*Note – This is a true story.
I was obsessed with Circle K. I was about ten and doing a slow burn in the desert sun. This was no joke. I’m not cut out to be isolated. I craved experience and I mistook the convenience store on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere to be a thriving metropolis. I thought it was a rich cultural center where I could see and be seen.
We had no television, no neighbors and no telephone. We had one car. My father would drive it to work each day leaving the rest of us stranded in the middle of nowhere in the 110-degree desert. This bothered some of us more than others. It bothered me profoundly and I dreamed and plotted and pined to escape this hellishness.
Circle K was 3.3 miles away if you cut through the desert the way we did. To me it was the Promised Land. If you had a penny, you could get a piece of candy but it was the social angle I craved. I wanted to go somewhere. Occasionally my mother would need something from the store so we would walk there, except I wouldn’t walk. I was so thrilled to be on the road, I’d do cartwheels the whole way, heart exuberant, hands landing in the hot dirt.
My oldest sister was long gone. A double Sagittarius, she’d jumped the fence to go see the world. My brother, earthbound, would walk alongside my mother. My other sister, the Pisces, would twirl to the store. She’s a dancer today, she always was. The dogs would come, an hour would pass and the whole crew would emerge from the desert at the edge of the highway, and there it would be. Like a vision. CIRCLE K!
My Ticket Out Of Here
So there was nothing to do all day but try to get to Circle K, and my sister was only slightly less obsessed than I was. With her Moon in Sagittarius, she liked to get around as well, so together we worked our Grandfather, Henry.
Henry lived next door. It was a three-minute walk through the desert to get to his house. We’d get over there early each day and start our begging.
“Can we go somewhere today? Please?”
Being a kindred spirit, he’d do what he could to get us out of there, but it was never enough. So I brainstormed.
It occurred to me to ride a dog to the Circle K but all of them were uncooperative. A machine would be nice but I couldn’t build one. I’m not mechanically inclined so progress was slow. In fact, it was at a standstill and this is when the miracle happened. My grandfather decided to buy a pogo stick. Eureka! Surely he’d let me use it, right? And this would be it, my ticket out of here!
Do you wonder why a seventy-year-old man would want a pogo stick? To get a healthy heart, what else? He was buying it for himself, to use for exercise, but I intended to hijack it for my own purposes at the first opportunity. I confided in my sister. I told her I was going to pogo to the store. She thought I was crazy. Unless it worked, that is.
“Well, I’m sure he’ll let you use it, but if you learn to drive it, do you think they’ll let you go to the store on it?”
“Why not?” I asked. “Mom always says to find your own way to get there.”
“She means get Grandpa to take you. I don’t think those things have a motor.”
“So? You’re going to have to hop all the way there, Elsa. Without a motor.”
“You think you’re going to hop to the Circle K?”
“Yes. That’s what I just said, isn’t it?”
“I don’t think pogos are meant to be used as transportation. Maybe they are, though.”
Oh brother. Listen to her be ridiculous. “Why not?” I asked. “Why can’t you go places on them? What good are they if you can’t? Tell me that. I think this is a good idea. You don’t know a good idea when you hear one. You just you wish you’d thought of it.”
She groaned and shook her head. “Well, I hope you make it. If you do, then maybe I’ll try it. It’s a long way to hop if you don’t have a motor. That’s more than three miles, Elsa. That’s a long way to go for a piece of gum. I’ll let you go and if you make it, I’ll go next.”
“I’m gonna make it.”
“Maybe you will. I didn’t say you wouldn’t.”
I stared. She didn’t vote for me so I started to brood. I brooded and I became even more resigned.
It was a big day when the pogo stick was delivered with the mail. It was black and chrome, and Henry was pleased, calling it a good-looking machine. I’ll say. It looked like a magic carpet to me. I didn’t really see the difference. Wide eyed, I couldn’t wait to get on it but I had to. It’s not every day something new and shiny that you can go places on arrived in the desert, and everyone wanted a crack at it.
Have you ever tried to pogo? It’s not a normal thing to do. It’s doable but it is not a normal thing to do. You have to pay attention. It is not as easy as it looks in Dr. Seuss books, that’s for sure. Worse, this was a deluxe pogo. It was designed for a two hundred-pound man, so very taut if you happened to weigh fifty-five like I did. Here’s a tip: You have to bounce high and then pull up hard with your arms so that you’ll come down hard or you’re over. Get it? You have to act like you weigh more than you do.
My brother took a hop or two or three and gave up the sport. My sister tried it out. She thought it was pretty much an overrated thing and twirled off. My grandfather was more determined. He was a double Capricorn and willing to persist in making an effort. He didn’t expect to hop on and ride. He expected to work hard and make slow progress toward mastering the thing.
Me? Well I was going to learn to ride the thing no matter what. I’d use sheer will if necessary. I didn’t have many chances in life and when one was staring me in the face like this, well I had no intention of failing. See, I wanted to GO and I had just one freedom ticket out of here. My chance was this machine, so I WOULD learn to pogo because I knew I had places to go and people to see.
I daydreamed about this too, about being seen on my way to the store. My sister had a scarf, for example, and I planned to wear it when I hopped, kind of like Jackie O. I’d look good hopping down the road and the faster I learned to ride this thing, the sooner I’d be on my way, so I was mighty glad when the less determined fell off in the first five minutes. This translated to more pogo time for me, which was exactly what I wanted.
Later that evening, it’s my sister again.
“I don’t think you’re gonna be able to make it, Elsa. That thing isn’t easy. It’s way harder than I expected. The store is a long way.”
“I’m pretty sure I can do it.”
“If you think so. Maybe you can but I don’t think it’s going to be easy.”
“That doesn’t matter. I’m not busy. If I don’t learn, I can’t go to the store so I’m gonna learn. I want to get out of here. Don’t you?”
“It’s too hard, Elsa. I know you want to go to the store but that thing is not going to be easy. It is just not an easy thing.”
I frowned at her. I thought she was being a pill. That’s my mother’s word, by the way. She always said, “Don’t be a pill”.
I plotted, day and night. Now for some reason I planned to hop to the store without ever hopping off the pogo. In the cartoon movie in my mind, my hair was in the breeze as I hopped with glee and a big grin. I planned to hop all the way to the store, hop off and then park the pogo in front of the Circle K like a horse, since this is kind of the old West. I mean, people do ride horses to the store sometimes so I would be just like them, except my horse would be shiny and have a black coil. I’d be proud too, because people do like their vehicles and I’m a person, just like everyone else.
I’d go into the store, smiling and greeting the other people in the world, and pick out my gum. Then I’d stand in line to pay for it, still smiling because I’m alive, before I’d come back out, hop on the pogo and hop home. Feeling triumphant, of course. Don’t forget that part because I know what accomplishment is.
It never occurred to me I would hop three or ten hops, step off and then step back up for some more hops. In my movie, my feet never touched the ground, so this is what I was trying to achieve and the fact was—I could pogo.
My grandfather was counting his hops. He could go three, four and then ten hops before falling off. He was getting better. He said it was fun once you got it going. I was counting my hops too but not for fun. To me, it was business and nothing but.
After a while, I realized I needed certain information so I asked my sister. She was my big sister, that’s why. She was about twelve.
“How many hops to the store, do you think?”
“Hmm. How big of hops are you going to make?”
“Huh? What do you mean? Big as I can.”
“I don’t know. About five hundred. Five hundred big ones or one thousand smaller ones ought to do it.”
I stared at her and tried to figure out if she was tricking me, because that was a lot of hops! I thought she may be, but in the end I decided I’d have to take her word for it. She was older than me and knew stuff like this better than I did, that’s all. “One thousand? Okay.”
