The street, and those who served themselves who only stood to wait

After leaving work the other day, I stopped for gas. Fidgeting impatiently while the gas tank filled up, I decided to duck inside the gas station to satisfy my hunger. As my co-workers are all-too-fond of reminding me, this “eating a granola bar for lunch” business has to stop sometime. Real meals are the key. Which is why, at 5.30pm, I came to the conclusion that a quick candy run would alleviate my hunger pangs and ward off boredom while stuck in traffic on the way home. Maybe they would even have blue slurpees – any slurpees, dammit – inside the gas station.

Have I mentioned how hot it’s been in Northern California lately? It’s been really hot. So hot that I’ve taken to carrying a water bottle with me everywhere, which is a huge step for me, since impending dehydration is not something I’ve ever worried about before in my life. It’s so hot that when I closed my car door after removing my wallet from inside, I unlocked the car and reopened the door just to remove my water bottle as well, because I knew the water would become warm if it stayed inside.

I tucked the water bottle under my left arm and grasped my wallet with my right hand as I prepared to walk into the gas station’s convenience store. On second thought, What if they didn’t realize the water bottle was my own? I switched the items around, so that I was now loosely, visibly holding the water bottle by its neck.

Squinting at the numbers on my gas pump, I wandered into the convenience store. It was smaller than I had expected, and there definitely weren’t any slurpee machines to be seen. I scanned the few rows of candy. Nothing looked appetizing, all of a sudden, because I realized that I was hot and tired and what I really needed was not solid food, but, rather, something really, really cold to drink. Cranberry juice? There was none, except for cranberry-apple, if that counts, and, if you’re Picky Yasmine, then no, indeed it does not. Soda? No. Lemonade? Mmm, tempting, but lemonade makes me feel even thirstier when I’m already thirsty. Energy drinks? Just say no.

I stood with my face scrunched in uncertainty in front of the cold drinks section for a full two, three minutes as customers walked in and out of the store using the door right behind me. Finally, I gave up, turned around, and walked back out to my car.

I replaced the gas nozzle, then got in my car. As I fastened my seatbelt and fiddled with my CD player, I noticed a man standing a few feet away, seemingly directing a question at me. I watched his face, confused. Something about water? What the hell? I wondered. He saw my questioning expression, and repeated whatever he was saying, but I had no idea what he was going on about, besides the fact that it seemed to concern water.

Before my just drive on instinct had fully kicked in, I realized he was dressed in the uniform of a gas station attendant, so I rolled down my window. “Sorry, what was that?”

“You didn’t pay for your water,” he said flatly.

Oh, good lord. I was torn between annoyance and anxiety, but mostly anxiety. “No,” I denied, “it’s my own bottle. I walked in with it.”

“Oh,” he said. “I didn’t see you walk in with it.”

Without another word, he turned on his heel and went back inside.

What? That was it? I remained in the car, head turned apprehensively towards the store. Was he going inside for back-up or something? Wait, no, seriously, that was it? For reals? Did I look like someone who would steal a $1.25 water bottle? Even as I asked myself that last question, I knew it wasn’t about looking a certain way, and the man was quite justified in clarifying whether the bottle were mine or not.

Still, as I drove away, that last question made me laugh out loud, because I was quite a kleptomaniac in my childhood. Plastic jewelry, candy, makeup, Pez dispensers, knick-knacks and trinkets from the Exploratorium museum store… you name it, I managed to somehow smuggle it home. I only got caught once – for the Pez dispenser. Not that I’m proud of this, or anything.

But, no, as a 25-year-old, I’m not the type to get a thrill out of stealing $1.25 water bottles. My currently-preferred method of living life on the edge is to drive too fast (I tend to think of the speed limit as a suggestion – one which I conveniently ignore), gobble down fried foods with no concern for cholesterol, and thumb my nose at those who claim I’ll die of skin cancer because I deliberately spend so much time sitting directly in the sunshine, sans sunscreen.

Besides, if I really wanted to steal something, I wouldn’t go for $1.25 water bottles, anyway. Dangly earrings would be more in line with my tastes. Or perhaps I could concoct clever schemes to finagle cash out of sympathetic individuals, so that I could buy endless supplies of french fries and blue slurpees and crack, my ostensible drug of choice.

Which reminds me of another story, recent as well:

Smile on your brother!
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

While at the gas station sometime last week, waiting for my tank to fill up, I opened the glove compartment, pulled out the maintenance manual that came with my car, and tried to figure out if it was time for another recommended oil change, since I had just hit the 10,000-mile mark. I was flipping through pages when I heard a voice outside my open window say, “Sorry to bother you, ma’am, but…”

I looked up from my book and out the window. “Sorry, what?”

“Could you please help us out with gas money, maybe?” He was young and skinny, maybe in his late teens. He gestured at his car, parked on the other side of my pump.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Fresno,” he replied.

[That’s in the Central Valley, at least a three-hour drive.]

I flipped through my wallet, pulling out what little cash I had. “Here, I hope this helps.”

“Thanks so much!”

They looked slightly familiar, but, then again, I’ve spent time in so many different places that everyone looks slightly familiar to me, whether they’re acquaintances or strangers. They reminded me of the other boys at the gas station, months ago, and I momentarily watched them suspiciously, wondering if it were the same ones.

“How do you tell the difference between them?” Ray Bradbury wrote. “How can you tell which is honest, which isn’t?”

I can’t tell; perhaps I’m too nice or too gullible or I too easily trust those who don’t owe me the truth. But I believe in karma, I believe that what goes around comes around, I believe the world is a small place and we’re all connected somehow. These are some of the reasons why I give random boys gas money and why I smile sunnily at people who solicit donations in front of my local grocery store for various organizations, because even if I rarely ever have cash on me I still always pause just long enough to say, “Have a beautiful day!”, because that’s still a connection – however minor – and an acknowledgment that we share this world together.

And maybe I’m too trusting or too easily touched, but the fact that the recent gas station boy turned and waved across the parking lot as I drove away was enough to make my day.

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