. The other cones were standard orange and had no words on them.

Whenever there was a fuel spill, the first thing I did was grab three cones and use them to block the area in front of the pump where the fuel was. This way, if I couldn’t clean the spill immediately, I could at least try to keep people from driving through the fuel and transferring it all over the concrete. 

Of course, our customers were an independent bunch. If some folks saw a pump blocked off but couldn’t see any problem, they’d simply move the cones so they could get to the pump. It’s true, I’d usually cleaned the fuel by that time, and the cones were there to keep people away while the cleaning solution dried, but I admit I got a wee bit pissy when customers moved those cones. Didn’t they know this was my fuel center? I was a fuel center professional. It was my job to decide when a pump was ready to be used again. Such a decision could not be left to mere amateurs.

Sometimes people wouldn’t even move the cones in front of a pump with a problem. If the cones were close to the pump, the customer could park on the side of them and stretch the hose to the opening of their fuel tank. I learned quickly to place cones about three feet from the problematic pump and use three of them to make an obvious barricade. A vehicle three feet from a pump was in the travel lane and in the way of other customers trying to get in or out of the fuel center. Most people were not going to risk the wrath of other customers by blocking them due to parking three feet from the pump.

I also learned quickly to put an “out of order” bag over the nozzle of any pump that was not working. While people often tried to ignore cones, I never saw anyone take an “out of order” bag off a nozzle and attempt to pump gas or diesel. Cones may not have been always taken seriously, but “out of order” bags were apparently gospel.

Sometimes a pump’s problem led to leaking fuel. In such a case, I had to shut the power off to the pump to stop the flow of fuel. Each fueling station had a pump on either side. Pumps 1 and 2 shared a fueling station, as did 3 and 4, 5 and 6, etc. Each pump had two nozzles; one provided gasoline, and the other provided diesel or flex fuel. The way the pumps were wired, it was impossible to cut the power to just one of them. If I shut off the power at the breaker box, the pumps on both sides of the fueling station were off.

At one point during my short fuel center career, pump 4 started leaking diesel. When I flipped the breaker to shut off power at pump 4, all four nozzles on pumps 3 and 4 stopped working. I took four “out of service” bags outside and placed them over all the nozzles on pumps 3 and 4. After the nozzles were bagged, I dragged over six cones and created blockades in front of both pumps.

Communicating the out-of-orderness of pumps 3 and 4 was for the convenience of the customers. No one wants to waste time pulling up to a pump, getting out of the vehicle, (and knowing my customers probably trying to shove a debit or credit card into a nonfunctioning machine) only to find the pump down. After discovering a pump was nonfunctional, the customer would have had to get back in the vehicle and drive to another pump and maybe have to wait in line. It was much more considerate to let people know right away which pumps were not working.

Pumps 3 and 4 were down for several days as we waited for a repair person to come out and fix the leaky diesel nozzle. After a couple of days, one of the cones in front of pump 3 was removed for use elsewhere in the fuel center. The two remaining cones had been pushed closer and closer to the pump. I should have recognized that the cones needed to be pulled away from the pump to make them more noticeable, but it was a busy afternoon, and the prominent display of safety cones was not at the forefront of my attention.

I saw the Jeep pull up next to pump 3, but I didn’t think much about it. Sometimes people parked next to closed pumps if they didn’t want fuel but wanted to buy cigarettes or a soda or snacks. Honestly, it was only way back in my mind that I remembered pump 3 was offline. The cones blocking the pump had faded into the fuel center scenery.

The woman who’d parked next to pump 3 approached the kiosk where I stood behind bulletproof glass. I hit the button on the intercom that allowed me to speak to the outside world.

Hi! How can I help you today? I greeted her.

I need $10 on pump 3, the woman answered.

I glanced over at my POS (point-of-sale) screen to check on the availability of pump 3. I’d gotten in the habit of checking the screen immediately after customers told me what pump they were on so I could insure there was no problem with the pump in question. I also checked to make sure no funds were already authorized on the pump. Of course, when I check on pump 3, the screen told me it and pump 4 were offline and unavailable.

