At 0405hrs on Sunday, I was awakened by my internal clock. Knowing that it was time to take the significant one to the airport, I beat her to the hardwood floor by padding my way to the bathroom to avoid the rush. We made coffees, sipped them quickly, then I loaded her luggage and we silently traveled the short distance to the only international airport that calls Bangor home.
Many—from away— who hear me refer Bangor as an international airport tend to recoil and grin. They believe that such a small spot on the big map could not possibly be international. Yup, it’s international. We even have customs officials on site. Oh, I think they get bored, but they get paid the same as a customs official in Miami, or Los Angeles; who’s smiling payday?
The sun peeked over the distant tree line as warm tangerine light burst through a chink in the armor of darkness. We both agreed that it would be a hot one as we—otherwise—drove while choosing to remain silent.
I slowed down just in time to miss an indecisive member of the whitetail deer population. “You still have good eyes, dear,” she said. I merely answered with one of the noises that men make when they are tired and feel mildly appreciated. It’s a cross between an “ayuh” and a reassuring “harrumph.”
The fact that you are now trying to sound it out makes me feel better about telling this story.
The drop-off at the curbside was like all the others. I unloaded the luggage. She stood still—waiting for the bear hug.
“Text me when you get to Boston,” I growled earnestly. I like her updates, but I tell her that I don’t need them. She understands me. It was going to be a three-airport day for her, and I’d be back in the house within a half-hour picking up the coffee where I left off. I pictured it steaming, alone, on the chairside table. It was entombed in a Yeti mug; it would remain hot for hours. The Yeti is a good choice, but it’s a tumbler. It doesn’t fit in any of my cup holders.
“I shall. It’s a three-hour layover before I load up for New York. I can get some breakfast,” she sounded a bit sad about leaving. She always sounds like that. She’s a wide-roaming homebody. Driven by what she loves, but she wouldn’t mind getting to the camp a bit more so she can make American chop suey and eat dessert on the porch as the sun goes down. Gifford’s Camp Coffee ice cream is her dessert of choice. While the frogs croak and groan under the drape of darkness, I hear her spoon scraping up the melted remainders from an ancient glass bowl.
“And text me when you get finally get home,” I said. “I’m going to check on Sammy’s cats; he’s coming back from Washington later today. I’ll just make sure his place is still standing. He’s had a fella caring for them, but I should check. I’m not tired.”
She clickity-clacked her luggage toward the terminal, and I waited and watched through the enormous panes of clean glass for her to get to the Delta check-in counter. Job one was complete.
The needle on the gas gauge surprised me with a drawn-out curtsy toward the letter E as I swung into a pump farm of a modern convenience store. The vast lot was aglow under excellent lighting. The pumps were empty of other morning revelers, and like a wannabe tourist who had just won the lotto, I had my pick of the islands.
I scanned for a pump that revealed the telltale handle of a window washing squeegee peeking from the big gray trashcan/windshield washer combination canister sitting near each and every gas dispersal device. I spotted a red wooden handle—longer and sturdier than the standard black plastic gripped squeegee—and it made my decision for me.
A wooden handle allows more pressure to be exerted against a filthy windshield. Extruded plastic recoils backward, failing to scrub-a-dub-dub in a manner that fits my urgent need to rid myself of the macabre mix of mayfly entrails and black fly bodies in the expansive graveyard of goo that has dried onto the pitted glass.
A palpable sadness stifled my initial glee when I saw that the voluminous cistern was empty of the blue alcohol-based liquid bug remover. I started the gas pump and then belligerently defied all the written safety warnings by walking away as the fuel flowed freely.
I went to the adjacent islands while still holding my red-handled scrubber, hopeful that I could locate one bucket that held a bit of fluid. I checked three. I found none. I won’t lie; I was frustrated. Such a waste of a nostalgic wooden handled scrubber. I felt like a guy who found a date but couldn’t come up with the money to take her somewhere nice.
I considered speaking to the clerk about grabbing a gallon of fluid so that I might top off one of the reservoirs, but I reconsidered once I walked inside, only intending to cure my current— first-world— problem.
He greeted me from somewhere below his red store branded ball cap. “Good morning!” His hair was what I saw. His eyes were focused on his task.
He was piloting a mop bucket with the prowess of a pro, and his scrubbing was methodical and graceful. Caution signs— shaped like tiny yellow easels and emblazoned with images of falling cartoon characters who very well could be me on a bad day— were appropriately displayed near the wet spots. The lad wasn’t slacking on the outdoor chores at all. He was sparkling up the store for wandering weary-eyed warriors like myself.
Instead of pointing out my need for clean windows, I grabbed a hot Honduran blend in a medium cup. He watched me from under the brim, probably wondering if I would make my way to the plastic donut decanter; I didn’t. His bet was a good one because I thought of it for a moment.
As he de-mopped and made his way toward the counter, I blurted out that I was impressed by his work ethic. I had watched him while the coffee brewed in it’s wonderous one-cup way. I said, “It’s nice to see a person doing good work this early in the morning when no one is watching.” He smiled, maybe wondering if it was a strange set-up for an armed robbery. Seeing no other signs indicating crime was afoot, he said, “Thanks! I try.” His words smiled too. A slight uptick in his day? Maybe.
I allowed his words to roll around in my head as I found a ten-dollar bill to pay for the coffee. I kept talking because I tend to do that. I’d forgotten about my planned self-centered request when I saw the bead of sweat on his brow.
“Thanks for doing a good job. The place looks great.” I owed him that. My inital mental picture of a sluggish sitter reading porn mags and smoking near an open backdoor were found to be completely false. Too many movies displayed clerks as uncaring. I should watch more documentaries.
He passed me my change, and I tossed him back the five-dollar bill. “Buy yourself a cheap lunch, on me. Just because I appreciate your hard work so I can just wander in here and get a coffee.”
I still didn’t mention that I really wanted a clean windshield. I’d settled on the fact that scrubbed floors for many were far more important than the driver’s view for one inconsiderate buffoon.
He smiled a bit wider, said thanks. With that, the man of few words— and many chores— stuffed the grainy green likeness of Lincoln into his front pocket. He made his way toward the mop bucket as I exited the store holding a coffee that I didn’t need all that badly.
I walked past the red wooden handled squeegee hopeful that the next store might have such an sturdy artifact.
As my sneakers squeeked across the stained macadam, It came to me that following through on my first inclination would have been annoying. I felt better about the meager offering to pay a penance for a sin I only thought—for a minute— about committing.
I reflected on his gracious way of accepting the compliment. “Thanks! I try.” What a world we would be living in if we all could say that. First you have to try, and then you have to accept that people appreciate it. The trying is the hardest part; Tom Petty could have avoided a huge hit if he had selected those lyrics.
I took a photo of the skyline out over the airport, screwed the gas cap back on, and headed to Sammy’s place. I’d wash my windows later. I continued to covet the wooden handled squeegee for future use, so, in essence, I had only managed to beat back one official sin as I fully accepted my weakness for number ten of ten from that list of pesky of commandments. I probably should have slipped the Moses of Mopping a couple more bucks to keep my conscience clear for the next few minutes as I sipped coffee and drove on toward Sammy’s while watching out for wandering wildlife.
I silently sent up one of those prayers that I believe still fall on the ears of the omnipotent overseer of all my flaws. The words probably seem silly to some, but being sorry and thankful can occur at the very same moment in time. Even at a gas pump while watching the sunrise at 4:45 on a Sunday morning.
(Copyright Tim Cotton 2021)
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