I butt through the Wawa double doors with my three-creamer, two-sugar jumbo Colombian in one hand and a plastic baggie with Combos and an egg and bacon muffinwich in the other, letting the door slip just before the old lady with the furry rat in her arms can grasp the handle. In the parking lot, a black jeep stops to let me pass, and I give Seth Rogen’s brother a pinky wave then hurdle a puddle with swirls of oil slicks as if created by a gas station barista. I see the NFL logo in there today. Last week, I swore I saw my ex-internet girlfriend’s schnauzer, Honey.
Seth creeps behind me like the paper boy in Better Off Dead asking for my two dollars, and when I reach my Camry at Pump 14, he cuts the wheel and stops a foot off my bumper. I rest my coffee on the roof, drop the bag on the front seat, and shut the door, avoiding Seth’s eyes as I nudge between the two bumpers, finger over the sippy hole so nothing spills onto my khakis. Or the hood of Seth’s car.
Seth honks his horn when I insert my debit card, calls me a fucking helmet head when I shove the nozzle into the tank, and reverses when I engage the automatic lever.
I take a sip of coffee and shrug my shoulders. “Non est mea culpa,” I say. Should have gotten here sooner, Seth. Took me almost two years to work up to an end spot.
Seth loops around while a few more cars pull into the lot. One of them betas him to the opening at Pump 1. Rodney must be running late.
I finish fueling, which is more like a top off since my drive is only nineteen and a half miles each way. Barely a gallon and a half. Two more cars jockey for my spot after I put the nozzle back and screw the gas cap on. One driver honks at the other to show he’d made it first.
I’m pretty good at acting. My favorite is the forehead slap, check around the inside my bag as if I’d left my hoagie inside on the counter. Once or twice I’ve tapped my pockets, cursed out loud, thrown my hands up like I’d lost my debit card. Sometimes it feels good to kick it old school and actually hand Wendy the cashier a twenty and tell her I’m going to fill ‘er up.
Today, I take my receipt, stare at it for a few seconds, then glance back at the driver and point at the pump. Faulty valve, overcharge, it really doesn’t matter because I kick the metal trashcan, grab my coffee, and storm back inside. I should have joined the theater. Instead, I’m an accountant for a company that makes cardboard boxes.
There’s a number of us who make up The Society of Morning Fuel Pump Parkers. Rex, a married IT consultant with four kids, parks in Pump 3. He’s a breakfast skipper, but that doesn’t stop him from hanging out by the coffee with me while I wait for my hoagie. He takes advantage of the ninety-nine cent deal, refills a few times so he’s hot to the brim before he heads out.
Nancy is a middle-aged manager at Target who parks at Pump 7. Her go-to is an egg and pepper on a shorti with American cheese. Pepper-jack when she’s having a bad morning. She drinks the French roast black with two Splendas. Nancy may look like a nurturing mother figure with her red polo and her Lisa Loeb glasses, but she’s one hell of a ball-buster.
“Playing with your puds again, boys,” she says to Rex and me as she taps her order into the screen. I thought about asking Nancy to play on our Fortnite team. She’s not afraid to pull the trigger.
“Easy on the mayo today, Jerry” she says to the community college sophomore behind the counter. “Had to scrape the sides of my roll with a napkin yesterday.”
Jerry says he’ll be better.
“Be best,” Nancy says.
Carlos the painter from Pump 8 comes in with the crew of landscapers who take up 9 and 10. They have an animated conversation while Carlos checks the winning numbers at the lottery kiosk
“Did you win?” I ask him.
“Nah,” he says, “Just getting an update on my football club back home.”
Jon Grayson from 11 likes to shit in the communal bathroom. “Can’t drop it like it’s hot in the office,” he says when he joins us.
“So gross,” Nancy says.
“Not when you’ve perfected the hover technique,” he says. Jon grabs a pack of peanut butter Tastykakes off the rack then pours a dark roast.
I can tell he’d been out drinking the night before because the next few guys that follow him stop at the open bathroom door, make that mangled-car-wreck-victim face, and go shirt mask up before they enter.
McNally, an elementary school teacher from Pump 5, pats him on the back and says, “Good one today, Jon. Fucking burned my nose hairs off.”
We laugh then Rex asks if any of us need as refill on the cream. I tell him I’m good.
“Trying to cut back,” I say. “Beach season’s in a few months.”
“Funny, Ray,” Nancy says, “Looks to me like the season’s still a few years away.”
That one stings, but I shrug it off and tell her I’m starting the Paleo next week.
Most mornings we spend about thirty minutes inside just shooting the breeze, commenting on work, family life, politics, sports—the typical water cooler stuff. All while our cars occupy the pumps. We often look out the window and laugh when the rush hits and dozens of cars jockey for 2,3, 6 and 13. Timing is everything. Most mornings it’s eight twenty, eight fifteen when we want to be safe. Get here at eight twenty-five, though, and we’re screwed. Last Thursday, I lost my keys and pulled in at eight thirty. Took me forever to get my spot. There’s a post time for the lunch rush and evenings, too, but that only goes into effect pre-holidays and snowstorms. Shit, mistime those and the lines are at least four-deep.
Nancy tells us she has to get to work early. Thinks she has to fire a stock boy for picking off clearance DVDs.
“That’s a stupid way to get fired,” Rex says. “At least get caught clipping electronics or whacking it in the lingerie section or something.”
“Such a weirdo,” she says, “How you ever found someone to legally mate with is beyond me.”
I cover my mouth with my hand, say damn, and wait for a comeback. But Rex just tops off one more time and says he wishes Rodney were here. Rodney always has witty responses.
We stagger our exits so the place doesn’t clear out at once. Can’t have anyone else try to weasel their way into our thing. I’m last to leave because motivation is low today. Have a stack of invoices to input before reviewing our accounts receivables. Not exactly what I’d dreamed about when I finished college, but it kills time in between Tinder rejections.
“The fuck,” Seth says when I walk outside. He finishes his smoke and misses the cornhole cigarette trashcan thing. I never understood why they put them right beside the front door. It’s like asking for lettuce, tomato, and a little Marlboro on my sandwich.
“Excuse me?” I say.
“What do you like, live here or something?”
I snort. “What are you, the parking police? Or something.”
“I waited ten minutes for a spot. And you’re in there having a fucking pow wow.”
“Sucks,” I say and walk away without looking back.
What does he want? A shot clock violation? A pump coordinator? The thing is, how did the Seth’s of the world not see this coming? It’s the evolution of fuel pump parking. Am I supposed to get in my car, drive a hundred feet around to the side, and park again? Who has time for that?
Maybe they should build more pumps because who needs parking spaces anyway. Just make it the Sonic of gas stations. These are some of the ideas we come up with when the conversations are slow inside. We’re not complainers, we’re problem solvers.
I’d say call the cops, but just then one walks out with his baggie and coffee, strolling to his squad car at Pump 12.
“See you tomorrow, Travis,” I say.
“Stay out of trouble,” he says. He glances at his firearm then back at me.
I hurry into my car, and the Combos squish under my rear. I let the car warm up while I switch from one talk show to the next until I hit 90’s Top Forty. Brings me back to my glory days. I already miss the others. Before pull away, I remember tomorrow’s Two for Two Tuesday on breakfast sandwiches. Usually brings in the masses. Might have to get in at eight fifteen to be safe.
Greg Oldfield received his MFA in Creative Writing from Arcadia University, and he teaches PE and coaches soccer in the Philadelphia area. His fiction has been published in Barrelhouse, The Broadkill Review, and HCE Review.