I was momentarily confused since I’d mostly forgotten that pump 3 was not functioning. Why had this lady even chosen pump 3 if it was out of order? Were the “out of order” bags gone? Did cones no longer blocked off the pump?

I glanced over at pump 3. There was an “out of order” bag on each nozzle. Two tall yellow cones were in front of the pump, but pushed up close to it. The woman had parked her Jeep next to the cones which were between the vehicle and the pump.

Pump 3 is not working, I told the woman.

She looked at me blankly.

That’s why the cones are there, I told her. I was unable to keep the you are an idiot tone out of my voice.

The woman stared at me with a What am I going to do? look on her face.

You’ll have to go to another pump, I told her.

Maybe the woman didn’t notice the cones. As I said, they had been pushed over, so they were not directly in front of her vehicle as she drove up to the pump. However, they were definitely in front of the pump. They were yellow.  The word “caution” was printed on them. They were difficult to miss. Besides, if she didn’t see the cones, both fuel dispensing nozzles were marked “out of order.” How did she miss all the signs?

Classic Brown Vehicle Parked Beside Trees

When I drive into a gas station, I’m alert. I’m looking around to see what fueling stations are available, looking for other vehicles, cones, and bagged nozzles. If I end up at a pump with bagged nozzles, I notice before I get out of my truck and move to a different pump.

I believe these days this noticing of my surroundings is referred to as situational awareness. I am aware of my situation. My late father would have called this getting my head out of my ass.

Apparently many customers entered the fuel center where I worked with their heads firmly in their asses. I suppose they pulled in at any pump where there wasn’t an obstacle directly in their path and hoped for the best.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/two-red-and-white-traffic-cones-in-middle-on-road-1236723/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/broken-car-vehicle-vintage-2071/.

Christmas Hitchhiker Part 2 (Blog Post Bonus)

Standard
Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash

The Man got out of bed really early on Christmas morning. (He’s usually out of bed between 3am and 5am in the winter, so this was not unusual.) I woke up around 5am, and joined him in the living room. We opened a few little presents from each other and as well as the wrapped treats my sibling had sent in a big box. We ate miniature powdered donuts for breakfast, watched the sun rise through the east-facing window, and spent some quiet time together.

Around 10am, we decided to watch A Christmas Story on the DVD I’d given The Man that morning. I needed something from the truck before we started watching, so I put on my boots and trudged through the snow.

Once at the truck, I grabbed the thing I needed (I no longer remember what it was), then glanced over to the backseat. On the passenger side of the backseat was a green backpack. I didn’t own a green backpack. At the time I owned a purple backpack and black backpack decorated with red and orange flames and a blue backpack, but not a green one. As far as I knew, The Man didn’t own a green backpack either.

About that time I realized I didn’t see the blue backpack I normally kept in the truck. The blue pack was stuffed with hats I made and wanted to sell. There wasn’t room for the backpack in our tiny trailer, and I only needed the hats in it when I was selling at a flea market or craft fair, so I left the bulging thing in the truck. But where was it?

I rummaged through everything I could reach on the driver’s side of the truck. No blue backpack. I walked over to the passenger’s side of the truck to rummage through the things on that side. No blue backpack either–only the green one.

A wave of realization passed slowly over me. Had last night’s hitchhiker left her backpack and taken mine?

I opened the smallest, outermost pocket on the green backpack. Right on top I saw a debit card with a women’s name on it, a set of keys, and a flip phone. Oh no! I opened the main pocket and saw, among other things, a block of Tillamook cheddar. Oh no! This was serious! We had the woman’s cheese!

I went back into the trailer.

We have a problem, I told The Man. I explained my backpack was gone and a backpack holding important things (keys, phone, debit card, cheese) was in its place.

Go get her phone, The Man suggested. He thought we could call someone on her contact list and let them know we had the hitchhiker’s belongings. Good idea!

Photo by Fabrizio Conti on Unsplash

I went back out into the snow and sunshine and grabbed her phone. Once inside again, The Man flipped the phone open and looked at the phone log. Most of the calls had been made to one number. The Man said we should call that one.

