The week before last I loaded the family into the Jetta for a trip down to GA. I had some work to do in the ER (babies were born and there were holes in the schedule) and Sarah had a date with her Papa for some playing time. We left on a Thursday when I got off work up here and we started the long drive down through 5 states. Somewhere around 12:30 AM we got off at a North Carolina exit in the not too populated area and pulled into a gas station. Hal of course assumes the role of man and starts pumping the gas while all I can think of is how good a cold Diet Dr. Pepper would taste. The kid needs to stretch her legs so I take her in the litte Shell store with me. As soon as we walk in I notice a scrawny little man behind the counter wearing a light blue Shell button up shirt and a ball cap. I ask him if he has ice and he points me to his right. I find the cups and ice and press the lever and then I hear and see a MOUSE fall off a food rack and down the wall! I'm so damn tired from working and driving that I don't even flinch but rather a slow look of suprise spreads across my face. I feel my eyes open a little more. I take a moment to ponder whether or not that mouse had any chance at all of being inside the ice machine crawling all over the ice that was now inside my ugly styrofoam cup. I decide no, fill up two more cups with ice, and head to the front counter. Now, all this time, I can hear the scrawny cashier man talking to Sarah but somehow I know she's safe, even if he's weird. He is weird. I walk up to the counter and see that he's out from behind the register and in the middle of the store staring right at a large cardboard cut-out of a man selling some sort of product. Maybe oil? Don't know and I can't remember, but this cardboard man is pretty much life size and one dimensional. But this scrawny cashier guy is seriously staring at the cardboard man. He looks back and forth between me, Sarah, and the cardboard man. "See," he blurts, "he's looking right at us." He moves over to the other side of the store, close to his register. "And now, look! He's still looking at you! And he's looking right at me too!" Out from behind the counter he comes again as Sarah gives me an uncertain smile. He scuttles her over where he was standing and says to me, "young lady, go over there by the door." I follow his instructions perhaps because I was sleepy and a bit out of it. I go stand by the door and look back at the cardboard man. "Ah ha! See, now he's looking right at you! See his eyes!" Sarah usually talks all the time. Day after day, hour after hour. Unless she is asleep, she is talking. But during this gas station exchange, she is quiet with a silly grin on her face. She looks at him, she looks at me. I look at him. He mostly just looks at the cardboard man. Finally I walk up to the counter and ask him how much for the cups and ice. He looks confused for a minute, shakes his head back and forth and says to me, "how do they make somethin' like that? I mean it don't matter where you standin'! He's lookin' right atcha."
I pay 90 cents for my three cups of ice, look down and see Sarah with a silly and now michevious grin on her face. I ask her what she's done and she shows me a piece of candy in her hand. I ask the man how much. He says a dime, but she can have it. I give him the dime he's just given me and head out the store. Hal asks us as we walk back to the car what took us so long. I tell him there was a startled mouse by the ice machine and a cardboard man staring at everyone and then Sarah tried to swipe a piece of candy. He gets in the car next to me and starts to laugh.
Moral of the story? You really should be awake for late night stops for gas in the South.