I asked my fellow travelers if they would like anything; they responded with a curt “No.” As I got out of the car, I glanced toward the pickup. That is when I saw her. At first I wasn’t sure, the pink shirt and pony tail screamed “woman”, but the dirty fingernails, beefy forearms, and wispy mustache whispered “androgynous trucker.” Though the glance was fleeting as I hurried into the store, the image was seared in my brain.
As I walked toward the store, I instinctively patted by back pocket to be sure I hadn’t been pick-pocketed while walking across the parking lot. As I approached the entrance, two preteen boys opened the door for me. At first I was warmed by the gesture, but then I saw the pack of cigarettes in the husky kid’s hand. They were shoplifting cigarettes and using me as a human shield to block the cashier’s line of sight. As an added measure, they were using their apparent act of politeness as misdirection. After all, criminals don’t hold doors open. As an amateur magician, I could appreciate the technical skill of their shenanigans. As a member of society, I bristled at the thought that these kids are probably smart enough to avoid capture.
The inside of the store was shocking. It was as if every convenience store stereotype suddenly came to life at this very point in time. My senses were invaded by the overpowering scent of turnips and bacon. The cashier was wearing a turban and of obvious Middle Eastern descent. With his arms crossed, he gave me a stern nod as if to challenge me to shoplift something. I could only imagine what he had behind the counter. A bat? Pepper spray? A .38 special?
A fidgety man stood by the rack of over-the-counter medication. He appeared to be fumbling with a box of Sudafed. The moment he noticed me, he jumped slightly. The unfamiliar face seemed to add to his paranoia. Did he think I was a drug enforcement officer? For good measure, I glanced his way a few times as if I were noting the details of his appearance. If I would have had more time, I may have even pretended to talk into a radio concealed in the sleeve of my hoodie.
I found the rack of maps, picked out a laminated Buffalo Metro area map, paid, and headed back to the car. As I rounded the corner of the building, I saw the same junk-filled pickup. The driver was reflexively clenching and releasing his/her hands. Was it obsessive/compulsive disorder? Maybe it was a methamphetamine-induced tick… this could be the wheel man… err, wheel person for the meth head in the store. I approached the car, opened the door, and quickly stole a glance toward the pickup. She (I’m sure of that now) was looking directly at me. Even though I immediately averted my eyes, that smile will be with me forever. It was a smile of innocence, much like you would see on the face of a child at their first afternoon baseball game. Despite their state of decay, all three of her teeth were proudly displayed. I can’t be sure, but I think she may have winked.
I opened the door and hopping in the car. My traveling companions were giggling like school girls. Shelly said something to the effect of “Mark, I think Marsha wants to offer her services!” Marsha… okay, a little back story is in order. Prior to beginning the trip, the four of us exchanged Facebook messages. At some point, I jokingly suggested we stop at a Canadian strip club to take advantage of the maybe-mythical combination of full nudity and alcohol service. Jesse offered to pay for a table dance for all of us, but we’d need an extra-big dancer. He named his fictitious plus-sized dancer “Marsha Mallow.” Since it was unlikely we’d make it to said adult entertainment establishment, it seemed only fitting to bestow the “Marsha Mallow” name on our shaky new meth-smoking friend.
As we pulled away, we rattled off a litany of jokes. One of us commented that Mark gave her his phone number to enlist her services to help reduce that pre-race tension. Someone else commented on the untold pleasures that could be provided by her near-toothless mouth. Needless to say, the cumulative effects of spending about ten hours on the road were having an adverse effect on our ability to self-edit.
Shelly and I switched spots. As we learned on the freeways of Los Angeles, we work best in unfamiliar places if she drives and I navigate. She can’t read a map to save her life, and I have no ability to respond quickly to verbal directions. Once the roles are reversed, I can use my cartographic skill to plot out our location and destination; she can use her aggressive disregard for traffic rules and the basic laws of physics to get us there in a timely fashion. Based on my expert calculations, we would be arriving at Shelly V.’s doorstep in about 90 minutes.
Now that I was free of driving duties, I could take care of more important tasks. The first order of business- eat a few fistfuls of licorice. I could feel my blood-sugar levels plummeting… I had to continue my strict carb loading regimen.
Serving as the navigator also allowed me to find a YouTube video we discussed earlier in the trip: “Spiders on Drugs.” It gave us a catch phrase we’d use for the rest of the trip, “Building webs is for suckas!” Of course, we used it for anything and everything imaginable. “We’d see an obese gentleman mowing his lawn- “Mowing grass is for suckas!” We’d talk about Marsha “Oral hygiene is for suckas!” You get the picture.
The rest of the trip to Rochester was relatively uneventful as fatigue was quickly building. Without making any wrong turns (surely due to my superior navigation skills), we made it to Rochester. As we pulled up to our hotel, we had to evade a horde of elderly people milling about. Mark wondered aloud if we were actually staying in an assisted living facility. Truth be told, having a nurse on-call wouldn’t be a bad thing given the physical state we would be in the following day.
We checked in and dragged our luggage to our rooms. I showered, changed into my best camouflage t-shirt, piled back into the car, and headed to Shelley’s house. I was excited but apprehensive. I’ve known Shelley via the Interwebs for around a year, but had never met in person. I had recently met a lot of online friends, and it was a really positive experience. Shelley also had several friends and race participants at her house. I think I was more nervous about that. I knew some were expected to do extremely well. It would be a bit intimidating, yet I was eager to pick their brains.
The rest of the evening was defined by one singular phrase Mark spontaneously uttered. It was a moment Shelly, Jesse, and I thought was hilarious, but I suspect it shocked and possibly mortified the rest of the crowd at Shelley’s house. What did Mark say? Stay tuned.