One Little Thing and Life in a Small Town


It strikes me as peculiar how one little thing can change the course of our existence so quickly. Some of life’s greatest tragedies occur in a mere second, altering everything that follows. On a lighter note, but just as peculiar to me, I was jolted to accept one of these abrupt turns of fate on my way to work one morning.
I pulled up to a gas pump at the station closest to home. Although I found only $3 in my wallet, I didn’t want my fuel to get any lower. I usually plan ahead, have enough cash with me, and fill it up, but, lately, I’ve been less likely to have the cash, since my present vehicle takes as much as $35 to fill.
Yes, I could use plastic in the card-friendly, keypad arrangement conveniently placed at each pump, but so far, I refuse to spend my time trying to master yet another set of electronic buttons, especially in full view of one of the main streets of traffic in our small town.
I shut off the minivan, folded my $3 neatly in my coat pocket, and stepped into brisk morning air. At $2.10 a gallon, I passed my $3 limit in seconds, but, knowing there were several quarters in the ash tray, I topped myself an extra 50 cents worth, hung up the hose, and pulled on my driver’s door latch to add two quarters to my pocket … when that one little thing happened.
My door was locked as I gazed through the window at the keys resting on the open ash tray above my loose change. I must have bumped the power lock button, which is right beside the door lever. I made a couple fruitless attempts to open the doors, pulling up again on the driver’s latch and again on the other side although I knew the van was obviously locked tight. I imagined myself, just for a second, breaking a window to get at my stuff, which was so close, but so completely out of reach.
Clearly stranded, I walked to the checkout counter in the convenience store that accompanied the gas station, handed the clerk my bills, and apologized that I would have to give her the 50 cents as soon as I got my car open since my keys were locked inside.
I asked her if she thought a policeman from the station located in that same block could help. An officer quickly arrived and explained that he didn’t have the right equipment to open power locked doors. He asked if I had AAA. I felt silly for bothering him, I had reached for the closest source of help, but not the most logical. He asked his dispatcher to call them.
As I waited in the warmth of the store, I sensed I was interrupting the quick flow of patrons set on their morning’s purposes. I moved from aisle to aisle trying to keep out of the way, and, although the clerk, Carla, had immediately put me at ease with friendly sympathy, I went back out to stand by the van.
It was a beautiful sunny morning that promised to turn into the nicest day we’d had in a week.
A friend, a retired school principal, heard my dilemma, and tried out a key that has opened his daughter’s car, but not mine.
A former co-worker from my banking days walked over to chat. “How you doin’?” he asked. We hugged and grinned. “Fine,” I answered.
Why did I say fine, I thought? I just locked myself out of my car, I’m going to be late for work; nothing about this day is going to turn out the way I thought it would, but, I was fine.
I physically felt pretty chipper (not always the case anymore), I had just connected with several people I would not have had time to speak to if I’d stuck with my morning’s plan, and my little prayer that I find inspiration for a column in the next hour had been answered.
The AAA wrecker appeared like cavalry troops, galloping from beyond the horizon. Its driver pulled out a blue plastic gizmo in one hand, a thin rod he had chosen according to my make of car in the other, and, zip, zip, the lock was up, and the passenger door was open.
Stepping back in the groove, I was on my way to work, I had something to write about, and I decided one more time that for every little thing that can go wrong there is probably a little thing that can go right.


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