So I practiced. And I practiced. And I practiced. I practiced for weeks and my grandfather was impressed. “You’re gettin’ good at that, Elsie. I believe you’ve got the hang of it.”
“Yeah, I’m going somewhere,” I said.
Eventually the day came when I could consistently jump over 500 hops without falling off the pogo, and this is when I decided I was ready to go. I wasn’t sure I could make it, but I was ready to try. For one thing, I was tired from all the practice, so by now I was ready to get this show on the road. This meant it was time to inform my mother and I was worried about this part. I planned to slip out, kind of. She was pretty much oblivious to the pogo. I was hopping all day at my grandfather’s house and she wasn’t keeping track. I took a deep breath and went into her parlor, her studio that is, because she was an artist.
“Hey Ma. I’m going to the Circle K.”
“Is your grandfather taking you?”
“Uh.” I looked at the floor and mumbled from the doorway. “No. Er… I’m going on the pogo.”
“I’m going to ride the pogo up there.”
“You are not.”
“Yes I am. I’m good at it. I’ve been practicing.”
“You aren’t going to the store on a pogo stick or any other way.”
“What do you mean?” I whined. “I’ll be right back. I’m fast! I won’t be long.”
“You can’t go. No pogo stick to the store! What’s the matter with you? You can’t ride a pogo stick to the store.”
I had a conniption fit. That’s my mother talking again. She liked to say, “Don’t be a pill and don’t have a conniption fit about it,” but this is exactly what I did. Oh! I don’t mean I’m a pill. That’s my sister. But the fit part?
Well, I begged and I pleaded with my mother. I backed against the edge of the doorway and slunk to the floor in case it helped, but it didn’t. This did not result in permission to pogo to the Circle K being granted.
Okay, fine. This is when I decided I would have to learn to drive. Because, see? One way or the other I was going to that damned store.
No one was going to teach me to drive, were they? You can see how these people are. It was a given I was on my own so I didn’t even think about asking. I was going to have to teach myself but this was not such a big deal. I figured I could learn and it shouldn’t be all that hard.
I clued my sister in.
“I’m gonna take us to Circle K.”
She rolled her eyes. “On a pogo?”
“No. I have another idea. I’m going to drive us.”
“We’ll drive in Grandpa’s truck. We’re gonna sneak.”
“Sneak to the store? You don’t know how to drive his truck.”
See how she is? No imagination. “I’ll learn. I’m learning now. I’ve been learning for a while and when I’m done, I’ll take us to the store. Are you going to come?”
“Well, I don’t know. This is a better idea than pogo-ing to the store. At least a truck has a motor. If you can learn to drive, then okay. I’ll come with you. But do you really think you can learn?”
“Yes. I almost have it remembered now.”
“Yeah. Uh huh. That’s what you have to do if you want to drive.”
She shook her head as if I were mistaken. “I think someone has to teach you.”
“Yeah, they do. Or you can just remember, which is the way I’m doing it. Do you think Grandpa will teach me to drive?”
“Me either. So I’m going to remember instead.”
“Well, okay if you can do it. And I hope you can because I sure would like to get to the store.”
“I can! I can!”
My big chance came when we piled in my grandfather’s truck to go somewhere. My sister ran interference so my brother couldn’t nab the spot I wanted. We sat in the cab with him, and I needed the spot right next to him so I could watch his feet on the pedals. Which one stops the truck? Which is the “clutch”? This was critical info. I knew this, so I was really focused. I didn’t want to screw up, that’s for sure. I knew I was doing something big.
The truck was an old Chevy with a stick shift. With three kids in the cab, I was pretty much right in the way when my grandfather shifted, so I could get a close look. It was up-first, down–second, then swirl to third. I watched carefully, alert for anything tricky, but it was always the same routine. Whee! I thought I could do it. How hard could it be?
There was nothing else to say. It all looked pretty doable to me, so I decided I’d seen enough. In fact, I thought if I learned any more, I’d only get confused. I’d seen enough to become convinced I could drive if I remembered these moves. One, two, then swirl up. One, two, then swirl up. And listen to the motor because that’s when you shift.
I didn’t worry about learning “R”. It looked pretty fancy to get there and I was in nearly over my head as it was. I didn’t plan to drive backwards, did I? Of course not. I didn’t learn fourth gear either. I’d heard it was for the highway. I wasn’t going to the highway, I was going to the Circle K. So that was it. I was done. I decided I was ready to drive at any time, and my sister was ready to ride.
We weren’t stupid though. We weren’t going to drive to the store first thing. I was going to drive in a circle around my grandfather’s house and see if we got away with it. We were driving around his house, not the block. There were no blocks, okay? This was the middle of the desert.
My sister was going to ride with me. She was fully involved and had foreseen various potential pitfalls.
“We have to go when it is not raining, otherwise he may see tracks.”
“Right. Good thinking.”
It was funny too considering it only rained for ten minutes three times a year in the desert. I’d never seen “mud” anywhere, outside of what we mixed to build our adobe house, but whatever.
“We’ll have to put the truck back where we got it. Do you think you can do it? He parks in the same place all the time and he knows where it is. You’ll have to line up to the edge of the garden the way he does.”
Oh brother. Does her pill-ness ever end? “I don’t know. I think so. I’ll try, if you don’t mind.”
“Well you better or we’re going to get caught.”
“Oh shut up. We’re not going to get caught.”
At least I hoped not. I didn’t see why we should. We were just going to the store and we weren’t even doing that yet. Why does she do this anyway?
I didn’t think we were going to get caught. I know she knows more than I do, but criminy. She dumped a pail of water on every good idea I ever had and if that’s not a pill, then I don’t know what is.
My grandfather had two trucks. I suppose I could have driven both of them if I was able to drive either of them, but I didn’t know that. I’d only studied one of them. I was going to take the old one, just in case. Both trucks were old, but I mean the old, old one.
Just in case of what? I had no idea. I didn’t think anything could happen. We were just going to go to the store and then come right back. No big deal. I was thinking ten minutes. Maybe fifteen. And what’s that in the scheme of things? Days are long in the desert, so it was nothing, okay? It was nothing at all.
We had to wait for the right circumstance to present so we could take our dry run. My grandfather had to leave in the right old truck plus not take us with him. Given the chance, we’d go with him regardless of where he was going. This was our first choice and he’d take us most times, most places, so there was delay between the time of the plot and its execution.
We were only planning to steal his truck because we’re super, desperately bored. Imagine being a kid born with your engine revving all the time and living in an environment where people had no interest in movement. Take my mother, for example. She was an artist. She’d paint ten or twelve hours a day, maybe more. The last thing she wanted to do was quit painting, so there we were. Wake up each day and we’re goin’ nowhere. Until I thought of this, I mean. I am obviously a genius.
Practice day came. My grandfather took off to go “downtown”. We knew we’d have at least an hour – and that was a conservative estimate from the two Capricorn rising kids. Most likely he’d be gone half a day. We hid in the desert and watched him drive off. We waited ten or fifteen minutes to make sure he was too far gone to come back if he’d forgotten something and then we dashed to his house, low and sneaky-like.
“Shhhhh.” I opened the door to the screened porch quietly, even though there was no one there to hear anything. I opened the unlocked front door to his house, reached up to grab the key hanging from the hook there, and we ran outside and hopped in the truck.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, I thought it was super cool, but I tried to hide my pleasure. I felt giddy, but I knew my sister was sitting there, ready to judge, so I only chuckled under my breath. It was just so damned exciting!
