April Tools

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“Okay, wait, are you actually crying, or is this an elaborate April Fool’s joke?”

I didn’t blame my mom for having her suspicions. She can usually count on a call from me on April 1 telling her some story about how I had just been fired or how my car had been stolen. I could keep the joke going for a few minutes before the obligatory “April Fools!”, and she would roll her eyes and we would go on with our conversation. I would usually call up a sister or two as well, placing weird orders at the deli counter where one worked (“Are you sure you want one hundred chicken wings?” she would say to my bad Southern accent) or pretending to be another’s favorite radio station offering a terrible prize (“Neil Diamond and Britney Spears in concert? Well, wow…”). But this time my call was real.

I had had the kind of morning that could have been an elaborate April Fool’s prank by someone, but it was all too terribly real.

“Okay, slow down, tell me what happened.”

I turned my car around a bend in the Wyoming highway, finally out of the thick fog, and looked at my dashboard. 10 am, 40 degrees outside, and going an even 65 miles per hour. I sighed and told her the story.

“Okay, I got a call last night late that I was needed in a small Wyoming town this morning for a crisis call after an employee suicide. They wanted me here at 6 am, which meant I had to get up at 3 this morning and leave by 3:30. It’s a 2 hour drive, but it’s a company I haven’t been to before, so I wanted the cushion of time to get my bearings.

“The paperwork they sent me had the company name, but not an address. It said the company is several miles out of town, and that I would need directions to get there. I was told to arrive in town then call a man named Daniel on the phone and he would meet me and escort me out to the site. Sounds weird, but I’ve done it before. Lots of industries have work sites like this, like power plants and mining industries.

“The drive out there was uneventful. I ran the heater and listened to a biography on Nixon. I get to the town about 5:30. The whole town is blanketed by this thick winter fog, visibility is poor. It’s a tiny place, just a few stores and diners and a motel, but everything is closed except for this tiny gas station, which conveniently has a drive-thru liquor window on the side of it. No, I’m not kidding.

“So I pull over, call Daniel, and his number is disconnected. Okay, here’s where it gets a tiny bit complicated. Daniel works for a company who has an insurance company. The insurance company hired me, but through a third-party handler. So I don’t have any other contact information. I call the handler and the insurance company, but they are still closed. I use Google and find the company phone number, but the machine says they are still closed, and there is no address. I wait, then call, wait, then call. Pretty soon, an hour has passed and I’m still at the gas station.

“The insurance company calls me back and says they can’t get a hold of anyone. They give me an alternate number for Daniel. It’s disconnected. They encourage me to find a local police officer and ask for directions to the site. I find the police station, it is dark and closed, no phone number, and I’m not calling 911. Another hour passes.

“Finally I get a working number for Daniel. He answers but says ‘hey, Chad, we’ve been waiting to hear from you, but I can’t talk right now. I’m on the toilet.’ Yes! Yes, he actually said that to me! So I wait 15 more minutes to finish my business and Daniel calls me back and says something like ‘Well, we sure did need you this morning, but since you weren’t here, we made do without you.’ He talks about how the company is on some switchback road outside of town and up a mountain, and they have no cell service, but he wonders why I couldn’t find it.

“So it’s now 9 am and I’ve been up for hours, and I’m super frustrated, and I’m driving back down this dumb road out of town. The sun is up now and the fog is worse somehow. And out of nowhere this cop pulls behind me and flashes his lights. I’m driving in a fog, behind a semi, with a cop behind me, and I’m exhausted. We are on a busy road and there is no safe place to pull over, so I drive for a ways looking for a side road. The cop gets impatient and blares his siren, loud, right behind me. I look in the rearview and he is indicating angrily with a finger for me to pull over en-oh-double-you NOW.

“So I pull over, right there in the fog. The cop comes up to my window. ‘Why didn’t you pull over right away!’ I said I was waiting for somewhere safe. ‘I’m the officer and I decide when it’s safe and when it isn’t. You pull over when I say!’ He says I was speeding, takes my information, asks me a dozen questions about why I’m in Wyoming, then makes me wait ten minutes while he writes me a ticket. For speeding. At what he says was 92 miles per hour in a 65. And I tell him there is no way, and he says I can see him next month in court then in Evanston.

“And then I was driving away and I started crying because I’m a big baby and it has been a terrible day, even though I’ll still get paid for sitting in a stupid gas station parking lot for hours, and driving for more.”

“Oh, son, that’s a terrible morning,” my 72 year old mother says. “What a terrible April Fool’s Day. Oh, by the way, I’m pregnant.”

 

Hangry

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Knowing that I would be famished when I finished my workout, I took three dollars into the gym with me, leaving the rest of my belongings securely locked in my car.I hadn’t been to the gym in several days due to work, so I had planned in advance to hit this workout hard, and I hadn’t eaten in six hours, a thick turkey sandwich at lunchtime.