He dialed, then handed the phone to me. A fellow answered after a couple of rings.

Good morning, I said, feeling awkward. I told him my name and explained how the night before my guy and I had picked up a hitchhiker. I mentioned the name I’d seen on the debit card.

That’s my mother! he exclaimed.

I told him how we’d driven her almost home and that I’d just discovered my bag missing and her pack (filled with important items) in our truck. I told him we wanted to get her bag back to her but because she’d had us drop her off down the road from her house, we didn’t know where exactly we should go with the pack. Of course, because she didn’t have her phone, we couldn’t call her and arrange to meet.

Photo by Lee Jeffs on Unsplash

The son said he would text his mother’s neighbor’s phone number to me. He thought maybe the neighbor could help. He thanked me for calling, and we wished each other a merry Christmas before saying goodbye.

In a few moments a text with a name and phone number came to my phone. That must be the neighbor, I thought.

I called the number and started another awkward conversation with another stranger. After I explained everything, the neighbor sighed and said his family had given the hitchhiker a lot of help in the past, and they were, frankly, burnt out.

It’s Christmas morning, my brother’s here, we’re about to eat breakfast, he told me.

I was a little stunned. I realized not everyone was as excited about getting the woman’s backpack to her as The Man and I were.

I suggested the neighbor contact me later when he wasn’t so busy. He said he would think on the situation and try to figure out a way to help.I got off the phone and updated The Man. We agreed there was nothing we could do until we heard from the neighbor again.

The Man and I talked for a while, ate a few more Christmas treats, then decided to start the movie. He was hooking up the DVD player to the television when my phone rang. It was the hitchhiker’s neighbor. He’d decided the best course of action was for us to meet him at his house. He thought he should ride in our truck with us and direct us to the hitchhiker’s house. Once there we could simultaneously hand over her backpack and retrieve mine.

The neighbor had just begun to give me convoluted directions to his place when the hitchhiker’s phone began to ring. Hang on a second, I told the neighbor.

Answer it! Answer it! I directed while gesturing wildly at The Man.

He answered it while I explained to the neighbor what was happening.

The hitchhiker was on the phone. I could just barely hear her voice and understand what she was saying. It seemed that she’d found someone to let her use their phone so she could call hers.

Yes, we had her backpack, I heard The Man tell her. Yes, we could meet her on the road where we’d dropped her off the night before. We could even meet her at her house, he offered. She must have declined because he said, Are you sure? then Ok.

After flipping the phone shut, he told me the hitchhiker didn’t want us to go to her house. (I wasn’t surprised.) She wanted us to meet her on the road we’d driven down before we dropped her off.

Photo by Jason Abdilla on Unsplash

We put on our cold weather gear and headed to the truck. The Man drove. The bright sun hitting the white snow was blinding, and we both wore our sunglasses.

It was slow going on the bumpy main road. When we turned off onto the road where we’d meet the hitchhiker, the ride wasn’t any smoother.

There she is! I said when I saw the short woman wearing a puffy purple coat.

I waved, and she waved, and The Man brought the truck to a stop next to her. I got out of the truck and handed her backpack to her amid much thanks. She said she’d gotten home the night before and opened up (what she thought was) her backpack only to find–instead of her keys–a bunch of hats. That’s when she knew she had the wrong bag. She’d had to break into her own house since she didn’t have her keys, but she said it hadn’t been too difficult.

While the hitchhiker talked, I looked about her person for my backpack. She wasn’t holding it, and she didn’t seem to be wearing it on her back. Where could it be? Had she left it at home?

Do you have my backpack? I asked timidly.

She told me she had left it safely under a tree and pointed to one of the few in the area. I thought it was a little strange that she had abandoned my pack under a tree, but whatever. I would be happy to have my pack and my hats again.

I went to the tree she’d pointed out and looked around. No backpack.

I don’t see it, I called out to her.

Oh, maybe I left it under that one, she said.

