Lessons in Lines

Lessons in Lines

A lot of loud life has happened in the last weeks. And it’s too bad that while life happens, activities of daily living, you know, those tasks that must be done (laundry, hairballs, doc appts) continue to bark. Everything needs attention all at once.

And sleep? What’s that?

I’ve been spending more time in my car than in my office, and that means the office goes with me.

Lugging the laptop pack in and out of the car and tossing it over my right shoulder took its toll, so a trip to Back Guy was in order to line me back up. I keep trying to convince him to line up other parts of my life, but he just laughs. So I made an appointment with Couch Lady on the same day to save some miles.

I had a rather cohesive plan for the day, Point A to B to C to D... ending in an evening with friends at a comedy show.

Here’s how the day went:

6:15 a.m. Overslept 15 minutes.

Found major messes throughout the house. I’ll spare you the five senses description. Let’s just say the mixed species group living under our roof had bad bellies.

No time to think about packing, throw everything into the pack, an extra change of clothes for the evening—and deodorant.

No time for breakfast. Swallow the ticker-pressure capsule and the thyroid gland tablet and grab a bottle of water.

Back out of the drive. Realize the comedy tickets are still hanging on the refrigerator—placed there two days before so I wouldn’t leave home without them. Park back in the drive, run in to get the tickets, honk off three cats all glaring, anguish rolling off them, “Mother leaves us yet again. Mother loves us not.” I’m sure I’ll pay for this later.

Head to Back Guy. He finds the spot that hurts—more than once. I focus on what’s for breakfast while he works out the kink. A few weeks ago, I went to the Burger King down the road for a Diet Coke and to work. That’ll do. They have a place to plug in the lap—

“Ouch.” Again with the shoulder.

“Stop carrying your backpack over one shoulder.” In other words, stop being stupid. I took Back Guy’s good-natured scolding and paid the bill.

Head to Burger King. The last time I was here, the manager welcomed me and called me Royalty.

I’ll not lie... I kinda wanted to hear that again. (Nice marketing, BK, with that micro-hit of dopamine…)

Park. Lug the backpack across the seat and—why, yes—forget Back Guy’s warning from mere minutes before and sling it over my sore shoulder. Oh, well. I’m going ten steps into the building.

Approach the door. Pull on the handle. Locked.

Well, Queen Beth isn’t getting any royal dopamine hits today, is she?

Back in the car. Notice bug splatter all over the windshield. There’s a carwash next to the Burger King—and no line.

Pay for the wash, follow the blinking light instructions, the doors close, and the wash begins. I sit there, enjoying the hum of the wash, thinking now what to do about breakfast. I could do a sit-down restaurant, but then I feel obligated to keep ordering something or tip more for taking up a table for that long—I had several hours to kill between appointments. And I have a day job deadline I need to hit. And Little Miss Muse wants to write sooo bad.

The wash stops making noise and the doors open, letting the sunlight in. I can barely see out of the windshield, given the cascade of bright blue soap suds. But I can see that the sprayer bar has swung directly in front of my front bumper, deciding it was done for the day.

I wait.

I wonder.

I wait.

None of the little directional lights are lit. Nothing. No air blower. No rinse. No buzzers indicating help is on the way. I don’t know the name of this place… I check Maps for my location, look up the car wash phone number—of course, no one answers. It’s an unmanned enterprise.

“We shouldn’t have come here. You said we’d write—” Little Miss is getting antsy.

“Seemed like a good idea. There wasn’t a line…”

I wait a little longer and decide I’m too hungry to sit here. I flick the wipers on, sending blue suds sploshing away, and back out of the wash bay, praying it won’t be like in the movies where the tires will pop going over some one-directional traffic bar.

By now, I’m really hungry, and I went from a simple buggy windshield to a buggy windshield on an SUV that looks like it ran over a herd of Smurfs. And a honked-off Muse. There’s a car wash next to the car wash, one that’s manned, but the line is backed out into the highway. I decide to grab some breakfast first and come back to that wash later. Day job deadline ticking away…

There’s another place not too far where I can plug in my laptop and work for a while. Though I’m not a fan of their food, what I really need is two bites of a sausage biscuit, a little something potato-ish, and a tall, icy Diet Coke.

For the sake of the staff at this location, I’ll refrain from naming the chain. Suffice it to say, the last time I was there, I was NOT called Royalty, and the folks were hemorrhoid-level grumpy. But… I just want something simple and my Diet Coke, so.

I exit my car and one-shoulder by pack (yeah, yeah), trying to not get blue Smurf guts—and still-there bug bits—all over myself.

At the counter, there’s no line. There’s also no line in the drive-through. (See, Smart Beth hasn’t learned her lesson about the no-line thing. Smart Beth doesn’t wake up these days without some sort of caffeine.) I say—in English, I believe: “I’d like a plain sausage biscuit, an order of hash browns, and a medium Diet Coke.”