I had the beginning sequence down pat. I pushed in the clutch, turned the key and did various lurching moves. I couldn’t reach the pedals much, so I twisted and stretched and contorted and managed to get the truck going in first gear. My sister was pretty damned impressed and so was I; because say what you will – we were MOVING.
I looked over at her with big eyes and a huge grin. I was astounded! I was doin’ it!
I glanced back towards where I was going and saw a tree coming up fast, the way they do right before you hit them. Same time, my sister started screaming.
“TREE! TREE! YOU’RE DRIVING INTO HIS TREE! DO SOMETHING!”
She didn’t know that something was called “brake”. This wasn’t her thing. She was interested in fashion, so I laughed because I knew she didn’t know what a brake was. She didn’t know how to play cards very well either, so she wasn’t so smart after all.
I was scared but I was still laughing, and you know I missed that tree when I hit the brake and turned the wheel hard, in effect overcorrecting. I killed the engine too. I wasn’t sure how I did that last one. I didn’t know how I killed the engine, but it didn’t really matter, did it? I didn’t hit the tree and that was the main point.
I looked over at my sister and smiled at her smugly, like I meant to do that, and then I restarted the truck. I was totally confident. I’d done this before, but she’s the way she is and she just had to complain.
“I hope you can do better this time. We can’t make it to Circle K if this is how you drive.”
“We’ll make it. I’ve just got to get used to this. But you can see I can do it and I’ll do better.”
“You better do better, because I don’t want to drive into a tree.”
She gave me one of her big sister looks. “Oh brother. Well, either do I, okay? Just be quiet and give me a chance to do this.”
“Okay. One more try. But just because I really want to go to the store. You have one more chance and you better not mess it up.”
I shook my head and then paid attention. I started the truck and got going again in first gear. I drove in a circle on the path that went around the house. It felt deceptively smooth and glide-y so it was easy to delude myself into thinking that I could, in fact, drive.
We cruised around the house all right, but I missed the stopping place. I failed to line the truck up with the edge of the garden. This meant I had to drive around again, this time trying to concentrate better. I laughed to myself because I thought it was a “bonus round”.
My sister started up. “That wasn’t very good. You don’t drive very well. You don’t drive well enough to take us to the store. We’ll never make it.”
“Oh c’mon. We’re right back where I’m supposed to put us. I’m a great driver.”
“Elsa! This is not good driving. You almost hit a tree!”
“I didn’t hit the tree! And that was my first time and I’ve already learned to watch out for trees. I’ve been driving for three minutes, and we’re back in the right place aren’t we? You can’t think I’m not doing well. What did I do that is so wrong?”
“The tree! YOU CAN’T DRIVE TO CIRCLE K! You can’t drive!”
“Okay.” See how I have to placate her? “Let me just practice and see if I can drive a little better. Let’s go down the road a little bit.”
“We’re not going to the store.”
I laughed and I blushed. “Not to the store. Did I say that? I know we’re not going to the store today. We’re going to the store on a different day. We can’t go now. We’ve already used too much time! But let’s just drive on the road a ways, and see how I do. We have time for that. Let’s just see how well I can drive and then I’ll turn around and put the truck back right here where it goes.”
I pointed over to the edge of the garden. “You’ve gotta admit, I put the truck right back where it goes, very well. Not bad. Not bad, at all. C’mon! What else is there to do? You’ve got to admit this is a lot of fun.”
“It’s not fun to drive into trees, but okay, I’ll go if you say. But you better drive better than you were, or else.”
“I will! I will!”
I turned the key and put the truck in gear. Credit me when I deserve it. I contorted my body, slipping down to get the clutch to the floor and I popped it in on the first try. Smooth, too. No grinding. I even let the clutch out slow. I’d heard of this. It’s called “easy does it”. Let’s face it. I was learning like a bat out of hell. I was matching words to actions and I was pretty sure I was born to drive, especially a truck.
Off we went, but this time I turned right. I guided the truck down a little path through the desert from the house, to the gates at the edge of the property. Man it was a great feeling. It may as well have been a plane or a submarine. That’s how it felt and did you notice who’s in charge?
I noticed my own exhilaration as we coasted by the chicken coop and the compost pit. Not enough O’s in smoooooth, but then… crap! The fence posts that marked the gate were in sight and I wasn’t sure I could drive through them. Uh oh. I hadn’t thought about them. My grandfather was very proud of the posts. I didn’t remember why, but I didn’t think he’d like it if I knocked one down, that’s for sure. I felt my heart in my throat.
The truck was moving. I’d have stopped to think about this, but I was so enthralled and busy, I’d completely forgotten the idea of “brakes.” I was gleeful like a happy drunk, driving along, scraping creosote bushes all the way. I was bending back mesquite tree branches, snapping one off now and then, and this was a distraction – but we’re moving, aren’t we? So it was a great situation, except for the posts part. I was not overly concerned about the trees. My sister complained, but I told her it was the desert and it would all grow back. The posts up ahead were a different story, though. Odds I’d make it through ‘em? I was thinking, fifty- fifty. It was a coin flip.
My sister started to whine. She was pretty agitated, actually, though I thought it was unwarranted. “You drive like hell! You drive like shit! You can’t do this.”
I laughed at her. She was obviously wrong. “I’m doin’ it! I’m driving right now! Shut up! I’m going to point us through the gate.”
She wailed. “Turn around! Turn around now! Go back! You don’t point a vehicle. You don’t know what you’re doing Elsa. You said you knew how to drive.”
I yelled back. “Turn around where? Do you see room to turn around? Because I don’t! This is a one way thing. Shut up, why don’t you?! It’s too late. We have to go to the road if you want to turn around! Shut up so I can make it through the gate! You just better let me think so I can point this thing or we’re gonna be in trouble, so shut up and let me drive!”
She screamed. She howled, but I made it through the gate. Okay, maybe I knocked a wing mirror in, but hey. Not too bad. And guess what?
I drove down it a ways with my sister screaming bloody murder the whole way. I got the truck into second gear and felt like I was flying. I was ecstatic. Woah! This is livin’! I’m DRIVING. I am Dryyyyyy… VING!!
Meanwhile, my sister screamed. What a pain, and I’ll tell you what, I decided if she kept it up, next time I’d leave her home.
I glided back in through the gate with problem NONE, but my sister was not impressed.
“You are totally and completely insane, Elsa.”
I couldn’t believe her. It was obvious I’d learned to drive but no applause, no nothing. She wasn’t just a pill, she was an unappreciative pill.
I drove around the house and stopped in a perfect line with the edge of the garden.
“Hey! I just took you somewhere, didn’t I? Did we or did we not – go somewhere? You could at least shut up.”
“You shut up!”
“You’re the one who should shut up! I’m the one driving, for chrissakes!”
“I think you better forget about driving to the store, Elsa.”
“What? What do you mean? I can get us there. I don’t drive great, but I drive good enough to go to Circle K.”
“No you don’t. And if you’re going, you’re gonna have to go alone, because I’m not riding with you.”
I couldn’t believe her. “What? I can’t believe you! What did we just do? We went down the road and I got us right back where we go and nothing happened.”
“Nothing happened? Nothing happened? You’re crazy. You hit all kinds of bushes. Do you think I didn’t notice that?”
“Oh come on. I brushed a few. So what? It’s a path! It’s not even real road! I didn’t hit anything on the real road. Why don’t you think I can drive? Don’t you want to go to the store? If I don’t drive us, how else are we going to get there?”
