Wherein I whine for seven pages

23 Aug

Okay, U-Hauls get bleedin’ awful gas mileage. I’m guessing that’s not new information to you. If it is, make your brain do more things, because it is using far less than its requisite 10%. (And yes, I know that little aphorism has been long debunked. I don’t care.)

I have, in the last few months, driven a fully loaded U-Haul, including towed Saab, on the 1,000-mile sojourn between Lexington, Kentucky, and Duncan, Oklahoma, twice. It’s not a fun drive. I still owe my mom some $700 as a result.

Yes, twice. If that number surprises you, then this is written perhaps more for you than for those who knew that.

I’m in Lexington, writing this. Some (many?) of you think I’m in Oklahoma, editor-ing it up, being a newspaper guy. In actuality, I’m in Lexington, restaurant server-ing it up, being as disappointing as I can really get away with.

But back to my analogy. It’s a good one, so let me write it. That’s not too much to ask.

I was driving my U-Haul, full of all my stuff, towing my little Saab, from Duncan to here a while ago. When I picked up the truck, it was at 7/16 of a tank of gas. I know this because U-Haul made sure I knew it, and made sure I returned the truck with at least that much gas. Thanks so much for making sure I’m a good person, corporate America.

Well, for those who aren’t Super Math Folk, 7/16 is less than half a tank. Which meant that, when I picked up the truck, I didn’t have as much travel distance as I might have had in, you know, a Prius. Or a freaking Hummer, considering the 8.366 miles to the gallon I got in the U-Haul. So when I took off from Duncan, I did so knowing that I wouldn’t exactly be able to travel a huge distance without stopping for the lovely fuel that does maintain us so.

Well, my route from Duncan to not-Duncan (because really that’s all I required of it) took me north to Oklahoma City, then northeast to Tulsa, then straight on ‘til morning. I wouldn’t make it to morning on that wee little 7/16, I knew. But I might make it beyond Tulsa, beyond metropolis, beyond expensive-gas locales.

This explains why, when I came upon a middle-of-the-highway service area, only 30-some miles out of Duncan, I drove right past. Too early, I thought. I don’t want to stop in Oklahoma City, sure, but if I could find a place after Tulsa, that’d be great. Even if the gas tank wouldn’t hold out until I got that far, it would at least make it to one of the several gas stations that surely lay between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, right?

That in mind, I drove straight past the easy-access service area between Chickasha and Oklahoma City. I drove straight past the slightly-harder-to-access gas stations in the Oklahoma City area, assuming they would be annoyingly difficult to negotiate with my long-as-hell load I was navigating.

Gas tank was getting, you know, sort of low. Nothing crucial, but low enough that I knew I wouldn’t make it to the gas stations that lay beyond Tulsa, some 150-odd miles beyond Oklahoma City. But no worry; I’d fill up between the two metropoli (that’s the plural, right? I honestly don’t know) and be just fine.

You know, that’s just a dandy plan. Except for the fact that, in its infinite wisdom, the state of Oklahoma apparently decided not to place any gas stations at convenient spots between those two cities. I drove along for 30, 40, 50 miles, with nothing. Well, not nothing. There was the occasional exit that indicated a gas station, but I would come to that exit seeing nothing but grass and road. I have a long-standing policy — one that, to my knowledge, I have never violated — that says that I will not use any interstate-signed establishment that I cannot see from said interstate. This should be a law — if your business is not easily seen from the interstate, you cannot place a “We are here!” sign on the road. Buy a billboard, sure, but don’t fool commuters into thinking they can fill up, eat, whatever, only they have to drive six miles into some random town first. Attractions and campsites can be exceptions. But “gas,” “food” and “lodging”? You’re on notice.

