“The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well.”
— Joe Ancis
They moved slowly and mechanically like zombies on a hot, summer day. An intense sun had been beating down on them all afternoon.
It was 5:30pm on a Friday afternoon. The gas station lanes were mostly empty, only a few cars were being filled. The skinny attendants moved lethargically from car to car, apparently unexcited by the approaching weekend, or too tired to care. Their blue uniforms, bordered with sweaty lines, blended into the alternating shadows of light and dark. I pulled in, but there was no hurry to pump the gas.
I gave the attendant my card and repeated what I have said a thousand times before, “Fill. Regular.” He took the plastic payment nonchalantly, slid it into the reader, then handed it back. He opened the gas cover, bumping the car slightly without thought and without care.
“It’ll be a minute.” he said, his brow dripping.
I nodded, got out of my car, and went into the air conditioned station. Being an almost new building, it still retained it’s newness, but signs of wear were peaking through. I proceeded to the coolers. Gatorade was on sale for an inflated, yet expected price. The sign encouraged me to buy. I complied. Mechanically.
Two red drinks in my hand, I went to the cash register. I stood at the empty counter. I waited. After a minute, a large woman peered from behind a door. “Be with you in a second,” she called. I waited longer. She eventually came to the front and rang me up. Needing some small change, I offered her a $20 bill. She fumbled with my change, unpracticed in cash. I took it patiently.
“I owe you 2 cents,” she said as she reached for the penny jar.
I replied with a smile, declining the dirty rust-colored coins, “Just consider it my 2 cents worth.”
She looked at me with a glaze, not sure if I was joking or not. I wished her a good day and left the station, two drinks in hand. The gas had stopped pumping, but the tube was still attached to my car. No attendant was there. I put the drinks in the passenger seat. The car in front of me drove away. I waited.
Eventually the attendant arrived to take out the pump. He handed me my receipt. In the same moment, I gave him the two cherry Gatorades. He paused, looked at the bottles, then did something odd.
He came back to life.
He got excited. He laughed. He smiled. “Wow! Thanks man. This is great, thanks so much!” he exclaimed, appearing quite genuine. “I really appreciate it.” He seemed to really quiver with excitement as a bit of shade covered him.
Perhaps to a gas station attendant, two Gatorades on a summer day means something. Maybe he’s down on his luck. Possibly, he saw me walk out with them and wished he could have them. It doesn’t much matter why he came back to life. Just that for a short time, he did.
I told him to stay cool and drove off slowly with a wave, a gentle breeze coming through the window. I looked in the mirror. He was still alive with excitement.
It was one kind act, infused with time and intention, for a stranger who didn’t appear to care about much. But appearances can be deceiving. For a zombie came to life under the hot sun that afternoon, as did I.
Nothing extraordinary. Two Gatorades can’t really raise the dead. But perhaps infused with kindness, time and intention, they might bring the living back to life.
If nothing else, one kind act can make a few ordinary minutes seem a little less ordinary. On a normal, summer day.
Yesterday’s gift of time … Brought a couple drinks to a stranger.