Musing about the probability of patrons contracting hookworms from a fish and chicken restaurant’s “special” combo meal, we try to identify the gas station on the outskirts of Birmingham that’ll be the least likely to steal our debit card information.
“Let’s go ahead and fill up so my feet don’t have to touch the ground in Mississippi.”
“Alright. I’ll pump. You go pee.”
Andy disappears into the restroom on the other side of the pumps. But before I fill the tank, he’s back. (And since it takes approximately two minutes to top off a Prius, that’s saying something.)
“That was quick. How is it?”
“The door’s broken, the toilet paper dispenser’s busted open, and there’s shit smeared on the walls.”
“There’s no soap.”
*Cue Psycho music*
“Well, I have to pee. Good thing we brought the industrial-sized Purell.”
Here’s the thing: I loathe public restrooms.
And while I completely appreciate their First World luxurious utility, I still can’t quite ever recover from the horrors that often wait inside, or on, the character-depressed concrete block walls. It’s like all social etiquette disappears, and it becomes completely acceptable for your child to channel their inner Pollock and use a very natural medium to express themselves.
So, as I stand on my tiptoes to avoid as much floor-caked muck as possible, push one leg back to hold the door closed with my foot, and squint my eyes closed enough to fuzz out the inadvertent Gerber ad covering the wall while I pee, I realize I might’ve been able to play Bjork’s stand-in for Dancer in the Dark.
I pirouette to the door and nearly knock out another brave soul venturing into the abyss.
Andy already has the car started and is looking toward the bathroom. After I get in, he pumps a massive Purell blob into the palm of my outstretched hand.
“Let’s get the hell out of here.”
I stare out the window at another billboard and contemplate my need for pro laser liposuction.
As we near the Mississippi state line, it starts misting, making the desolate landscape that much more enjoyable.
“It’s no wonder these people cling to Jesus. I doubt there’s a Starbucks around here.”
“But, lo! The Mississippi Welcome Center. Do you want to stop and pee?”
“Not really. But I’d rather here than another gas station.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure there’s shit on these walls, too.”
“And a strung up gay in the bathroom asking, ‘Is my Miata still in the parking lot?’”
We laugh at the problematically macabre mental imagery, park in the deserted lot, inhale, and jog up to the porch.
An elderly woman sweeps three oppressive leaves off the Spartan sidewalk and sings hymns.
Andy and I exchange looks and open the double doors.
We walk in and three voices chime in sync, stopping us cold.
“Well, hello there. Would you both like some apple cider?”
We turn to face three elderly blue-haired women smiling thinly from behind the courtesy desk. Each is bedecked in a Christmas turtleneck sweater.
“Laced with Jesus?” Andy mumbles under his breath.
“No, but thanks.”
On the road again, we start a riveting game of I Spy.
“I spy destitution.”
“I spy filth.”
And repeat until Memphis.
We pull up to a dimly lit gas station, with bubbas clutching forties streaming out into elevated pickups.
“Let’s be sure to turn down Celine before opening the door.”
Andy goes in. I punch the uncooperative machine’s buttons, muttering expletives at the repeated “Transaction cancelled” message. Bubbas start looking over at my conversation.
Andy returns right as I explode at the machine.
“Come on, we’re leaving. If this fucking place can’t get their shit together, they’re not getting our money! Turn Celine back on.”
A Jesus-centric billboard with the website IsHeInYou.com provides egregious fodder for the rest of the evening. And the sign for Catfish Chicken Chinese Restaurant staves off our appetites until Little Rock.
Johnny Cash queues onto the playlist.
“Did he just say ‘draining my eye’? Like, peeing?”
“No. That reminds me, though, I have to pee. I couldn’t back there. But I think I’d rather go in my Starbucks cup.”
Before long, we pull up to our hotel, succumb to the requisite valet parking, and go up to our room where I promptly redistribute our wet laundry from Alabama across every piece of furniture. (It’s a funny thing, the whole off-grid life: it also means your highly environmentally-friendly, green dryer doesn’t dry quite as quickly as regular ones.)
So as clothes dry in the room, and we curse Little Rock’s downtown establishments for not being open on Sunday, we compromise.
On a sports bar.
Tired and drained, we collapse into our seats and find ourselves actually watching football. But then we get melted cheese and bread and fried goodness and appletinis and everything is right with the world and we go back to judging the fifty-somethings next to us who can’t keep their hands off each other’s goods.
“Well, Jesus made the rounds tonight. I mean, really, He had to have been in a lot of people for this much to be closed.”
We laugh. Walk down the deserted street. Then settle down for the night.
With our sweet sacrilege to tuck us in.