I didn’t know how she could be confused about what tree she’d left the backpack under. There were only two in the area! I didn’t ask any questions, just walked down the road to the other tree. Yes! There was my pack, nestled in the snow at the base of the tree.

Thanks and Christmas wishes expressed, I got back in the truck and the hitchhiker went on her way, up the hill again.

Christmas Hitchhiker

Standard

It was Christmas Even and The Man was driving us home. Although it wasn’t quite 8pm, the sky was midnight dark, and we saw no house lights in the distance. Wind tumbled fat snowflakes in the space ahead of our headlights. When the snow hit the ground, it stuck. The Man drove slowly through the slush on the road as I looked for our turn.

Photo by Jessica Fadel on Unsplash

Is that it? I asked again and again, thinking each driveway was maybe the road we were looking for. I’m always amazed by how different the landscape looks at night. I’d been down that road hundreds of times in the last eight months, but I was having such a difficulty finding it in the dark. Finally we saw the road home, and The Man made the turn. We were within a few miles of our little trailer.

Unfortunately, the snow and poor condition of the road kept us moving slowly. It would be a while more until we made it home.

At one point the road drops and one’s vehicle ends up at the bottom of a small hill. I call the area “Dead Man’s Hill” because the road is narrow and when going up the hill, it’ impossible to see if another vehicle is coming down. A driver going too fast and driving too far to the left could become involved in a head-on collision.

That night we weren’t going very fast. As we descended the hill, I saw the headlights of another vehicle approaching in the distance. We weren’t the only fools out on this snowy night.

As we got to the bottom of the hill, something in the sage to my right caught my eye. There appeared to be a small person (a woman, I thought) standing in the arroyo just off the road. As we passed by, she waved her flashlight, as if trying to catch our attention. It took some dedication to be hitchhiking at night, especially on a cold Christmas Eve while snow was flying.

That’s a woman! I exclaimed. Most hitchhikers I encounter present as male, so seeing a female hitchhiker is always something of an event. As a woman who’s done a bit of hitchhiking in my time, I always try to pick up gals looking for a ride.

Does she need a ride? The Man asked.

Yes! I said with conviction. Anyone standing in an arroyo in the dark, in the snow, on Christmas Eve needed a ride as far as I was concerned.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The Man slowed the truck even further.

I’m going to use that little pullout to turn around, he said indicating a wide space in the road.

He pulled into the turnout, then began backing out. He misnavigated and ended up putting our back tire in the icy low spot next to the road. Despite the four-wheel drive being engaged, the tire couldn’t gain traction.

My spirits sank. Were we going to be punished by the Universe for trying to do a good deed?

While The Man tried to get us out of our predicament, the car whose headlights I’d seen earlier approached. The vehicle (an outdoorsy station wagon type, maybe a Subaru or a Jeep) passed us, then stopped just ahead of us. The hitchhiker stepped out of the sage and approached the driver’s side of the vehicle. She was carrying at least one bag and was wearing a dark rain poncho with the hood up.

By this time, The Man had put our truck into reverse and was easing back. I think the slight downward slant of the road let us roll backwards until the tire touched a bit of earth that wasn’t quite so icy. The traction gained allowed us to get back on the road. We were soon going forward again, and we pulled up behind (put not too close to) the station wagon.

The hitchhiker left the other vehicle and came up to The Man’s window.

Do you need a ride? The Man asked. He told me later he was quite confused because he couldn’t believe anyone would be hitchhiking from that spot, at night, while it was snowing so hard.

She said she did need a ride. She told us the area where she lived, and my heart sank again. She lived nowhere near us. We were going to have to drive several miles out of our way in the dark and the snow to get her home. We had already almost gotten stuck turning around to pick her up. But what other choice did we have? We couldn’t leave the gal alone in the dark and snow by the side of the road on Christmas Eve. The only right thing to do was drive her home.

I leaned over to speak to her through The Man’s open window. Come over to this side, I told her.

One of the flaws of our truck is that the front door has to be open before the back door can be opened. Even with the front door opened, it’s difficult to open the back door without getting out of the truck. 