“I do want to go to the store, but not with you driving. Because you, Elsa, are an awful driver. You almost hit a tree. You don’t even know how to drive through a gate normally. You almost hit that pole. You were pointing a truck over there. That right there proves that you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Well, my feelings were hurt, so I glared at her. “Fine. Stay home then. I don’t like your yelling anyway. I’m going to drive to Circle K. I’m going to get some candy and I’m not going to bring you anything back.”
“You won’t do it. You won’t go by yourself.”
“Yes, I will.”
“I don’t think so, Elsa. You don’t have the nerve to go alone. You’re an awful driver and besides… you’re gonna get caught.”
“I drive better than you do,” I said. But she had twirled off.
Well, hell. Now what? I couldn’t believe I’d learned to drive and could take people to the store and no one wanted to go. What the heck was wrong with these people anyway? It was a perfectly good opportunity to get out of here, thanks to me, and just look.
I thought about it awhile. I wondered if I could just forget about going to the store. Everyone else managed to do this but as a matter of fact, I couldn’t. I was going. Not this exact minute, maybe, but soon.
I found my sister. I hunted her down.
“I’m going to drive to the store, you know.”
“Get away from me. I already told you. I’m not coming.”
“I didn’t say you. I said me.”
“Well, you’re going to get caught. Grandpa will notice the gas you use.”
Uh oh! I hadn’t thought of this.
“No, he won’t. Because I’ll buy some gas at the store.”
“You mean now you think you’re gonna drive by yourself to the store, when you can’t even drive, and then you’re gonna get some gas?” She laughed.
“That’s what I just said.”
“You can’t do it. You’ll never do it. What money are you going to use? You can’t drive and you can’t get gas. You don’t know how to do either of those things. You aren’t going to make it. You’re going to get caught or something else will happen.”
“I didn’t get caught so far.”
“Elsa, just get away from me. I really think you’re crazy and I’m sick of talking to you about your lousy driving. What happens if you get caught, huh? Did you think of that? You’re not going to the store or anywhere else. We’re just stuck out here and you may as well get used to it.”
“Okay, I’ll leave you alone then. But I’m going and I’m not bringing you back anything. I’m going to have gum and you aren’t and I’m not going to share it with you.”
She was out of patience. “I’m not going to worry about that because you’ll never make it. You’re not going to have any gum.” She said this snottily.
“Yes I will,” I said. I glared at her, and then went off to brood.
A few days later, I was ready to go. My grandfather had gone to town in the right old truck. I had a few hours at least. I had my course mapped out.
I’d decided to take the long way, on the real roads. To use the pure shortcut, I would have to drive by my house. My mother spent the day in her studio, which had a window to the road. I thought she might be looking through it when I drove by. It was possible.
I figured she might see the truck go by and think, there goes Grandpa, but maybe not. She might see it was me, or she might see him go by twice in two trucks. If that happened, she might get suspicious and if that happened, I’d be screwed.
I tossed it around a good deal. The short way was faster, but I decided it was too risky, so I opted to drive on the regular roads. I figured she messed me up last time with the pogo, so I’d best avoid her like the plague this time. And this was easy to do because I had a truck, didn’t I? So all I had to do was drive around her.
My decision changed things. It made this about a five-mile trip each way, for one thing, but there was a bonus in it. I would get to drive on real pavement rather than just dirt and this was an exciting prospect to me. Mostly I just wanted to get to Circle K and back, while looking good on the trip, but the pavement thing was noted. I wondered how it would be. I was betting that driving on pavement was cool and now I was going to find out.
The speed limit was forty-five MPH on the paved road, and sometimes there were sheriffs around. I knew how to avoid them though. According to my Grandpa, you do it like this:
“The sheriff likes to patrol this road looking for speeders, but if you don’t do anything wrong, they’ll leave you alone,” he’d said.
I wasn’t going to do anything wrong and the fact I was going to make it was really obvious I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I planned to drive about twenty MPH, to take no chances. I’d just be driving my truck to the Circle K, because I could, you know, like people do when they want to go somewhere. I’d be someone who is going somewhere, nothing more than something very normal.
I had about seventy some odd cents, and I was ready to go. Fifty cents was designated gas money, and the rest? Well, I was going to blow it. I was going to buy anything I damned well pleased. I would decide when I got to the store and I planned to take my time making my selections. My sweet time, I mean.
The whole idea was to be somewhere and once I’d arrived, I was gonna milk it for all it was worth. Just in case I got caught. And if I didn’t get caught? Then I’d be going to the store all the time, wouldn’t I?
I took off, a ten-year-old girl going down the road and by the way, I was driving very well. I was consistently scared and intermittently I panicked. When? Every time I had to stop or make a turn. But I drove beautifully in a straight line and I wasn’t putt-putting, either. I was cruising and that’s no lie. Not that I was calm, but I was acting calm and doing a pretty good job of it. I thought this was pretty much the same thing.
I talked to myself the whole time.
“Yep. Now you’re going to have to stop. You can do it. Foot goes on the brake, get the clutch. Whoops. Don’t kill the engine…”
As I got further from home, I became frightened and had an impulse to turn around, hurry back and forget the whole thing. I thought of it, but not for long. I have my pride. I definitely didn’t want to hear “I told you so” from my big sister for the rest of my stinkin’ life, so I pressed on. Pressed on the gas pedal that is.
Once through the gate (smooth), I veered left onto the dirt road and drove about a mile before I came to a stop sign and needed to make a turn. I stayed in second gear and didn’t manage to stop but I did make the turn without killing the engine.
I thought this was impressive but on the downside, it hurt. I winced because I was pretty sure I got a bruise or a burn – or both of those – under my shirt, from twisting my body under the steering wheel to fight with the clutch as I turned the wheel. Ow! I was learning that truck driving was a fairly physical endeavor and I was a very scrawny kid. I yelped and I almost cried, but instead I recovered; because after making that corner, I was rewarded with a straight stretch nearly a mile long and this allowed me to regroup.
If I scooted to the edge of the seat I could reach the pedals and see pretty good. “Pretty good” was good enough because there was no traffic. Matter of fact, I only passed one car. See what I mean? Piece of cake. My sister should have come and it’s her loss. Maybe this would teach her not to be a pill, huh? Because this was something she really needed to learn.
Henry’s truck couldn’t be missed because it was covered in bumper stickers. It wasn’t covered with bumper stickers like some sort of crazy hick or some AAA retired traveler type person, but it had a few and they were distinctive.
See, my grandfather was interested in flying saucers. He had a real passion, actually. He was a member of every Space People friendly club that existed. He traveled out of state each year to attend the National Flying Saucer Convention. He was a fervent believer that space people were real and his truck said so, like this:
“Flying Saucers Are Real”
And like this:
“Space People Are Our Friends”
So the stickers were easy to spot and hard to miss, but they didn’t seem unusual to me. Personally, I wasn’t certain Space People were around, but if any were to show up, I would definitely greet them. My grandfather taught me to be friendly and kind to people on the road. He said we were fellow travelers and if Space People aren’t travelers, then I don’t know who is.
Next thing I knew, I was half way there and I’d just left. Nothing had happened. Nothing. It seemed this was an okay thing to do. It was something that was working out.
Another minute and it was time to turn onto the pavement. Whew! That was fast. I was a kid and I’d never moved so fast independently. I noticed and knew it was extreme magic.
I gotta get me one of these, I thought casually, in between fighting to keep calm. And I continued to talk to myself, to stay on task.
“This is me. I’m just going to the store in my truck because I happen to need some gum and a little gas. And this is what you do if you’re a normal person, which I am, who is just very nonchalantly minding my own business, doing a little errand in my truck, and then coming straight home and parking the truck where it goes. That’s it. It’s simple and it’s no big deal. It’s a regular thing that people do, and I’m a person and this is normal. I am definitely normal and doing a regular thing you do, on a regular normal day of life.”