So I’m driving along the interstate, hoping against hope that a service station comes in sight. I texted Greg in Duncan to notify him of my plight. Yes, I know, texting while driving is dangerous, texting while driving a U-Haul doubly so. Oh fucking well. If I don’t send the occasional text/tweet while I’m driving, I fall into deep thought, and that’s a far better way for me to get distracted and drive poorly than a piddly text. I don’t give a damn if you disagree, I’m absolutely positive it’s true. Get me to think too long and I get fucking depressed. I get fucking depressed, I dive into my own brain. I dive into my own brain, I don’t acknowledge my surroundings as well. So yes, I’m a better driver when I’m texting. Some. Strategically placed, surroundings appropriate. Not a lot. But some. I don’t give a shit what you say about that; it’s true.
Anyway, I was drawing near emptiness, and wondering how I would handle the “I ran out of gas in my U-Haul” conversation with AAA, when a wonderful, glorious sight appeared on the horizon.

A service station.

Lordy be, that was a gas station on the horizon. A glorified rest stop, a space where they drilled a few feet deeper than a toilet, sure, but it was a place where I could get fuel and not be Guy Who Ran Out Of Gas In His U-Haul.

So I pulled off. The gas station there had options of left-of-the-station fill-up or right-of-the-station fill-up. I picked right, for no greater reason than it seemed like the easier side from which to negotiate an I’m-towing-a-car exit, and pulled to that side.

On the left-of-the-station side, there were two pumps I could theoretically access. But on the right, there was but one, with the second pump on that side left for diesel travelers. So, once I was over there, I fell in behind the passenger van that blocked the only space I could realistically fill my tank. In theory, I guess I could have looped around and filled up on the opposite side, but I’m already sketchy enough with the trailer; I’m not about to introduce loops and reversings into the equation.

I come from horse country, and by logical extension horse-trailer country, but I don’t care — driving anything attached via trailer in reverse is a fucking magic trick, and if you can do it, you’re a motherfucking wizard and I’m scared of you.

I was on the right side, and there was a van in front of me. No biggie at this point.

Well, the van was very happy where it was. I sat, and I watched, wondering if I would run out of gas a strong ten feet from the pump. In front of me, the passenger van idled, burning through the gas it had just obtained. (Seriously, it idled. What the hell, man? You are going to turn the car on and empty the gas tank YOU JUST FILLED? I hate people.) I couldn’t see everything in the vehicle, of course, but I saw a smattering of heads, and it looked like they were merely waiting for a slow-comer to return to the vehicle, and it would depart.

And lo, did a slow-comer return! An enormous woman, a half-foot shorter than me and 100 pounds heavier, arrived back at the vehicle, soda and Bugles in hand (People still buy Bugles? People EVER bought Bugles? I am so confused) and I shifted weight in expectation of forward movement.

She opened the second-row door and put in her load, then climbed into the front seat. Let’s go.

Climbed into the driver’s seat. And then. AND THEN. Slid over to the passenger seat. Ten minutes at that point. This can’t be real.

Oh well, right? Someone is coming. The van doesn’t live at the service area (what a depressing life that would be); it’s going eventually. And what else was I going to do? I wasn’t going to swing into reverse and pick another tank — like I said, that’s the work of a “motherfucking wizard,” and I am not a motherfucking wizard — so my choices were to scream at the people, drive forward and push them with my U-Haul, or sit and wait.

I’m not a screamer, so the first was out. I bought insurance on the U-Haul, so in retrospect choice two wasn’t bad at all, but I just thought of it for the first time today, and this is a good long time later, so oh well. I was stuck with option 3. Wait. Watch other people fill up and leave the left-side tanks. Scream internally. I am the world’s best internal screamer; you have no idea.

I internally screamed. I internally screamed muchly. Texted Greg again, because it’s what I do. It was another couple minutes.

Hey! There’s a fat lady coming out of the bathroom! Surely she must be joining this idling van! Surely she must be the driver! Awesome!

And you know what? She was. She was coming to the van, and she was the driver. Only…that kid.

See, there was a kid in the second row of seats. Probably 14, black shirt, white cap. Nondescript, really, only that he wasn’t as fat as the other members of his caravan that I had seen. I mean, he wasn’t thin, but he was fat in the way that I am fat, not fat in the way that, you know, hippos who drive idling vans are fat. I hadn’t really noticed him sitting in the van, but you probably saw my mini-description a couple lines up, so that was a bit of foreshadowing that he did NOT, in fact, stay in the van.