I opened my door and hopped out of the truck, careful not to slip on the icy ground under the snow. The air that hit my face was cold.

Photo by Tom Morel on Unsplash

I opened the back door and saw I’d need to move some things so our passenger could sit. We had a couple of bags of groceries back there and the backpack where I keep the hats I’ve made before I sell them. I pushed everything over to the driver’s side.

By the time I’d made some room in the back seat, the hitchhiker had approached the passenger side of the truck. With the hood of her rain poncho pulled up, he face peaked out at me, but I couldn’t distinguish her features in the dark. I couldn’t guess her age, but I could see she was wearing eyeglasses. That she was short—no taller than I am and maybe shorter—was obvious. She was carrying a disposable plastic bag and a backpack.

I noticed the other vehicle was still stopped in front of us.

What’s that car doing? I asked the hitchhiker since it had appeared that she’d talked to the driver.

I think they’re going into town, she said.

I wondered why the car was still stopped if they were going into town, but figured they must be waiting to see if she got safely into the truck before they left.

The hitchhiker got in the backseat, and I shut the door firmly. Then I climbed back into the front seat and closed the front door behind me. While I was fastening my seat belt, I realized the car in front of us was slowly back up.

What in the world are they doing? I wondered aloud, but no one knew.

The driver backed up the station wagon until it was quite close to us, then stopped. I was perplexed. I think The Man was perplexed too. I don’t know what the hitchhiker was thinking because she sat silently in the back.

Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash

The Man pulled the truck to the left and passed the station wagon so he could get to a larger turnout ahead of us. From there he was able to maneuver the truck so we were once again pointed towards home. As we passed the station wagon, The Man heard the driver call out a woman’s name (presumably the name of the woman in the truck with us), and say, I want to hear her say it’s ok! I want to hear her voice!

(I heard the driver of the station wagon say something, but I couldn’t understand the actual words.)

When The Man told the hitchhiker that the driver of the station wagon wanted to hear it was ok in her voice, she said the other driver needed to let go. The Man kept driving.

I have no idea what the driver of the station wagon was yelling about. Did he think we were kidnapping the hitchhiker? Hadn’t he seen her get into our truck under her own volition? The Man thought the hitchhiker had been in the station wagon and gotten out. I reminded him that the station wagon was approaching from the opposite direction when I first saw it. The Man said the driver of the station wagon had probably turned around to come back for the hitchhiker.

Didn’t you hear him call her name? The Man asked me, but I honestly hadn’t.

The hitchhiker didn’t offer any explanations and it seemed rude to ask too many questions. In any case, everything that happened with the station wagon and driver added weirdness to what was already a strange situation.

The hitchhiker chatted happily as The Man drove through the dark and blustery night. She’s been in town, exchanging Christmas presents with her son. It had seemed really important to spend the evening with her son, she said. Her eyesight wasn’t very good, she told us. She needed new glasses. She’d gone through a period when she had constant ringing in her ears, but an ear candle had taken care of it.

In all of her chatting, she didn’t tell us her name and didn’t ask ours. I was exhausted, and The Man was concentrating on the road, so neither of us said much.

Photo by Robert Zunikoff on Unsplash

When we passed our turnoff, I looked longingly towards home. Even though I knew we were doing the right thing, I was still a little sad to know we weren’t going home yet.

We stayed on the main road and went further back where most of the people in our neighborhood (and I use the term “neighborhood” loosely) live.

Where exactly are we taking you? I asked the hitchhiker, and she named a road The Man and I both recognized.

There is a phenomenon I have encountered in New Mexico and nowhere else. People are extremely guarded when it comes to telling others where they live. Many people I’ve met in New Mexico have refused to share details about the locations of their homes. I’d known one good friend for over seven years before I was allowed to know where she lived, and she only told me because she needed me to pick her up and drive her around to do errands. (I was not invited into her actual house.) Other people I became friends with told me I was always welcome on their property, but made it very clear that I was not to bring anyone else over or even talk about where they lived. All of this to say I wasn’t surprised when the hitchhiker wouldn’t tell us exactly where she was going.