I hit shoulders first, working them to fatigue, then core, then back and triceps, finishing tired. After 30 minutes of stair-climbing at the end, I was ravenous. I walked over to the small protein bar selection at the gym and grabbed something with peanut butter and 30 grams of protein, then waited in line.

About 90 seconds later, I handed the bar and my three dollars to the attendant. “Hey, how was the workout?” he asked.

“It went great. I’m starving now.”

The guy took several seconds to line the red line up with the bar code on the protein bar. “Okay, looks like that will be $3.21. You got 21 cents?”

I looked back behind me at the box. “It says that bar is $2.75.”

“Hmmm… Looks like the computer says it is $3. Plus tax, of course. The label on the product must be wrong.”

“Can you spot me 21 cents?”

“No, sorry, man. Do you have more cash?”

“I’m parked  2 blocks away.” I sighed, grumpy, getting hangry now, and returned to bar to the box. I grabbed a different bar from the same shelf, also labelled $2.75, and turned back around to find a line of three people in front of me.

Over the next four minutes, I was fuming, tempted to rip into the bar and just eat it. A woman had questions about membership, a man needed to check the lost-and-found box, and another man needed to rent some equipment. Finally, it was my turn again.

“Choose a cheaper bar?” he asked, nonchalant. He tried scanning the bar under the little red light, but it wouldn’t take. He tried a second time, a third time. He straightened out the wrapper and tried again, flipped it over, tapped the machine with his hand. “Hmm. The scanner doesn’t seem to be reading this. I can call for help or you can choose another bar.”

I looked at the two people in line behind me and pictured doing this all again. Instead I smiled on the outside, while snarling on the inside, and said, “No, thank you”, and stormed out.

My stomach moaned in hunger and my muscles ached as I drove the two blocks to the grocery store down the road, parked, and marched into the service deli. Two women stood a few feet away, talking and laughing about something. I waited several seconds before I smiled and waved. “Hi, can I order?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you there!” One of the women walked over, smiling. “How can I help?”

“I would like your two-piece chicken meal, please, with potato salad and cole slaw.”

“Oh, the two-piece. How nice. I haven’t sold one of those in hours. Which kind of chicken would you like?” She stood there, with her hands folded.

“Um, I don’t care. The barbecue.”

“Well, we usually have to warm that up, it takes about three minutes.”

“The baked, then.”

“We have to warm that one–”

“The fried. Whatever is fastest.”

“Okay, I’ll get you the fried.”

The woman carefully put on her gloves and took several seconds to inspect the different pieces of fried chicken, carefully selecting two for me. The she looked confused, bent down to check under the counter, turned around to check some shelves, walked away into the kitchen then back out. “Fran, have you seen the two-piece dishes?” But Fran was slicing some cheese and didn’t hear her.

The woman took out a small plastic plate and set the two pieces of chicken on them, then went back into the kitchen for a spoon to use on the cole slaw. “Which kind of cole slaw would you like?”

“I really don’t care. I’m just in a hurry.” My stomach was grumbling and I was getting grumpier by the second.

She took a spoon of the slaw and placed it on the plate, then stepped back to consider. “Oh, that won’t work. The salad will get all over the chicken.” I sighed as she got a small plastic bowl and transferred the slaw to it, then she placed the bowl on the plate. “Well, that’s better, but there is still a mess. Let’s see.” She was talking to herself. She got out a new plate and put the bowl of slaw and the chicken on it, then went back to the kitchen for another spoon.

“What kind of potato salad would you like?”

“Surprise me.” I said it sharply and she got a wounded look on her face as she scooped the salad into another bowl then set it next to the slaw on the plate. She surveyed it for a moment, placed a roll there, then looked back to me.

“Do you want a plastic cover on your plate, or foil?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said, forcing a grin.

The woman began looked around again. “Fran, have you seen the foil?”

Fran heard this time and began looking around at another shelf. “Well, I don’t see the foil, but I do see the two-piece dishes here.”

“Oh, perfect!” The woman was excited as she grabbed a plastic try with three different compartments. She set it next to the plate and began to transfer the chicken and salads over, taking time to scoop the salads out of the bowls and into the different compartments.

It had now been five full minutes and there was a small line of people around me. I clenched my teeth. “Look, I really don’t care how the food is served. I just need food. And there is a line behind me.” I spoke slightly  more sharply than I had intended.

The woman got a hurt look on her face. “I’m so sorry we are taking so long. We weren’t expecting this order and I didn’t have things ready like I should.”

I apologized, but grew even more angry as the two women, ignoring the line behind me, went on a search for the lids for the two-piece dishes, then took a full three minutes to print out the pricing label. I was clenching and unclenching my muscles when she finally handed the order to me. The label was voided out, and the word ‘FREE’ was written on it.

“It’s on us, since we made you wait so long.”

I had no capacity for compassion at the moment, so I simply smiled, grabbed the food, said thanks and headed out the door, tossing the lid and devouring the chicken on my way to the car.

I would have to go back another day and order there again, giving a tip. But I’d make sure to do it when I wasn’t so hangry.