Blah, blah, blah. Before I knew it, I was so close to the Circle K I absolutely had to follow through. I was going to make it, you know? I’d reached the point of no return and it occurred to me the main thing about driving is you get somewhere in a blink, pretty much. It was definitely swift. Now, I wasn’t exactly comfortable, and this was unfortunate. However, I was going somewhere, so I wasn’t going to complain. I don’t like people who whine when they travel. It bugs me.
Every time I turned the truck and it didn’t tip over, I was astonished, and I took it as proof I knew what I was doing. Do I tip the truck? No, I don’t. When I drove straight, the wonderment was replaced by pure glee because I was sure that I was totally fantastic to have learned this.
I was so confident, I wiggled the wheel back and forth as I drove so I could see what it was like – and it was pretty cool. It proved to me that I was actually driving and not just riding on a track, because it kind of felt that way. It felt like I was on a train riding a groove to the store and not really responsible for making it happen, so I checked this. Like pinching myself, I verified I was real, and yep, I was. There was no track. I was totally and completely driving and having no problems either, so this meant my sister made a bad choice and I made a good one, didn’t it?
The pavement was nice and exactly the bonus I thought it would be. I was immediately glad I’d chosen the long way, because now I had this extra thing to brag to my sister about. I used to read the Guinness Book of World Records, and this is what I thought I was doing. That, or maybe the Olympics. I was going for the gold and looking good going into the final stretch. I had no scarf because my sister wouldn’t let me wear hers, which was brutally unfair. I didn’t know why she was the way she was. I thought she should definitely be more like me but she never thought this because she was old, I guess.
I did wish someone could see me but on the other hand maybe not, because it might jinx everything and send me smashing into a tree. And please, not a sheriff, okay? I watched the speedometer carefully. I wasn’t speeding but thought they might think I was and I didn’t want that.
I have to admit it was more pressure than I thought it’d be. I kind of had to pee too and I hadn’t anticipated that either. I had a fair amount of angst, so I thought about Snoopy on his doghouse, going on an adventure, and this snapped me back to the right frame of mind. That dog could fly and he wasn’t worried. And it wasn’t really real, was it? It was barely happening. Hey! If no one knows I’m doing this, is it real?
I turned off the pavement into the desert to take the second leg of the short cut, having driven around the first. I couldn’t believe it. I was almost there and no sheriffs had bothered me. No sheriffs were going to either because the path was a path, not a road. It was downhill now and this was when I began to worry about the gas.
The gas thing was bothering me greatly. I didn’t understand gas. I truly expected to get away with the driving but thought the gas might get me caught. Was fifty cents enough gas? Would I be able to figure it out at the pump? I’d never pumped gas, but I’d watched plenty of times and it didn’t seem very tricky.
I really wanted to get away with what I was doing. I wanted to go to the store. Well, actually I wanted to go to the store whenever I wanted, but I also wanted my sister to be “not right”. She was right too often for my tastes and it got tiresome. I wanted to show her and this is what I was thinking when I pulled out from the edge of the desert and sailed across the highway (whoops, forgot to stop!) and rolled into the Circle K parking lot.
I pointed the truck at the gas pumps. There were two pumps on a raised, oval-shaped, concrete island, about a foot high. You’re supposed to pull up alongside them to get your gas. That’s the goal, but next thing I knew the driver’s side front-tire popped up onto the island and the front corner of the truck lifted off the ground.
I quickly turned the wheel back, just before I took the pump out, which caused the tire to slip off the island and plunk down on the pavement where it goes.
The truck bounced like that, and I thought, “shocks”. Woah. It was scary. The truck was a pretty big machine when you think about it, so I decided not to think about it.
There was a man getting gas on the other side of the pumps. He jumped back when the truck came up on the island, threatening to knock him over with a gas pump. But once I landed, he came back to get the pump handle out of his car. He looked at me quizzically and then got in his car and drove off and I was glad about that.
I was real glad because I was supremely embarrassed. I needed to get a grip too and this would be easier to do privately. I didn’t want to look around and note who else may have seen me do this. If I didn’t see them, they didn’t see me, right? I thought so.
I thought fast and decided my best bet was the old “I meant to do that.” What else could I do? Since there was nothing I could do, I figured, I may as well forget about it. The witness was gone and I didn’t see anyone else who saw. I was here, now, so how about I get some gas? Yeah. Having this settled, I relaxed and got back to what I was doing. What was I doing? Oh yeah. The gas.
See, in my mind, everything hinged on the gas. I thought the gas was do or die. I felt my heart pounding because the way I saw it, if I couldn’t get gas, I was going to get caught, and I if I could? Well, if I could get gas, then I could go places whenever I wanted, which basically meant I owned the world.
I got out of the truck and I put fifty cents worth of gas in the tank. It was easy. It was simple. It was so simple I had to giggle. My sister was a dummy for staying home. This was too, too easy. I was so cool, and now I was composed as well, to an extent, anyway.
I replaced the gas nozzle and walked inside the store to pay with my sweaty coins. I’d held them in my left hand during the whole drive because I didn’t want to lose them in the crack of the truck seat, and paying for gas was not a problem.
My grandfather sent me in to pay for gas from time to time, so I didn’t expect trouble. I expected they would think there was an adult outside pumping, but it wasn’t quite as leisurely in the store as I expected. I guessed that almost hitting that pump must have affected me after all. Would everyone have died? Was that almost a catastrophe? I didn’t know. I’d heard gas was dangerous. Was this as bad as lighting a match? Lighting a match around gas is very bad. Is hitting gas with a truck worse? Or better?
I told myself to shut up. “Probably nothing happens if you run over a gas pump, stupid.” But I was glad my sister didn’t see it. She’d be screaming for sure, wouldn’t she? Oh brother, the mouth on that girl.
I reminded myself that only one person saw the mishap and he’d driven off. So I really should just forget about it. Fact is, I didn’t hit it and I was here at the Circle K, so how about I get some candy?
Inside the store I got a BIG HUNK candy bar and I don’t know what else, but I spent all my money and no one made any remarks. My terror was huge and I have to admit this was not as fun as I thought it would be. Still mighty worthwhile though, when you considered I would be able to go home and show my sister all my candy. I’d just leave the fear part out when I told her. I’d leave the gas pump part out too.
I’d have liked to be more leisurely in the store but I had to pee, remember? I did have to pee, so I needed to get going.
I left the store and I climbed in the truck to go home. I felt kind of giddy because I’d obviously hit the ball clean out of the park. I’d done everything I planned to and I thought my problems were over. I thought I had it made in the shade, but I was sorely wrong.
Now, I already knew I had a small dilemma. Parked at the gas island, I’d either have to put the truck in R and back up, or drive straight away and around the back of the store to leave. This is just the way the store was laid out and I didn’t think of it beforehand. I couldn’t drive backwards, so it would seem I would have to drive forward and around the back of the store. The decision was not that simple because I didn’t know what was back there. I didn’t know what was behind Circle K.
Could it even be done? Can you drive around the back of a Circle K? Maybe there would be a wall back there. Or a moat. Or a dragon. Or I didn’t know what. Maybe there was something back there that would prevent me from making it ‘round.
I could have walked back there and checked it out, but I was afraid this would draw attention. Turns out, I wasn’t as keen on being seen as I thought I’d be. I just wanted to get home quickly now. Ten or fifteen minutes had passed since I left but it felt like an hour and a half.
Should I take my chances behind the store? Or should I back up? Take a chance, forward? Take a chance, back? I have that wee bit of Libra in my chart, so it was hard to decide.
