Once upon a time in a decade not too far away, I was a nineteen year old truck stop cashier. I worked the night shift and it was my job to keep the register as well as to keep bleary eyed truckers awake by pouring them mugfulls of coffee that strongly resembled 30 weight motor oil.
The stop was at the edge of town, crouched against highway 82. Night shift meant that I could sit for hours at a time, waiting for someone to show up. It also meant that I could catch up on my reading while I waited. Or, when it became a collossal bore, my brother would come over and we'd get into the flats of returnable snacks. Twinkies, we discovered were the best for tossing, and so we'd break off the end and flip them, the creamy filling sticking onto the ceiling in the stockroom. And in the morning the bread guy would come in and find half a flat of twinkies dangling from the ceiling.
Most of the time working at the stop was uneventful. The vast majority of truckers who came in were locals; some of them were fathers to friends of mine. And the ones who came from out of state liked to regale me with stories about their homes and families. As a blooming writer, I took all of this in, taking note of how they talked, their mannerisms, their facial expressions.
Early one morning, when I was about to close out the register for the morning shift, a corpulant man with stringy white hair came in. He asked for a thermos of coffee, which wasn't unusual, and so I went to fill it for him.
As I turned my back, I got the distinct impression that I shouldn't have done that. Yet, I continued to fill the order. I could feel his eyes on me, and I felt hot prickles of fear spark up my spine.
--Nice ass, he commented.
I ignored what he said. There was no manager on duty, and the cook was asleep in the dry good room. I glanced through the glass at the fueling station. My step brother worked there, and he was too far away for me to call for help.
Surely, I thought. Someone would come in.
Nobody did. I was alone, with a man who was looking at me in the most disgusting way, uttering obsceneties as he did so, smiling as he did. The way you know that he's fully aware that even if you tried to run there was no where for you to go. He could do anything to you and there'd be nothing you could do about it.
I swallowed my fear, my angst, my disgust at this man, his greasy white hair, his fat belly protruding out from underneath a gray t shirt he had out grown about a decade ago, the way his right hand wasn't visible behind the counter, but you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what he was doing with it, and what he was going to do to you as soon as you bolted.
I did not. I filled the thermos, put the cap on and went to the register.
He moved to the register as well, leering.
--That'll be 2.50, I said.
--For you or the coffee? he asked.
--I suspect you'd charge more, he replied, his eyes never leaving my chest.
--The coffee is 2.50
--And how much are you?
--I'm not a lot lizard, I replied. If you're looking for some of that, you won't find it here.
At this point I remembered Jerry kept a .38 in the cubby underneath the register. I moved forward, finding the weapon. The handle was hot and slick in my hand. The gun itself felt alive. I swear it felt as if it moved on it's own in my hand,eager to shout. My heart pounded, I flipped off the safety.
--I don't care if you are or not, he was saying. I want some and I'm gonna get it. Come on, he added, there's nobody in here, nobody is gonna see.
I said nothing. I wasn't going to tip my hand. Sweat beaded up on my brow. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would have to shoot this man. But I had to wait. I had wait just a second. Because I needed him to come around the counter, or try to grab me across the machine before I could get a good shot. I didn't dare let him know I had the gun. He'd get it away from me, I was sure.
He was uttering threats and obsceneties. I said nothing, but stood there, with him towering over me, intimidating me, trying to get me to relent. I would not. I was waiting, my heart pounding, my mind clearer than ever before. I was going to have to kill this man. And I was going to have to talk to the police afterwards. I might even go to jail, until my folks could get a lawyer. But that was okay. That was alright. Anything was preferable than being violated by this horrid man. My finger was on the trigger, my mind racing. One second more. That's all it'll take. One second and he'll be across the counter, grabbing for me,dragging me into the back, doing unspeakable things to me. And the cook asleep in the back, not knowing or caring what was happening in her kitchen.
At that moment, the bell on the door jingled, and in stepped Bobby Ray and his partner. The man grabbed his thermos and bolted out of the door, shoving the men out of the way. I set the gun on the counter, shaken, collapsing onto the floor.
--What did he do? Bobby Ray asked
I burst into tears.
That was enough. Bobby Ray and his partner ran out of the door, across the tarmac and caught up with the man as he was climbing into his rig. I watched from the large picture window as they hauled him out of his rig and beat the crap out of him.
I was profoundly grateful that I had such good friends. But nevertheless, I quit that morning and never went back.
I drove past that old truck stop not too long ago. It was abandoned, the buildings rotting down, the pumps rusted and useless. The county burned down the restaurant because it was a safety hazard. Perhaps it was a safety hazard all along.
END OF LINE.
Causes Patricia Snodgrass Supports
The Hunger site
Children's Miracle Network
American Cancer Society
The American Heart Association