Waiting for inspiration to strike is another way of letting yourself off the hook.
I used to run. There were days when it was a drag. There were days when it was the most energizing thing ever. With work, play, writing, etc.…. I have good days and bad days. Days when I’m in the zone and days when I’m not. It was the routine that mattered. Good days or bad… just get up and do it, regardless. There’s a lesson there.
This journey is about (re)building my world around writing. And so I write. Good days, bad days….every day.
I write essays like this. It has a deadline, it gives me practice on every level, it goes through an editing process (gulp), and someone somewhere just might read it.
It is like practicing scales before you write music.
It is like stretching your muscles before you run.
What to write about…. If you follow Anne Lamott’s advice and be an intentional observer, stories are everywhere. Like last week, when my errand was simple: to deliver a small vanilla milkshake before getting home in time to watch the sunset…..
The sight of a truck grill filling my rearview mirror gave me pause the other day. I was doing the speed limit, enjoying the sunshine, planning to catch the sunset, and taking care of one last errand-my good deed for the day. I was making a quick stop to see one of the great good guys. 89 years old. Gracious. Wise. Kind. And a lover of McDonald’s vanilla milkshakes.
At 89, if a small, vanilla milkshake makes you smile, then by gosh, you’re getting a milkshake, if I have anything to do with it.
At first sight, the close up of the grill in my mirror made me worry that I had gotten lost in my thoughts and inadvertently slowed down. (My inclination to immediately assume that something is my fault is the reason I’m in therapy. Trust me, I’m working on it.)
Reflexively, I sped up a bit. As did he. I realized I was now doing 60+ in a 35-mph zone.
He was so close I could make out the bug splatter on his grill. He accelerated. Again. I had heard a story recently about a friend whose car was repeated tapped from behind…. Not where my mind needed to go at this minute.
McDonalds was coming up on my right. At this speed, there was no way I could slow down in time to make the turn with this guy on my bumper. I saw a bit of a McShoulder in front of the restaurant and pulled hard to the right, flung gravel in various directions, brought my car to a stop and hoped to see the taillights of the dude in the truck barreling down the road.
As I caught my breath and looked to my left, wanting to get a look at the jerk, there was no sign of him.
Glad to have lost him, I navigated the gravel and the shoulder and the traffic and eased in the Exit Only driveway on the far side of the McDonalds. With the idiot gone, the small vanilla milkshake was once again my priority. And a large, iced tea for me. I deserved it.
I am of the opinion that you don’t make an 89-year-old wait.
I pulled up to the drive through. I love the two laners they have at McDonalds! Pleased to see that I had pulled in at a rare moment of quiet. Only one car in the left lane. No one in the right lane.
Good mood, good intentions restored.
I pulled into the right lane, advanced forward, put my window down and started to order, when I heard shouting from somewhere in the parking lot. “You f’ing idiot.” “Why don’t you f’ing learn how to f’ing drive.” “Crazy b…” Someone was ticked. Really ticked. I glanced to my left. The bug splattered grill of the truck looked familiar.
Florida man. I have heard about them. They are like alligators down here….. You can find one anywhere and they are to be avoided.
Florida man and his oversized truck was now in the lane beside me. The word “escalating” came to mind.
I focused on the menu board and ordered an iced tea for me, and a vanilla milk shake for my 89 year old. And paused.
“Anything else?” the voice asked at the menu.
I glanced over. Florida Man had ordered, pulled forward slightly. And stopped.
There was no one ahead of him. This guy should have moved forward (he was in such a hurry after all). There was no reason for him to stop, unless he was being nice (doubt it) or….. wanted me in front of him. Bumper tapping story flash back.
“Anything else?” the employee asked again.
“Still thinking….” I replied, stalling for time.
Florida man finally pulled forward.
“That will be all, thanks.” I said in the general vicinity of the speaker and pulled in behind Florida Man. I left plenty of distance between us.
I thought for a second that I should take a photo of his license plate, in case this did in fact escalate, and then I decided against it. If he saw me taking a picture that could further inflame this. There were security cameras in the drive through. That’s what they do on TV after a crime—the police go to the scene of the crime and pull security footage. Once again, the lessons of Law & Order directed my actions.
Florida man paid and pulled forward.
My turn….. I pulled forward to pay for my iced tea and vanilla milk shake, the staff person at the register told me “the guy in front of you paid for yours.” I was stunned.
I do that on occasion. A random act of kindness. A hope that you make someone’s day. This guy didn’t strike me as a random-act-of-kindness-kind-of-guy. Maybe I misjudged him. Maybe he felt bad about riding my tail and running me off the road and screaming f bombs at me and taunting me in the drive through. Maybe he paid for my drinks to say “So sorry ma’am, I’m having a really bad day.”
Sure. That made perfect sense. He was going to turn this whole thing around with an act of kindness. I started to feel bad that I had misjudged him. That I let myself be intimidated. The poor guy, he’s just having a bad day. We’ve all had days when we were more impatient than we wanted. More short tempered than we would have liked.
I gestured a small wave when he looked in the rearview mirror to thank him. He stared back.
He was now at the food pick up window, and I was behind him.
My breathing was slowing, my heart stopped pounding, my faith in humanity restored.
I saw him take a large bag from the employee. Taking home lunch for his kids, I assumed. What a nice guy.
I saw him hold up a receipt and point behind him. Then I watched a large, iced tea and a small vanilla milkshake go into his car.
I had ordered a large, iced tea and a small vanilla shake. That was my order, going into his car. For a second I thought he’s going to get out, hand me my drinks and apologize in person. A bit over the top, I thought, but okay.
He pulled forward just a few feet and put his car in park.
I inched forward so I wasn’t at the pay window anymore.
He looked in his rear-view mirror and we made eye contact for a second.
Then he held the large, iced tea and small vanilla shake out the driver’s side window of his car, turned both cups upside down and squeezed them so the lid and contents of both drinks exploded out in all directions. Ice bounced off the side of the building, lids went in opposite directions, vanilla ice cream splattered all over the pavement.
It was a McMassacre.
Florida Man DUMPED THE TWO DRINKS into the parking lot.
He threw his truck into gear and peeled off. Tyres screeching, exhaust filling the air and his left arm out the window, to give me the finger as a parting gesture.
As I’ve told this story to friends, they laughed “Classic. We were waiting for you to encounter a Florida Man.”
Why does he get to be a Florida Man? Why do we reward bad behavior by making celebrating it?
I thought about my kind, gracious, wise 89 year-old, and his milkshake splattered in the parking lot.
I thought about the joy of the vanilla milkshake, and I wasn’t going to let this jack ass sour it.
When my kids were little and we’d watch a movie or tv show that made them uneasy, I’d encourage them to stick with it and remind them that the good guys always win.
As I sat there looking at the McMassacre, a store manager came up to my car with a large, iced tea and a small vanilla milkshake. She had seen what had happened and replaced the two beverages. Another staffer was coming out to clean up the McSlpatter along the wall.
There are more good guys than bad. The good guys do win. My 89 year old got his milk shake. And karma will remember Florida man.
No one will be bringing that guy a milkshake when he’s 89 and needing a boost in his day.