If I backed up, I’d have to hope there was nothing behind me, because I had no idea how to use the mirrors. I knew you needed them, though. When my Grandpa backed up, he said, “Move your head, so I can use the mirror”. In fact, this was exactly why they put mirrors on trucks. They’re for rear-view, which means “see behind you”. Hmm.
I’d never put a truck in R, it’s true, but I did know where it was. It was way over, push down and down. “Move your leg so I can put it in reverse.” That’s what my Grandpa said, so I knew all about it. But he also said it was hard to put a truck in reverse, especially this one. I’d taken his word on that and thought I shouldn’t even try to do it until I was older. Like maybe twenty or so. Because I wasn’t trying to do something hard, I was trying to do something easy.
In the end, I decided going forward would be my best bet. I didn’t know what was behind the store. I just couldn’t imagine, but it didn’t matter anyway, and here’s why.
The truck wouldn’t go.
What the hell?
I started the truck and put it in first gear but it didn’t move.
I heard some sort of grinding noise and then the engine died. I didn’t understand and I panicked slightly and then thought it must be a sign. Obviously, forward was a bad pick so I decided to put the truck in R and just learn as I go. I’d better do something, right? Before people saw me and started to stare.
I leaned on the stick and put the truck in gear. It just swung right into R, which was clearly a complete miracle, but the truck still wouldn’t go. Um, I’m not joking. The truck would not go.
I almost burst into tears but I didn’t. I was struggling when another person pulled up to get gas. Oh no! It was so embarrassing. This was one of my major concerns. I was afraid someone would see me not being cool. It was happening, and it was happening now.
I tried to cover. I continued to struggle and make various faces. I hoped to look competent to this peer of mine who was also getting gas. I made faces like “these damn trucks, sometimes they do this,” and I hoped I was fooling the guy.
Frustrated, and because there was a witness, I gave up on “R” and went back to try the familiar first gear. I thought surely it would work. I didn’t do anything! I didn’t do anything to break the truck, so how could it not be going?
I decided to start at the beginning, and roll the dice regarding what was back behind the store. Heck, maybe I could just pull around behind the store, stop the truck and regroup. Yeah. Go in one end, all panicked, come out the other, all cool. It wasn’t a bad idea but for one problem. The truck wouldn’t move. I couldn’t go backward and I couldn’t go forward, and I couldn’t figure it out.
I told myself to calm down. My grandfather said getting excited never helps anything. He said you can think better with a cool head and it had to be something simple, right? I was sure it was something really stupid causing this. Was I turning the key wrong?
I wished the other gas customer would leave. I thought he was affecting my thinking, because I was so nervous. I thought the problem must be panic. I wished he’d get the hell out of there, but instead he clued me in.
He pointed down at the front tire and I looked at him like, “You mean me?” even though I knew, he meant me.
“Huh?” I answered.
“You aren’t going anywhere.”
“Huh?” So he did notice me. He did see me, and I felt embarrassed. “Um… Why not?”
“Come on. Come look. You’ll have to get out and look.”
Oh crap. I’m ten. I thought I’d look even more ten if I got out of the truck, but what could I do?
I hopped out of the truck to see what had happened, telling myself that this guy and I were two peers on the road. We’re fellow travelers, is all. He’s a Space Person and a Good Samaritan and this is normal. People are friendly on the road and this guy is a friend who means no harm, so I should just calm down and think well.
I exhaled and getting out of the truck it dawned on me. It must be a flat tire! Did I have a flat tire? Oh crap, if I do. Why didn’t I think of that and oh the rotten luck. I’d get caught for sure and my sister would have a field day.
But maybe not! I’d never changed a tire, but this didn’t mean I couldn’t teach myself on the spot. I knew there was a tire-changing thing behind the seat. There was a shovel too, for trouble on the road, like if you’re stuck in a mud hole or sand. I was prepared, all right, but it wasn’t going to help me because I didn’t have a flat tire.
At Circle K’s in the era, there were concrete, cylinder-shaped poles sticking up around gas islands. They were painted red as in WARNING. They were about two-and-a-half feet tall and four or five inches in diameter, and they were immovable. They were intended to prevent people from driving up onto an island and taking out a pump and this was the problem. I was impaled on one of them.
When I drove up onto the island then cut the wheel hard, the front tire slid off and the truck crashed down on top the pole. The pole was jammed tightly between the body of the truck and the backside of the front bumper, so basically I was pinned to the mat and what you call “wholly screwed”.
The Good Samaritan asked, “How’d that happen?”
“Um, I don’t know.”
He looked at me queerly. “What are you going to do? How are you going to get it off there?”
“I don’t know. Do you have an idea?”
He shook his head. “Not really. Is this your truck?”
“Yes. I mean, no. It’s my grandfather’s. I’m just getting him some gas.”
“And you got stuck like that?”
“Looks like.” I tried to sound casual, with my ears pricked up for a hint.
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I can’t believe this.” I put my hand to my cheek. “I have to get it off that pole.”
“You’ve got a real problem. I wish I could help you, but I really don’t know what to do. Why don’t you walk over to the service station and see if someone over there will help you?”
Hooray! It was an idea! I was highly grateful. It was a place to start and I sorely needed one. I mean, it wasn’t like I could call someone. We didn’t have a phone!
“Yeah. Okay. I’ll go over there now,” I said, and then remembered my traveler manners. “Thank you! Thank you very much!”
“Good luck, hon. Hope you get that truck home.”
He got in the car and took off. Perfect. He gave me an idea and better yet, he left! I really needed to get my legs under me, and I did it in about 10 seconds, because I was in a hurry. I had to pee for one thing but besides that, what if my mother was calling me? I didn’t think she was, but she might and what if she was?
Well, actually, I had this covered. I’d struck a deal with my sister before I left.
“What if Mom calls you?” my sister asked, poking holes in my plan.
“I don’t know. I’m not home. Tell her I went somewhere.”
“Went somewhere? Like where? Where should I say that you went? To visit a cactus? Hmm? To the neighbor’s house? We don’t have any neighbors! You aren’t very smart.”
I groaned. “Oh shut up. Hey! The mail! Tell her that I went to the mailbox.”
The mailbox was at least a quarter mile away.
“Elsa, the mail doesn’t get here until noon. Or even one!”
“So? So what? Tell her I went to see if it came early. It comes early, sometimes.”
“Early, yeah. But not that early. It never comes before eleven. She’s not going to believe that.”
“Yes she is. She doesn’t care anyway. So I walked to the mailbox. Big deal. It’ll work. What is she going to call me for anyway? She’s not going to call me.”
“Probably not, I’ll admit it. But she may.”
“Well, if she does, just tell her I’m practicing my cartwheels to the mailbox, okay?”
“Is that the best you can come up with?”
“Oh come on. That’s pretty good. She’ll believe it. She knows I like to get the mail and she knows I like to cartwheel, so what else is there? Will you do it?”
“You’ll have to pay me.”
I groaned again. “Okay, okay. So what do you want?”
“Bring me back some candy. That’ll do it.”
“Well that’s going to be hard to do, isn’t it? I have to drive to the store to get your candy so you keep me out of trouble, okay?”
“I will, I will.”
But my sister couldn’t lie forever. I needed to get home. It was about ten o’clock in the morning, but I was cautious enough to think it was going to get dark if I didn’t hurry.
Now the good thing is if this happened, I was prepared. I knew how to turn on the truck’s headlights, just so you know. I understood all the buttons in the truck but if it got dark, my grandfather would be home and I did think he’d notice his truck was gone and if that happened?
