Everything Fun
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Everything Fun

A Matter of Convenience On the Road

Photo by Gabor Monori on Unsplash

Another Tale of Aging in America

It’s a sad fact that you don’t fully appreciate your shortcomings until you’ve lived long enough, and repeated your mistakes often enough, so that even you can recognize you have a problem.

This week I’m in the middle of a business trip that has taken me from my home near Pittsburgh on Monday morning to State College (Penn State) and now here to Harrisburg, PA to return home on Friday.

I’m driving this trip which is no problem because I love to drive. So much so I prefer to drive to anywhere on the East Coast rather than suffer through another airport experience. I will gladly take my wife, grab the car keys and motor up and down the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to Florida.

And it was only a couple of weeks ago on just such an excursion we took to Florida to see friends, family and relax by ourselves that I was “made aware” in a way now etched in my memory that I am deficient with yet another character flaw of which I was blissfully ignorant until my wife pointed it out.

We were coming home at the end of our 10-day vacation, driving from Clearwater Beach trying to make it to our hotel by Lake Norman, NC in time to have dinner at one of our favorite restaurants there.

Now, as we’ve aged over the last few years, we’ve had to alter our travel habits to accommodate our deteriorating bodies. No longer can we marathon our way for 5–6 hours between gas stations in a frantic effort to reach any kind of deadline. Aching knees and spasming back and leg muscles have to be addressed at least every 2–3 hours.

And our weakened bladder control simply demands it be taken into account as well.

My days of starting off to Myrtle Beach to arrive 10 hours later after only a quick gas stop in Virginia are now a distant memory.

So, on our drive home from Clearwater Beach, we’d crossed east across Florida, picked up I95 in Jacksonville and were heading north. The gas gauge was just below half -nothing pressing-but 2 and 1/2 hours had passed since we left that early morning.

I was beginning to receive “bladder alerts” on an occasional but growing frequency basis, and my left knee, in the same position for most of the trip thus far, was preparing to file its customary grievance with my mind’s pain center.

So I asked my wife, “How are you doing over there?” She had been quietly riding along, at times with eyes closed, at times reading her e-book, making few comments along the way.

She replied, “I’m okay,” in a voice that turned the automatic air conditioner in the car off.

I have just recently learned from our past road trips that when she says things like that — icy, general responses to status questions I pose — she is speaking in code.

I believe the explanation is found in the Forward to “The Wives’ Translation Dictionary,” which explains that, like several tribal languages and, I believe, some Asian languages, the actual meaning of the same word changes with the inflection used when it is spoken. That book should be given out with every marriage license issued by the county!

In this instance, her, “I’m okay,” in response to my, “How are you doing?”, which she delivered in that distant, icy monotone through clenched teeth actually means, “If you don’t stop this damned car NOW, we’re both going to drown in urine inside this vehicle before you can get the windows rolled down with your decrepit old blundering fingers!”

I’m telling you. It’s invaluable!

Sensing the urgency coming from the passenger seat and with my own bladder alarm becoming more insistent, I cheerfully stated, “I’ll stop at the next gas station that comes our way.”

We hadn’t left the state of Florida but from the moment I uttered those words, we entered a civilization Dead Zone. A full 10 minutes (trust me, an eternity in that position!) passed before we saw the next exit which actually touted an actual national brand station (Sunoco) and not just some local hick knock-off station selling “Uncle Charley’s Go Juice.”

I pulled up to the pump and my wife was beelining to the inside before I unbuckled my seat belt. I had to go, too, but I still feel a sense of duty to actually spend money before I use the facilities.

When I had finished with the gas (NO! No Receipt!) I did my own version of the Pennsylvania Quick-Step to the men’s room, only to find that both of the urinals (of the two) had signs strapped across them proclaiming them “Out Of Order” and the commode stall was “In Use” with some tattered jacket thrown over the stall door by its occupant.

I hobbled my way back to the cashier in front of the store where a small woman was counting what looked like a lot of cash behind the register. There was only my car and a blue pickup truck with only one tail light at the pumps so either a drug deal just went down or the guy in the shitter just paid her ransom to use it.

“Do you have another bathroom I can use? I’m really desperate!” I cried.

She replied, looking up from her cash, “I’m sorry, the customers broke them.” I was thinking there aren’t that many people on this side of your Earth, lady! They were probably your kids and you just didn’t turn them in.

At that point, my wife came out of her bathroom and I was in the process of asking her to stand guard while I used that facility when at that moment, “our tattered jacket” shitter limped out of the men’s room. A pang of guilt crossed my conscience when I saw him but it went away as soon as it appeared.

I made a judgment call and dove back into the men’s room where I found my Promised Land! (Cue orchestra.)

As we were leaving that gas station, gas tank full, bladders empty, knees and backs stretched, I explained the problem I had with the urinals and she commented that the cleanliness standards of her bathroom were also below par.

And then it came.

She turned to me, eyes burning with fire and looking straight at me, “You ALWAYS do that! You ALWAYS find the most Gawdawful gas stations with the most horrendous restrooms, especially when we’re down South! It’s YOUR fault!”

I drove on in silence for a bit, digesting this new information from her tirade. I’d bet if I had access to an internal thermometer I would have seen it rising well into the “Red Zone” before I blurted out, “How in God’s name is it MY fault?! Do you want me to call ahead to text you a picture of their shitter before we stop?!”

Anyway, we got through that, but on that same trip home, the very next time we stopped for gas, and, more for me, a pee break, I went into the station after pumping the gas and could not see a “Restrooms” sign.

I turned to the partially hidden face behind the register and asked, “Where are your restrooms?”

“We don’t have any.” Really? I mean, how is that even legal?!

“Oh, son,” I replied, “that’s just downright mean!” and I walked out. I don’t believe he heard anything else I said because I’m still alive.

We stopped at a Burger King 5 minutes later and after the crisis was averted we just started laughing as we drove on home.

I related that story to you because yesterday, as I told you, I drove from State College to Harrisburg. I’d been on the road for an hour-and-a-half, bladder alarm at full wail, and I found myself 10 miles from my hotel in Harrisburg. I wanted to “take care of business” before starting the process of parking, checking in, carrying bags to the room, etc.

Having searched for a station in the outskirt slums of our state capital, I found a Sunoco (yes, another one) on the wrong side of the road. But not knowing what lay ahead, I crossed over and pulled up to the pump.

It finally accepted my credit card on my THIRD credit card and as I was pumping gas I was staring at some guy on the corner of the intersection holding a 4'x5' sign proclaiming, “Jesus Wants Your Souls.”

Again, after pumping my gas, I entered the station to be greeted with a placard by the register — “No Rest Rooms.”

I climbed back into my car, drove by the “Jesus Guy” with my bladder alarm clanging away in full distress. And then it hit me!

My God! She’s absolutely right! It really IS my fault!

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Terry O

Terry O

Ending one career and beginning several more, hopefully. To be enjoyed: Humor, wherever you can find it!