If you can just get me up the hill, I can walk the rest of the way, she said.

The Man and I agreed it would be no trouble to deliver her to her door, but she assured us it wouldn’t be necessary. She said she would show us a good place to turn around where we could drop her off .

We finally got to her road and The Man turned the truck onto it. He drove us up and up and up. When we got to the top of the appropriate hill, the hitchhiker pointed to a wide spot on the left and said we should turn around there. We asked again if we could drive her all the way home, but she assured us she would be fine walking.

The Man stopped the truck near the turnoff. I unfastened my seat belt, opened my door, got out of the truck, and opened the back door. The hitchhiker slid out.

Do you have everything? I asked.

She showed me the plastic grocery store bag and backpack she was holding.

Let me show you what my son gave me, she said, setting the grocery store gag on the ground and opening it up. Inside was a plant.

Photo by Kyla Henry on Unsplash

It’s a jade plant, she told me, obviously pleased.

I made appropriate cooing sounds, as if she had just showed me a kitten or a human baby.

She gathered up her things and disappeared into the snowy night. I got back in the truck, and The Man turned it around. We headed home, glad we were able to help.

Do you think this is the end of the story? We did too. Alas, we’d be seeing the hitchhiker again, less than 24 hours later. Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the story of the Christmas hitchhiker.

Early January Thankful Thursday

Standard
Photo by Howard Riminton on Unsplash

With a new month comes a new chance to share my appreciation for the people who have supported me recently.

Thanks always go out to my readers, without whom I’d have to reason to share my stories, rants, and observations.

I’m grateful to my sibling who sent a giant box of yummy food treats to me and The Man for Christmas and included postcard and first class stamps just for me.

I appreciate Theresa, a longtime friend (we’re talking decades here!) and my newest supporter on Patreon.

Big thanks to Frank who’s sent stamps and postcards to me in the past and in December made a generous contribution via PayPal.

Gratitude to Laura-Marie who bought a handmade bracelet from me last month and always sends love and moral support.

I’m also thankful every time The Man washes the dishes, sweeps the floor, and starts the truck for me on cold mornings when I have to go to work.

For whom and what are you grateful today? Please leave your thoughts of gratitude in the comments section below.

It’s the End of a Decade. What Have I Accomplished?

Standard

Today is not just the end of the year, but the end of the decade. It doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. Two decades of the 21st century are gone. Wasn’t it just the other day that we were partying like it was 1999?

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Apparently someone started a thing on Twitter in November by tweeting

“there’s only ONE MONTH left in the decade. what have you accomplished?”

According to the Mashable article “People Are Sharing Their Accomplishments of the Decade as 2019 Comes to an End” by Andy Moser,

[i]t began with the best intentions, but as things on Twitter tend to go, things quickly devolved into a mess of memes, sadness, and somehow, compassion and encouragement.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

However the answers to the questions left other people feeling, the question got me thinking about what I have done during the decade. Here’s the list of what I’ve accomplished since December 31, 2009.

  • Finished visiting all of the contiguous United States except Montana
  • Got into what turned out to be an abusive relationship
  • Left the abusive relationship again and again and again…and finally for good
  • Bought a van after hard work and lots of help from my friends
  • Went on an epic 2 month road trip with people I really cared about
  • Hit an elk and lost my van
  • Bought another van (after hard work and lots of help from my friends)
  • Worked even harder (and got some help from my friends) and bought a better van
  • Started a blog (in February 2015) and kept it up until now
  • Worked as a camp host
  • Wrote a book about my experiences as a camp host and self-published it
  • Met a nice guy who became my partner
  • Acquired a small piece of land and a small travel trailer where we live now with the dog
Photo by Crazy nana on Unsplash

Is that a lot to have accomplished in a decade or only a little? Is it enough? Should I have done more? I don’t know. All I know, is that’s what I’ve done.

I’d love to hear about what you have accomplished this decade. Please feel free to tell me about your accomplishments in the comments section below.