Just as Jumbo Lady #2 began waddling back to the van, this kid climbed out, carrying a few bucks, and walked to the gas station.

In that moment, had I had my way, I would have murdered that kid. Murdered everyone in the van and at the service station, just to limit witnesses. But I am not weapon-savvy enough to pull off mass murder without getting my shirt dirty, and I liked the shirt I was wearing. It’s my travel shirt. Blue, button-down, far past suitability as a real-life shirt, but a damned excellent travel shirt.

So I murdered no one and continued internally screaming. Jumbo #2 climbed into the driver’s seat and continued idling, and White Cap Kid walked into the gas station. Two minutes later, he emerged. I checked the clock. Nineteen minutes at this point. But he was coming back! Chips and bottled beverage in hand! And he…turned toward the restrooms and went there instead of the van!

So much murder.

It was another two minutes. But finally, he returned. He climbed into the van and shut the door. And, finally, gloriously, the van drove away. It was the best thing that ever happened. It was the driving equivalent of making it to the toilet after two gallons of water. I pulled forward, stopping even with the first pump.

Okay, this should have been the end of the story. Except that I swiped my credit card, and waited…and waited…and waited. The card reader said “processing…” for three minutes. I hit cancel. I hit “No.” I hit numbers at random, wondering if I could enter a magic code. Nothing happened. So I went inside to ask them what was wrong.

This dude at the counter was super-duper awesome. His mouth literally never closed. Just hung.

“It’s processin’ yer card, man.”

“It’s been doing so for more than three minutes now.”

“Yeah…?”

“That’s a pretty long time. Usually they only take five seconds.”

“Well, ah guess this one takes longer.”

“Can you stop it from processing so I can swipe it again?”

“Ah wouln’t have th’first idea how to tell it to stop.”

Okay, you’ll have to forgive me for stressing this man’s drawl to accentuate his ignorance. You’d think I’d be above such things, especially since I hail from considered-backwoods Kentucky. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. I am above no such thing, and this guy spoke as though books were only something that Danno was told to do to “him.”

I gave up on the brilliance inside the gas station and went back outside. My plan, if the pump was still “processin’ yer card,” was to pull to the second pump. Couldn’t be so hard.

Well, it was still processin’, but some clever traveler had decided, instead of waiting for one of the billion other pumps there, to pull in front of my U-Haul, back up, and fill up at the vacant pump there.

Very clever. Can’t blame that guy a bit. And yet somehow, I was re-filled with the urge to murder. I just didn’t know who needed to be the victim.

Fortunately, this guy was super-fast at the pump. He paid there, bought no snacks, was on his way in a matter of minutes. I pulled forward (because the pump was still “processin’”). And this pump worked fine. I filled up (which took a while — big-ass tanks on those trucks). I bought snacks (because I am too large and at the time was doing virtually nothing to combat it). I left the gas station, I left Oklahoma, I returned to Kentucky. And yes, around the same time I was filling up at the second pump, the first pump finished processin’, and I canceled the transaction.

All told, it wasn’t the end of the world. It was a half-hour of my life. But seriously, it was a half-hour of my life at a freaking gas station in central Oklahoma. No one should suffer that fate. The brain-dead guy at the counter shouldn’t suffer that fate, and he WORKS at the freaking place.

Remember, once upon a time, some 2,000 words ago, when I said this was an analogy? It is. At least, I think it is. I think it’s a good one. I just took way too long to get to it. If you’re still reading, sorry. I hope you’ve been entertained.

But yes, I meant this as an analogy. It is, I think, an excellent encapsulation (is that a word? Microsoft didn’t offer the red-squiggly, so I guess it is, but it looks weird, though I suppose “encapsulance” would look weirder) of my life on the whole.

