Whittling It Down to What Matters
John was a talker. We knew this because we had to wait 5 minutes in the turn lane before we could pull in to the small parking lot of the two pump gas station in Camas Valley, Oregon. For those of you who don’t live in Oregon, you see, in Oregon you can’t pump your own gas. They say that this is to provide more jobs. Or for safety purposes. Either way, John was by far the most talkative gas pump attendant you’re ever gonna meet. So, we waited our 5 minutes in the turn lane of a fairly busy street, and then when he didn’t seem to let the car ahead of us go, we just began to turn into the tiny parking lot anyway. The car pulled forward and John stepped up.
“$40 Unleaded, please,” I said, in the drivers seat and turned off the car.
“$40 cash, please. Unleaded, thank you.”
John, a middle aged, graying man with a baseball cap and a big smile got the pump running.
“School over there is on lockdown,” he said, motioning to the high school across the street, while leaning against our truck, half an arm inside our open window. “Three police cruisers pulled in. They won’t tell the parents a damn thing about what’s going on inside. Not a word.”
“Oh wow. I wonder what’s happening,” I said. We looked over and there was a line of parents standing by their cars, waiting by the school.
“Probably drugs,” Mallory muttered under her breath.
“Yeah. No idea,” John continued. “They haven’t said a word to the parents though. Don’t you think they’d be worried sick? But lots of officers. You have a nice coastal weekend?” he said, apparently tired of the excitement over at the school, and motioned to our camper.
“It was great. Headed down to Placerville, CA tonight.”
“Oh yeah? You from there?”
“No. We’re from Nashville.”
“Ah ha! You’re a traveling band!”
Now, it’s very well documented that a lot of musicians come from Nashville and I guess it’s pretty safe to assume that there aren’t a lot of couples in their late 20’s/early 30’s who are able to retire and travel the country, much less purchase a camper, unless they’re somehow working as they travel. We played along.
“You got us! Guilty as charged…”
“Yep. I knew it. Now, music is a hard business. Not like it used to be, nope. Best of luck to you. May all your dreams come true and may you achieve your success. Now, I understand that there are a lot of people using the Youtube these days. Selling a lot of albums on Youtube. A lot of albums on Youtube. Have you done that?”
“I mean, I wouldn’t say we’ve sold a lot of albums, but we’re on YouTube."
“Well, keep trying. It sure is a hard business. But keep following your dreams. I wish you luck. You got a CD?”
We looked around the car as if we would just give him a CD because he asked for one, and he was pumping our gas.
“Nevermind. I’ll look you up on YouTube. Gas is finished.”
Mallory, leaned over and said “Best gas station stop in Oregon yet.”
As he was removing the nozzle from our tank a line of students walked out of the front door of the high school and proceeded to wait around in the parking lot, like high school students do. Some walked to cars, others stood in small, circular groups.
“Looks like the school isn’t on lockdown anymore,” I said.
John looked over. “Yep. Can’t wait to find out what happened. It’s not like it used to be. You know, back when I went to high school there, me and my friends used to drive up to school, now this is a small country school, well, me and my friends used to drive up to school with our hunting rifles in our trucks, sometimes a deer in the truck bed. And everyday since I was in the third grade, I used to carry a,” he started reaching into his pocket and pulled out a switchblade, unswitched, “I used to carry a switchblade, just in case I wanted to go out to recess and whittle. But anymore, kids can’t do that. You know what? Just the other day, a kid in third grade made his fingers look like a gun, you know?” And he made his fingers look like a gun, thumb up, index and middle finger out, other two tucked in. “He made his hand look like a gun, like kids do, and you know what they did? They expelled him. It’s not right, I’ll tell you that.”
Now, our gas had been filled for about 3 or 4 minutes now and we were just chatting, like you do in small towns. But we kind of had to get going and so I asked for the receipt. “Absolutely!” John went inside and brought back a receipt.
“Now, I don’t know you all very well, but…” and with that he paused and looked right to left to right again and said, “…I don’t want these Syrian terrorists coming over to America. I think we should tell Obama and our governor, that if he wants ’em in this country so bad then they can move in next door to him! But don’t send no terrorists out here to the country! We didn’t ask for that. Don’t you think that’s what we should tell ’em? Make those terrorists move in next to Obama?”
Now, everything inside of us wanted to say, “you’re being racist, xenophobic, closed minded and insensitive to the real needs of real people in an incredibly hostile and convoluted political struggle happening to thousands of people all over the world,” and “these are Syrians refugees we’re talking about, not Syrian terrorists!” but instead, as he continued, “I just don’t want to see another 911 happen here because our president…” inch by inch, we just pulled out of the gas station parking lot.
“Well, that was fun,” said Mallory as I pulled up to the stop sign. “For just a few minutes and then that went south real fast.”
As I was looking left, then right, then left again, John started waving his arms from the pump and motioning for us to roll down the window.
“What?” yelled Mallory out the window. “What? Oh! Of course! Have a nice day.” She sat back in her seat and rolled up the window.
“What did our buddy say?”
“Oh. Some freshman brought a switchblade to school.”
Maybe we should give everyone the benefit of the doubt that their switchblade is just for whittling at recess.