Well that’s not going to happen, okay? I didn’t deserve that kind of trouble. Because really, I was a very good kid, though hardly anyone knew it. I knew it though. I was a fine, fine kid.
The gas station next to the Circle K was foreign to me, due to the grease thing. I didn’t like grease and mechanics. I wasn’t drawn to it, but that hardly mattered now, did it? I walked over, trying to look tall, old and confident.
My heart was pounding as I passed their gas islands and peeked my head into the garage. Boy, did I have to pee. I’d have asked to use a restroom, but I already needed a favor and decided I’d better prioritize. There were three men in there, doing what mechanics do. I stood up straight at the edge of their territory. “Hello?”
I’d interrupted them and they didn’t like it. I saw this was a no customer zone but it was too late now.
“Yeah? What do you need?”
“Um, I came from the Circle K,” I said, pointing west to stall while I tried to think. “The one over there.” As soon as I said it, I thought it was stupid because it was ten miles to the next Circle K.
“Yeah? What do you want over here?”
“Um… My truck is stuck over there and I can’t get it off. Someone said to come ask if you could help me.”
“What do you mean, stuck?
“It’s stuck on a pole by the gas. A red pole.”
One of them started to laugh. Then they all started to laugh. I was embarrassed but they were pretty jolly so I laughed a little bit too – while I continued to focus, of course.
“Did you just say you can’t get your truck off? You can’t get it off a pole?” He laughed. “That is what you said.” They all laughed. “Did your Mom send you over here?”
“Well who sent you, then? Who are you with?”
“I’m with me.”
“With you? Like me, myself, and I?”
“Then who is driving the truck?”
“Uh,” I wondered if I should lie, but decided not to. “Me. I am.”
Oh man. They laughed their heads off. They were all incredulous and I blushed.
“Lemme get this straight – You have a truck, a real truck, and you’re driving by yourself and it’s stuck on a pole by the gas?”
“Yes. Right. That’s right, it won’t move. I tried.”
“You tried? You tried to get your truck off the pole?”
They laughed like hell. I was totally embarrassed, but couldn’t help laughing at their laughing, so we were all laughing. I thought they liked me but I also thought I could be wrong about that.
“And you want us to help you?”
“Um, yes. Yes, I do.”
“Clyde! Go over to the K with her and see what she’s talking about.”
I crossed my fingers, in my head. I might get out of this yet.
The boss said, “Go show Clyde your truck, kid.”
I nodded like an idiot because I’d lost my voice.
I walked back to the Circle K, with Clyde following. He wasn’t talking. All in a day’s work. This seemed to be his style. He didn’t laugh at me when I showed him the truck and I was grateful.
“How’d you do that?”
“I don’t know.” This was my story.
“I’d sure like to know how you did that. You’re stuck all right.”
I didn’t answer. I did hold my breath.
“Good news and bad news,” he said.
I held my breath.
“Good news is I’m pretty sure we can get you off there.”
My heart soared, but I held my breath for the bad news.
“The bad news? We’re going to need some help.”
Oh crap! Does this mean we need the sheriff? The fire department? What?
Clyde didn’t say. He turned to go back to the garage and I followed. I wasn’t letting him out of my sight, are you kidding?
“Yep, she’s stuck but good, over there.”
“How’d she do it?
“She doesn’t know.” He laughed. “You ought to come take a look. We can get her unstuck. I’m pretty sure we can get her off her pole, but I’m going to need some help.” He stops to laugh. “But it’s gonna take two of us, at least.”
Two, huh? I felt bad. I’d caused a problem and now two people had to bail me out. But it looked like they were going to do it, so hooray. I stood, holding my breath while they discussed it. I heard, “jack ‘er up” and “that should work.”
The boss picked up a shop rag to wipe his hands. “How about we all go! I want to go over and see what she’s done.”
I swooned with gratitude, then walked back to Circle K with three men following behind me. I was in more of a hurry than they were. I had to pee for one thing, and I had a mother waiting for another, but I didn’t say anything because they didn’t need to hear my problems. I felt lucky as it was, and relieved. My grandfather was right. People do help each other.
The men had tools. They had lots of tools and one of them was dragging a floor jack. I had no idea what he planned to do with it, but I knew a floor jack was an expensive tool, so I knew I was especially lucky. And whatever they were going to try, I sure hoped it worked.
We got to the truck and the main guy looked at me and squinted. He was the boss and he liked me. I could tell for sure now and I wanted to keep it that way.
“That your truck?”
“You drove that truck? That truck right there?”
“Um, you drove that truck?”
He laughed. I think he called me a “pisser”. I wasn’t sure, but I did know I had to pee.
“Do you think you can drive it some more?”
“Okay, get in.” He laughed. “We’re going to jack up the front end and when you’re clear of the pole, we’ll push you backward off the jack. If this works, then you go home, okay?”
“But wait. First, do you have any money?”
Oh crap! “No.”
“You came to the store with no money.”
“Um… I bought gas…” I didn’t think I should mention my candy.
“Yeah. Well, we see that. You’re stuck on a pole. You just drove your truck here to get some gas, eh? And you spent all your money and now you want us to help you for free?”
I didn’t answer. That was exactly what I wanted, but I wasn’t going to say anything. Would you?
He laughed. “Okay. No charge then.”
All the men laughed.
“We’re not going to charge you a cent. Not a penny. It’s worth it, just for the entertainment.”
I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what the hell he meant. What is entertaining about this, anyway? What’s funny about having to pee and being stuck on a pole with a truck you’ve stolen?
He smiled at me. “I’m picking on you, kid. You’re just a kid. You’re a hell of a kid.” He points at the truck and asks again. “You really drove this truck?” He slapped the hood. “This truck right here?”
“Well, I’m gonna believe you. You ain’t a liar, are you kid? You can drive?”
“Yes. I drive that truck. No, I’m not a liar.”
“Okay! Then get in your truck, little lady.”
I quickly slipped by the pump and got in the truck. They seemed to know what they were doing. It was looking like I was going to get out of this. Can you believe it? I thought it was amazing. A few minutes earlier I thought the truck was stuck for life!
The boss yelled to me, “Put it in neutral. You know neutral, right?”
“Yes!” I put the truck in N and wiggled it like a maniac to verify. I definitely didn’t want to screw up and piss them off. Boy, did I have to pee. I wished I could cross my legs, but it was out of the question. I had to pay attention and make this work on the first try. I figured if I did something stupid, or if this became more difficult than the men anticipated, I’d be back on my own, for sure and guess what? There was no other service station, so where was my next idea going to come from, huh? Sure! I knew what to do but where was I gonna get another floor jack?
“You’re going up now,” the boss yelled to me.
I was going up, all right and it was scary. It was also really cool and I thought for a second it may have been worth all this, to have this bonus adventure. And too bad my sister couldn’t see, because the front end of the truck was way in the air, so how about that?
“Okay! You’re clear! You’re clear the pole.”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t really know what he meant. I wasn’t an engineer, so I just hovered in space and waited for more information with my senses heightened.
He yelled again. “You ready?”
Ready? Ready for what? I tried to think what he meant as they pushed me off the jack and over the pole, but I was a little light on the driving experience. I didn’t know what to expect and from there, things happened quickly.
I plopped down and started rolling backwards down the parking lot, at the same time veering to the left – which was very bad. There was a drainage ditch that ran along the side of the Circle K. It was at least fifteen feet deep and I was rolling right back to the edge… CRAP!
This is when I started to panic, while the three men ran after the truck yelling, “BRAKE!!!!!! BRAAAAAAAKKE!!!!!!!”
I hit the brake just before I went over the edge of the parking lot and rolled down the side of the ditch, and all three men rushed up to the truck window.