See, I’m unlucky. I don’t actually believe in luck as a general thing, inasmuch as a person can BE lucky or unlucky, but I don’t have to believe in it for me to be it. A few months back, my brother criticized the fact that I let my GPS just sit on the dashboard, without being suction-cupped to the windshield. I explained to him that I suctioned the damn thing up there all the time. I tried different spots, I cleaned the suction cup, I cleaned the windshield, I did every damn thing I could think of. But my GPS, try as I might, will not stay affixed to the windshield, so I leave it on the left side of my dashboard, pinned in place between the dashboard and the driver’s door. It works. It doesn’t work perfectly, but it works. Something that works is generally acceptable for me, as something working perfectly is almost always beyond my reach.

Anyway, I can’t win with this GPS thing. My brother has long mocked me. If I actually want to hit GPS buttons, I either need to temporarily affix it to the windshield (moderately difficult) or use two hands; one to hold the GPS and one to hit buttons (while driving, impossibly difficult and dangerous). It is bothersome. It is not deal-breaking bothersome, but it is bothersome. Such is the life of Daniel.

I figured I had a faulty suction cup. Or a Saab windshield is too curved to allow for continuous suction-cupification (Okay, I KNOW that one’s not a word). Or something.

But then I borrowed my brother’s car one day to drive to the hardware store. I don’t really remember why, but I was driving his car. That’s the important bit. I was driving along. Not using the GPS, because I know where Home Depot is in relation to my house. Smart like that.

I made it approximately a block. The GPS, which, again, I hadn’t touched or even considered touching, decided at that moment that it had lost its grip on the windshield and come crashing down to the dashboard. I had to pull it down and place it gently in the floorboard, for fear of turning left or something and seeing the GPS slide off into infinity.

In reality, it was just a shittily timed coincidence. Those suction cups don’t hold forever. Weather changes, humidity, even time will make them come loose. That’s how it works, short of super-duper-gluing the damn thing in place. But seriously? I have driven my brother’s car(s) maybe five times ever. Ever. In my 28 years of being Daniel. In one of those times, in a drive that was less than three miles, that is the mother-effing moment the damn suction cup chooses to give up the ghost? How the holy WTF does that happen?

So that’s why, despite the fact that I don’t think it is a real thing, I’m still pretty sure that I’m inherently unlucky. It is the only thing I can think of that would explain the GPS thing.

Or the gas station.

Here’s where the analogy comes in. I’m five damn pages into this Word document (single-spaced!) I’m probably way too far into any webpage for you to still be here. I can say whatever I want at this point; nobody’s read this far. Monkey testicle! Louis CK ate spaghetti! Mars is full of Jackson Pollock paintings!

Okay.

See, the whole reason I had to be driving a U-Haul, full of all my stuff, towing my little Saab, a scant two months after having done the same activity the other direction, is because I took a job I shouldn’t have taken. I accepted the position of managing editor of the Duncan (Okla.) Banner several months ago, thinking that I needed to be a big boy and stop waiting tables and accept a big-boy job and live a big-boy life.

I mean, that makes sense. I went to school to study journalism. I went to “career day” in middle school dressed as an old-timey reporter, complete with little “PRESS” card tucked into a wannabe old-timey press fedora. (I just spelled fedora “fedoare,” which is proof that I’m writing this while drinking at Malabu Pub. Proof I’m in Lexington! At least I caught the misspelling.) Greg — you remember him, he was the one I was texting in such a scandalous and cavalier while-driving manner — is the sports editor in Duncan; he tossed my name in the hat for the job and it was offered to me. Turning it down would have meant essentially saying once and for all that no, I’m not a journalist and I never will be. Sorry, first 27 years. My choices during that time were shit, so let’s try again at 28.

I wasn’t entirely ready to make that choice.

So I accepted the job. It was a little bitty raise in pay over the restaurant, but it was a super-duper raise in “I’m doing what I said I would do with my life” stature over the restaurant, so whatever.

Only…the job sucked. I don’t mean sucked inasmuch as all jobs suck because they are jobs, I mean sucked inasmuch as I worked 80ish hours a week, was made to feel guilty for not being there more, had to cover for people who were awful at what they did (if Josh, Beka, Derrick, Toni, whoever reads this, I don’t mean you all; I mean the other departments, and I’m sure you understand), had to deal with a boss who wanted to stick his hand in every last little thing and swirl it around (and if Ed reads this…well, yeah; you kinda suck as a leader of men), basically had to tolerate a lot of shit for a paycheck that, calculated hourly, approached minimum wage. It was awful. But it was an awful that I put myself in of my own accord.

