It was almost midnight. Only one other truck sat under the bright fluorescent lights, its driver nowhere in sight. I twisted the cap back on the second fuel tank. Out of habit I locked both doors before I walked into the truck stops convenience store.
My eyes darted around, checking everywhere for anything out of the ordinary. It was my habit developed over a year of driving across the country by myself. I entered the store and looked for the restroom sign.
Huge letters spelled out R E S T R O O M S hung on the far wall, shouted to everyone that the bathrooms were this way. After taking care of things, I gathered the supplies I needed: windshield washer fluid, a bottle of milk, and a box of cereal. There’s nothing like the breakfast of champions for your dinner in the middle of the night.
I made my way to the checkout. When I first came in no one had been in line. Now six of us waited for our turn. We stood quietly, too tired to make small talk with strangers. The man at the register paid and left; we shuffled a couple of steps forward filling the empty space.
The door to the truck side of the truck stop opened and an old man walked in. From thirty feet away my nose hairs cowered. Every person in line couldn’t help but look to see what smelled so bad.
The old man was skinny and his filthy, greasy, stained overalls hung loosely on him. The shirt he wore must have been white when he bought it, but now was a color that didn’t even exist in a crayon box with 96 colors.
I’m not sure why he picked me, maybe because I was holding a gallon of windshield fluid. Stopping two feet from me he brandished his one-toothed smile at me and said loudly, “If you come out to my truck I’ll show you the time of your life.”
I stared at the cashier, willing her to go faster. All I wanted was to eat a bowl of cereal and go to bed — by myself! She busied herself with the customer at the counter.
Figuring I must not have heard him, he took a step closer to me. Unconsciously I retreated a step, but not out of fear; this guy reeked! “You got something against middle-aged men?” he demanded even louder.
My mind did a double take. This guy looked at least 110 years-old! He was middle-aged half a century ago. Outwardly I ignored him and stared at the cashier.
“I’ll have you know I can go all night!” the smelly old man bragged. “You’d be a new woman by morning. No one’s ever been disappointed with my. . .” He grabbed his crotch and shook it.
“Go away. I’m not interested.” Contempt dripped from me. I glanced at the cashier, she shrugged, seemingly unwilling or unsure about getting rid of this nasty old man.
Another customer gratefully dashed from the store and away from the uncomfortable scene playing out. The line moved again.
“Is that your truck in the fuel island or is it parked in the lot?”
“Leave me alone,” I warned, again looking to the cashier to see if she would back me up. No such luck, she was overly engrossed with the woman at the counter. The two others in line, a man and a woman, shot me looks of sympathy but neither one stepped up to help send the man away and both looked back down at the floor.
Again the old man tried to close the distance between us. I stepped toward the counter creating space. He put out his arms, presenting himself like a trophy. “I don’t understand why you’re playing hard to get. Look at me, with my tongue and my. . .”
“Enough!” I yelled. Heads snapped in my direction. Before that they’d been pretending nothing was going on. I wanted to get out of here, park my truck, eat, and go to bed. Instead my sense of smell was dying and a creepy old man wanted my body, I’d had enough. “What gives you the right to come in here and harass me? I told you twice to leave me alone! Go away!”
His body moved backward like I’d hit him. “I’m just tryin’ to give you a good time. Don’t you like men?” he whined.
Good grief! “Listen up old man,” I hissed. “You are nasty and vile! I smelled you the second you walked in the door. Your greasy hair hasn’t seen a comb this decade. You obviously have never heard of a washer and dryer. I feel sorry for your clothes because they have to touch your disgusting body! I am not interested in some smelly, obnoxious bastard that believes he is God’s gift to women. There isn’t a woman in this state that would get in your truck, even if you paid her. You’re every bad cliché about truck drivers rolled into one pathetic excuse for a man. Now get out of here or I’ll call the cops!”
Silence fell over the store. The old man opened his mouth to say something when the other customers began applauding me. The cashier picked up the phone and said, “I’m dialing 911 in 3 seconds. One…”
She didn’t get any farther because the old man spun around and stomped out of the store. We watched as he crawled in the cab of a truck and drove out of the truck stop. Relief flooded through me, because I’d been trying to decide what to do. My safety had been completely compromised.
The cashier quickly helped the other customers and they left. I set the items on the counter that I’d been holding all this time. “I’ll be right back,” I told her. A minute later I came back with a king size chocolate bar. “After that I need some chocolate.”
The woman looked at me and smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry. I had no idea what to do, nothing like that has ever happened before. I won’t charge you for your food.”
I could tell she was sincere. “Thank you. But listen, if something like that does happen again call the cops. It’s very dangerous for someone like that to know which truck is mine. I’m not safe if he knows what my truck looks like, I’m not safe parked in the lot, and I’m not safe leaving because he could follow me and the problem chases me down the road. This is true for any woman who’s driving alone.You have to call the cops.”
She nodded, “I will, I promise.”
I paid for the fuel and windshield washer fluid before hurrying out the door to my truck. I climbed in and locked the door. It was time to park this truck for the night. The big diesel engine rumbled to life, I put it in gear and went to find a parking spot. What a day!
So what do you think? Is this a true story or a fictional one? What would you have done if you were one of the customers in line or the cashier?