Gas Station Nancy

As I prepare to pack up and move to D.C. this week, I’ve been doing my best to try and say goodbye to the people that have come to mean the most to me. I picked up my friend in Maryville a couple nights ago, and as we were driving back, I announced, We have to stop by and see Nancy. She didn’t understand, Who is Nancy? I was almost disgusted by her forgetfulness. Anna, we have to see Nancy. At the EZ Stop. Nancy with the frosted tips. Anna and I had befriended Nancy sometime last year, as we made entirely too many trips to get cigarettes after midnight. She usually works the late shift, so I was confident we would run into her during our 1:00am excursion. As we pulled up to the store, no one was behind the counter. Nothing new: Nancy is usually out smoking or literally hiding in the bathroom or back in the gas station office. As Anna perfectly imitated, she always appears out of some place random and yells out, “Oh! I was just cleaning,” as if she ever had to give us a reason for being misplaced. But she really wasn’t there this time; we saw the door to the Gatorade open and immediately knew it wasn’t her. Nancy does a lot of things at the gas station, but the one thing she does not do is work, let alone stock the Gatorades. As I left, I began to consider the people that I befriend; most 22 year old men do not befriend 60 something year old gas station workers, especially the ones with frosted tips.

Nancy and me, the night before my graduation.
But I have all these very interesting, very odd friends that I’m not particularly sure how I ended up befriending. I have this weird ability to reach out to just about anyone I meet and find some kind of commonality. Nancy and I met over a pack of cigarettes, and eventually we found common ground on the fact that most of our extended family has been in jail for one thing or another. She told me I reminded her a lot of her son, though from the picture I saw, I would never be caught dead in a white suit, but that’s beside the point; Nancy and I had something special, and even if it was originally a running joke, I find ways to connect to people in the oddest circumstances.
But it’s really no surprise; I always connect with the people that others are most unlikely to connect to. I can’t say it’s always a productive thing, as I probably take chances on people that I shouldn’t. Before we even started college, members of our class starting friending one another on Facebook. I thought it was a pretty normal thing, so I played along. Anyone that sent me a friend request was accepted, and I didn’t find that to be a problem until we started living on campus.

After a couple days, I was sitting in the dining hall eating a bowl of cereal when a girl appeared behind me. I didn’t see her, but I heard her, kind of in the same fashion that Helga from Hey Arnold always heard that one kid with the glasses breathing behind her. I turned around and there she was, inches away from my body. I looked up and said hello, and she responded, You’re the boy that lives in my computer. It was the exact kind of moment when you want as many people to be around as possible, as the chance that the next action could end with you getting knifed or chloroformed, but alas, it was just the two of us. I didn’t know what to say, so in desperation, I asked her if she wanted to sit down. That was all that was said, and she spent the rest of breakfast staring at me as I finished my bowl of cereal. And that’s the trouble with befriending anyone and everyone… you have some hits and misses, and then sometimes, you have people that just stare at you the entire way through your otherwise normal breakfast.
But if there’s one job that someone like myself should probably never have, it’s waiting. I’ve had the opportunity to meet entirely too many people this summer, and when I really like them, I want to take them home with me like a dollar on the ground or a lost kitten. And the problem is that most of the people that I feel this way about are people that are most definitely not acceptable in social situations. As a couple of old ladies walked into Big Mike’s this summer, Marsha looked around at me and said, Stay away from them. Those are the whores of Seymour. I glanced to confirm who I’d seen; yep, they were easily in their late 60s, probably 70s. If I didn’t already love them just from seeing them, knowing they were the neighborhood whores only made me love them more. I immediately grabbed their table, hoping for some conversational diamonds in the rough. They asked me if I had graduated high school yet, which from anyone else would have been offensive. I explained that I was going to graduate school in the fall and one of them told me that I should just stay and date her, an offer that I would have gladly accepted because I love me some cougars.
Soon, they began asking me about school and where I would go. I told them that I would be moving to DC to go to Georgetown and a grim look came over both of their faces. The oldest one turned to me and practically yelled out, You know there’s colored people all over the place up there. A sweet boy like you’s gonna be walkin’ around all sweetly up there and one of those black people’s gonna come up and knock the shit out of you. Leave you right there on the street, bleedin’. I am very rarely stunned beyond words, but I didn’t know what to say. The other one chimed in, It’s a damn shame. You’re such a nice boy. I wasn’t sure if I should have been more offended that they used “colored” in context as if that’s just a normal thing to say or if I should be more afraid that they’ve already written me off for dead. It was like I told them that I had been drawn at the reaping to go into The Hunger Games. I could just imagine them saying, He was such a nice tribute, but he’s no career. I started wondering if maybe Marsha was looking out for my best interest; maybe it was best to stay away from the whores of Seymour, even if they did leave me a five dollar tip for bringing them out pie.
Regardless, I refuse to give up on my search for out of the box awkward friends because in the mass of breakfast creepers and racist old women, there’s a Nancy hiding in there somewhere. And maybe it is a bad quality, going around and befriending strangers, but there’s something about the obscurity of it that draws me in every time. And even when they’re super racist old ladies, there’s something charming in the fact that they look out for my best interest by warning me of my unofficial race-related death. If you don’t talk to people, you never get the chance to get to know them, and even if you don’t get to know them, you miss out on the opportunity to hear the absurd and sometimes creepy things that people say. It’s weird that as I’m about to leave, Nancy is one of the people that pops into my head to tell goodbye, but aren’t we supposed to have an impact in as many lives as we can? Life is too short to ignore people that you don’t think you have time to get to know. If you happen to find yourself in the Maryville area and desperately in search for overpriced gas, stop in at the EZ Stop and tell Nancy I said hello; she’ll know who you’re talking about.

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