Holy moly, is that my supposedly awesome analogy coming through?

I’ve made a lot of iffy choices in my life. I don’t know that I’ve made truly awful choices, so much as I’ve made choices that left themselves open to awfulness ensuing. Ultimately, I probably should have accepted the job in Oklahoma, even though it was far from where I wanted to live, doing a job I wasn’t altogether sure I wanted to do. It made sense to do what I knew how to do, to take a high-ranking position at a publication where I had a friend, in a place where I could (as far as I knew) do what I wanted. There was so much sense. I couldn’t have known the shitty parts until I was there.

Sort of like the gas station. See, even looking back, it made sense to drive past the first service station, to not stop in Oklahoma City. Logic dictates that there would be plenty of choices in between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, even if reality dictates that there is actually only one. Maybe Oklahoma doesn’t go for logic. It certainly would jibe with my other learnings of Oklahoma.

So I made what seemed (and, damnit, seems) like a prudent decision to hold off on filling up my 7/16 of a tank. Only, when I finally got to the only destination my decision left me with, I then was put through ten levels of shit to accomplish my goal. Fat lady 1, fat lady 2, kid in cap, “processin’,” dumb guy, other car, seriously??

That’s my whole point. I make, for the most part, questionable decisions. Not bad decisions, because they are eminently defensible, but questionable, inasmuch as they left themselves open to more shittiness than perhaps a different decision would.

Basically, my whole point is that I’m unlucky, but I’m also terrible at decision-making. There is no reason to think that my choice of GPS (and choice of car) would result in an un-stickable suction cup. There is no reason to think that my choice of gas station would result in a half-hour stranded in central Oklahoma. There is no reason, again, to think that my choice of job would result in me working way too many hours, doing way too much work, covering for way too many shitty people.

Or maybe there is. My GPS is on the cheaper side; wouldn’t it make sense that my suction cup sucks? I opted for the only gas station in a hundred miles; wouldn’t it make sense that morons and idiots would be stuck at the same gas station? I hadn’t worked in newspapers in a few years and hadn’t exactly made my name in the industry before that; wouldn’t it make sense that, if I could get a high-ranking editor position, it might not be the best job that ever existed?

I mean, I’m no logician, but I’m pretty sure the answers to all those are “yes.”

On the other hand, I stand by the process that led to each of those decisions. It’s process-based judgment versus outcome-based judgment. You don’t judge a person’s ability on the outcomes. All a person can do is put themselves in the best position for success. Luck, randomness, whatever, play way too big a role in our lives to judge someone based solely on their outcomes, but if you evaluate the process and it makes sense, then the person is doing it right.

I won’t swear that my process is spotless. In fact, I’ll guarantee that it is not. But I feel like, at the very least, I’m not making outright stupid decisions. Other than perhaps my wardrobe. But, damnit, don’t shitty things happen to me a disproportionate number of times?

I don’t know how deep my point is here. Mostly, it was to tell the gas station story. It was a good story. But also it was to…whine, I guess. I don’t know how anyone is benefitted from me saying I’m unlucky, from me pointing out that my choices, while perhaps not perfect, were not actually that bad. Seriously, I don’t know. I think it was a good analogy. I don’t know what deeper point it makes. I set out to write this thing that I thought would be good, with the best of intentions and with a good plan in mind, only for it to not turn out as good as I had hoped.

Decent decision, and then things don’t work out as well as I had hoped. Well shit. I guess it was a good analogy.

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One Response to “Wherein I whine for seven pages”

  1. Kevin August 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    A. I agree with this: This should be a law — if your business is not easily seen from the interstate, you cannot place a “We are here!” sign on the road. Buy a billboard, sure, but don’t fool commuters into thinking they can fill up, eat, whatever, only they have to drive six miles into some random town first.

    B. You should pull a Costanza and start doing the opposite of whatever your natural inclincation to do is.

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