I recognize the lady from a few weeks prior—she made quite the impression as she’d been raging mad during that visit. I hope she’s calmer today. A smiling girl stands at her shoulder.

The lady looks at me blankly. “You want egg and cheese?”

“No. Just a plain sausage biscuit.”

“That only comes with egg and cheese.”

I stare at her. She stares at me. “Well. Can you make it with just the sausage?”

“Of course we can.” She’s getting snippy. “No hashbrowns, then. Just sausage.”

“Well, I’d like the hashbrowns, too.” At this point I’m not sure I spoke English after all. She’s speaking English, albeit a more rural variety.

“Well, it doesn’t come that way unless you want a drink.”

I repeat my order, starting with the drink.

I blink. She blinks.

“So, no drink?”

She stares. I stare. Smiling Girl, now waiting with MY tray (I’m the only one in the dining room) and an order of hashbrowns at the ready, stares. She’s still smiling.

“A Diet Coke.”

It dawns on me that perhaps there’s a register issue and that making this thing a “meal” may be the problem. “Look, you don’t have to try to make it into a combo or anything. I’ll pay for everything Á la carte; it’s no problem.”

“Á la what?”

She breaks eye contact with me to cuss out the squeaky drink machine behind her. A really good cussing, it was.

My backpack slides down my shoulder, irritating that nerve afresh. Blue suds are rotting off the paint on my car in the sunny lot, and the manuscript I was hoping to get to for a few minutes today is rotting in my laptop. Not to mention that day job deadline…

I sigh. I’m sleep deprived from the CIRCUS in my backyard. So… I have no energy for this. Instead, in this moment, I choose to be proud of this woman. She’s held down this job for at least three weeks. Three. It gives me hope that she’ll keep going, misunderstanding orders and cussing the squeaky equipment, giving a whole new meaning to raging against the machine.

She gives me hope that anyone—anyone—can find employment if they have gumption enough.

Good, her.

“You know what. I’ll just take a Diet Coke and call it a morning.”

She smiles. I smile. The girl smiles, and disappears with the tray containing what used to be my hashbrowns.

“So no egg and cheese after all.”

“No egg or cheese.”

She charged me for the entire meal. I don’t say anything, but at this point, I stop smiling. I took my expensive, empty cup to the fountain machine. Fill it to the brim with ice. Select Diet Coke.

No Diet Coke.

Maintain your grip, Beth. I think that may have been Couch Lady’s voice. Or a Nathan Pyle comic. Can’t be sure.

Smurf suds, sore shoulder, editing deadline, rotting manuscript… The day hasn’t even begun. Glad there’s deodorant in the car; I’m getting the stress sweats.

Choose Coke Zero.

It comes out like bath water, instantly melting the ice. Like fresh-brewed tea.

When I turn around, Smiling Girl is behind me with a tray of cold hashbrowns and a plain sausage biscuit.

I’m a bit stunned.

“Wow.” I thank her. All things considered, maybe this is looking up. I dare not ask for a Diet Coke from behind the counter, but I would like some ketchup. The dispensers in the dining room are missing the plungers. The lady behind the counter screams—screams— that the “ketchup is OUT THERE.” Alas, with no plungers, but I tell Smiling Girl to never mind. Seriously, don’t risk it.

Little Miss Muse drops the idea that perhaps I should use my bare hands to scoop out as much ketchup as I’d like onto the tray and wipe my hands on the back of my jeans, seeing as I do have that extra change of clothes. I tell Little Miss to go sit in the Smurf mobile and leave me be.

Muses, man. That little winged imp may be the death of me…

By the time I plug in and take two bites of everything (all brick-hard and far colder than my Coke Zero), Smiley Girl appears beside me, smiling silently, with two little ketchup packets.

It’s at this point in the encounter I realize this girl is terrified. She doesn’t speak. She only smiles. She tries to fill the orders as best she can without her elder coworker coming unglued on her like she’s the squeak in the drink machine.

She’s in survival mode. I can relate to this.

Day job deadline under wraps, one more bite of everything—the ketchup did not do anything any favors at this point—and another dollop of blog material unintentionally acquired, I sling the backpack on the good shoulder (takes me a while, especially without my Diet Coke, but I do learn), and head out to the SUV where I discover Little Miss Muse has drawn pictures of bottle rockets in the drying blue suds. At least I hope they’re bottle rockets…

“I got bored.”

“I see that. Get in.” I head for that car wash with real humans working the hoses—the one with the long snake of cars waiting.

“We doing this again next week? Maybe actually get some writing done between your appointments?”

I glare at her in the rearview mirror.

She glares back. She’s such a little snot. She wipes the Smurf from her fingers onto the back seat and pulls out a fresh pack of grape bubblegum.

The day hasn’t even started yet.

I so need a Diet Coke. I’ll be sure to find someplace where the line of thirsty patrons stretches into the next county…

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