Exit 208

I see you.  I see all of you.  In your sedans, vans and SUV’s.  Your license plates from Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky and even Missouri, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan.  Of course some of you come from just a few hours north of here with Alabama plates.  Regardless I see you. That was me pumping gas.  I live here.

More often than not, you’re happy and totally excited.  Sure… there are times that you seem frustrated or mad…  telling your kids to “stop it” or “you’re not getting that energy drink“.  I hear you insisting that they go to the bathroom… even if they don’t think they have to go.  There are bags of snacks and drinks and kids by the bunches.  Shorts and flip-flops and even the occasional selfies. You trot to the bathroom and shop the cheesy nick-knack gift section. Sometimes your kids have brought their own friends and  maybe you’ve even got the in-laws tagging along for the trip.  All the excitement of traveling to and from vacation… from Spring Break to Labor Day… you stop by a lot.

Sometimes you see me.  I usually have my khakis and button-down shirt on. Occasionally, I’m dressed the part of what some of you might expect to see at an obscure exit deep in the heart of Alabama.  I see it in your eyes… you’re thinking Dueling Banjos may cue up at any moment.  It’s okay, I don’t mind.  By the way, my jeans are tucked into my boots and I’m dripping wet with sweat because I’ve been on my tractor for 5 hours.  You’ve never been rude or condescending… and I’d probably think the same thing if I were in your shoes I guess.

And sometimes when you see me, I know you catch me looking at you.  Rest assured, I hold no ill feelings toward you or your loved ones.  I’m not checking out the wives or daughters traveling south to the beaches of the Gulf Coast.  There is no sinister plot, and I’m not a serial killer or stalker.  I have however become a gawker I guess.

 I once was you.  I once had a wife and a family.  I remember those family trips.  I remember the big trips with my entire extended family included.  But things happen… things like divorce, death and of course children grow older.  So if you see me gawking… it’s only because I’m looking at a reflection of me… years ago.  I’m not bitter or even envious.  I’m just reflecting.  I hope you don’t misinterpret my glances and grins.   To be honest… I’m happy with my life.  I have no more regrets than most people I guess.  I’m simply remembering another time.  Sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago.  In reality,  it wasn’t long ago at all.

I want to tell you things so badly as I hold open the door for you and your kids.  I wanna say, “Go on… let them get that sugar high… you’ll miss this one day!”  I want to tell you to hold your wife’s hand while you drive.  Cherish her bare feet up on the dash and let her pick the radio station she wants to listen to.  Stop at places your kids think might be fun along the way… even if it puts you a little off schedule.  But, I never do.  I usually just grab my own energy drink and a can of Copenhagen… then I’m hitting the interstate myself… or back to my home in the woods.

I hope you recognize the importance of these trips with loved ones.  I hope you know my glances weren’t meant to creep you out or make you feel unwelcome.  I hope you drive safely.  I hope to maybe run into you on your next trip… although it isn’t very likely.

I see you all in your sedans, vans and SUV’s.  That was me pumping gas.  That was me holding the door open for you.  That was me that you held the door open for.  I live here.

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