Get this. I was on a steep incline, wanting to roll backwards. My butt was off the truck seat, because I was standing on the brake while pulling up on the steering wheel. I was almost as wholly screwed as I just was, except now it was worse because now I was panicked. I thought I might cry, but I tried to stay brave and I still had to pee.
“What if they leave me here?” I thought.
The boss came up to the driver’s side window and started talking to me. He was calm too. He was cool beyond cool and I didn’t feel stupid. I felt like I was going to be all right, just because he was there. He did like me and I didn’t think he was going to let anything happen to me. I could see this. I mean, I could feel it.
“Okay. The emergency brake is on, but I want you to keep your foot on the brake, anyway. I thought you drove a little better than this.” He chuckled. “Look, kid. What’s your name?”
He smiled. “Elsa.” He reached in the truck like he was going to shake my hand, and then laughed. There was no way I could shake his hand and I laughed, because he was so clever.
“Listen, Elsa. As long as you leave your foot on the brake, you’re gonna be okay. So that’s what you’re going to do.”
He reached in the truck and pulled the emergency brake.
“There. Do you know what that is?”
“The emergency brake?”
Damn! Why didn’t I think of that? I was in an emergency and I should have pulled the emergency brake! Now they knew for sure I was stupid. But never mind that. He pulled the HAZARD to make the red lights blink in the back of the truck, which I thought was really cool. Like a marquee! Well, it wouldn’t have been cool if the guy wasn’t there, but since he was and since he wasn’t going to let anything happen to me… well it was cool. It was an event and I was the star – complete with red lights blinking.
“Right. That’s what it is. So Elsa?”
“Yeah?” I smiled.
“Keep your foot on the brake.”
“And if you ever decide to take the truck out again and something like this happens, you’ll know what to do. What do you do?”
“Pull the emergency brake?”
“Right. That’s right. Got your foot on that brake?”
He glanced at my candy. He spied my Big Hunk lying on the truck seat. “That your candy?”
He laughed. “You wanted some candy, huh?”
I nodded, embarrassed.
“Well, you got it. Now all we have to do is get you home, and kid?”
“I’m sorry about this. One of us should have gotten in the truck to help you.”
I didn’t answer that. I took his word for it. He’d know because he’s an adult and obviously, this was his business. I didn’t have a business and I didn’t really know that much. I knew less than I thought, anyway, so I just listened.
“Okay. So, just stay how you are and let me think.”
He scratched his head like a cartoon guy, so I laughed. Really, he was darn amusing. He said it again. He called me a pisser again and this time, I heard it for sure, but I didn’t know what that was. I planned to look it up in the library and find out, if I got out of this mess, I mean. I stopped daydreaming and tried to look alive.
“Got your foot on the brake?”
I nodded furiously and he laughed. “I know you do, kid. I mean, Elsa. I’m gonna call you by your name. You deserve it. I’m just testing you, Elsa.”
I didn’t answer that. No idea what to say, so I just stared.
“Okay. Let’s try again. I think my heart is beating normally again. You almost caused me a heart attack.”
“It’s okay. Don’t you worry about it. But how about we get you out of here, because you really did just about stop my heart.”
“Uh.” I nodded again. I had to pee so bad, it was ridiculous. I’d be nicer, or more fun or something, but criminy. I needed a toilet and I needed it quickly, so I’m sorry to say, but I really wished he’d quit talking and he’d figure this out.
“Okay, here’s the plan. Just stay how you are. Keep your foot on the brake. Push the clutch in and I’m going to reach in and turn the key for you. Can you get it in gear?”
“Okay. First gear. Don’t let off the brake until you’re on the gas. Got that?”
Standing on the brake, I answered, “Yes, got it” and I hoped I was right about that.
“Okay. Push in the clutch.”
I pushed the clutch in. He turned the key and the truck started right up.
“This is a pretty good truck,” he said. “Listen to her.”
I nodded and I smiled because it was a great truck. I loved this truck, my truck, I mean, because I’m the driver.
“Okay. I’m going to release the brake. Not your brake. The emergency brake. Keep your foot pushed down hard. I’m going to take my brake off and then you’ll be able to go. If there’s a God in heaven, I mean. Do you think there’s a God in heaven, Elsa?”
“Um… I don’t know.”
“Well we’re just going to have to pray there is. Are you ready?”
Does he mean pray, now? Maybe not. “Yeah. I’m ready.”
“Well, I’m ready too. Here we go. And don’t run over my foot, okay?”
I smiled. I knew that was a joke. This was a smart guy. He was way too smart to leave his foot in the way. He reached in the cab and released the emergency brake.
“Okay, Elsa. Put the truck in gear and go!”
I put the truck in gear, let out the clutch, lifted off the brake, pushed down on the gas, and drove to level ground.
HOLY SHIT. I did it. Okay! I was astounded! This was my greatest trick ever. I’m definitely magic and anyone who doesn’t think so is crazy.
I stopped on level parking lot, and the boss ran up to the truck. “Are you okay? Are you good to go? Can you make it home?”
I had trouble answering. I was pretty choked up, partly over my own excellence. “Yes. Thank you.”
He smiled. “You’re ok, kid. You’re a heck of a kid. Drive straight home, okay? You’ll make it, but I don’t think you better take the truck out again.” He laughed. “Until you’re a little older.”
I didn’t really know what to say. I was from the desert and didn’t go many places. I didn’t meet many people, close up, so I fumbled. “Thank you. Mmm, bye.”
“Have a good day! Bye!”
They all waved as I drove off. Woah! Can you believe it? I’m free!
I drove across the highway, this time making sure no cars were coming since I knew the men were watching. I wanted them to see how good I was at driving. Professional, even.
Across the highway, I disappeared into the desert on the other side. As soon as I knew I was out of sight I started to cry a little. Not a sob or anything. I mean, for what? Everything was okay, except I had to pee so it was more like a little relief gasp. I quickly put the whole thing out of my mind the best I could.
Should I pull over and pee in the desert? I thought about it but look what happened the last time I stopped the truck. Since I’m not stupid, I decided to hold it. I was moving in the right direction and I thought I should keep it that way.
I was tempted to take the short way home and drive by my house to see if anything was up. If there was activity or it looked like I was in trouble – well I may not want to go home at all. Even if I did go home, at least I’d have advance notice that crisis was waiting.
I was frightened and this would have gotten me to a toilet faster, but in the end I decided to stick with my original plan. After all, this had gone pretty well. I had a Big Hunk to prove it, so I took the pavement way home.
I guided the truck through the fence poles, circled the house and pulled the truck into place, lined up with the garden. I hopped out, candy in hand instead of money now, so this was major progress and triumph. I tore into my Grandpa’s house to replace the keys and then I used the bathroom.
It was a risk because I didn’t want to have him drive up and catch me in there. It’d look suspicious don’t you think? I wasn’t going to visit him until the next day and I’d be casual when I did. Anyway, I got to pee, so that was good. Then I ran out the front door, across the screened porch and down the path through the desert to my parent’s house to find my sister, who was waiting outside, all frantic.
“Where the hell have you been? Did you make it? Where did you go? Do you know how long you’ve been gone?”
I held up my candy. “Told you!”
“You went! You actually did it? You really went all the way to the Circle K? Well, you almost got caught. You’re lucky you didn’t.”
“She found out I was gone?” I meant my mother.
“No. But only because you’re lucky. She never came out of her room. Elsa! You actually went all the way to the store by yourself.”
“Uh huh.” I beamed. “Want some candy?”
Looking for more true stories? I’ll list them here as I get them published.