There are two small drawbacks to writing this blog. First, I commit to too many things and, by necessity, I commit to them in writing. I recently stated my intention on this blog, that is to say, pledged publicly and permanently, to write a series of stories based on my eldest son’s dreams. But this blog’s tagline is, “The words I have to get out of my head.” You see, it is somewhat of an indulgence. Things come to me that I feel a pressing weight to create and explore and write down. It is an indulgence to myself. So if I commit to writing a series about only my son’s dreams and some new inspiration comes along – and it always does – then I’ll write about that instead. Sue me.
In this case, at least it’s not too far afield. Which brings me to the second problem. A good portion of people who read this blog are people who know me, and from time to time, it’s them who I am writing about. Many stories and musings here should have the disclaimer you see on TV, “Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.” Now that’s not true, but it would apply for legal reasons I mean.
All this to say that my wife caught me calling her dreams boring. I thought this may cause some blowback. On the contrary. After reading my blog about her dreams and how exciting my dreams were by comparison, she found herself agreeing. She told me about a dream she just had that contained several exciting elements, but her brain somehow made her participation in the dream boring and mundane anyway. I found that so funny that I thought I would write about that instead. Enjoy.
Judy was not used to even sparing a glance as she passed by the intersection of Dunworth Rd. and Spade Ave. She was always on the lookout for a deal on gas prices, on anything really, and you would think this unique spot in the city would represent a triple-threat of potential savings, but you would be wrong. On the north side of the street, on each corner lay a Crossroads gas station, the biggest gas and convenience chain in the metropolitan area. On the southwest corner? Wouldn’t you know it, a Crossroads.
Now you may think, what a bizarre inefficiency. But again you would be wrong. You see, just to the west was a bridge that stretched out over the highway. In every direction there were ramps to merge onto that highway which meant U-turns were a big no-no going east-west anywhere on Spade Ave. North-south on Dunworth Rd? No better luck. Big-box stores stretched out for half a kilometre in each direction – the kind with no deals good enough for Judy to stop at. With all those eager shoppers sitting in the middle of the road waiting to turn, the city put in a big fat median so you’d have to drive that half kilometre to the light if you wanted to turn around and get onto the other side of the street.So you see, you weren’t getting anywhere near a different gas station than the one you were already driving by.
The fourth corner of the intersection had one of those KFC-Taco Bell combos, which was also not to Judy’s taste. What did that mean for Judy? Most days it meant she breezed right through without a second thought. But not today. Judy was on her way across town for gas already. She had gotten a tip in her Cedarvale Moms Great Deals Whatsapp group that an off-brand station was selling for 112.5 cents/litre – almost three cents cheaper than the three stations she was about to pass.
Judy’s family had tried at length to convince her of the folly of spending $10 in gas driving across the city to save a single buck, but she would have none of it. She told them she would fill her car how she liked. That was her attitude to their faces. When she started to grow concerned that they may be right, she privately sat down with a pen and paper. She calculated the distance to the gas stations with the best prices that she often went out of her way for. She searched up her car’s gas mileage, adjusting for the inefficiency of an eight-year-old vehicle. She knew her Toyota Rav 4 had a 60 L tank. Add it all up, carry the 5, and she was right. It was only a single buck that she spent on the driving, not the saving. If she was almost empty, in fact, she could save three dollars, easy. She’d never confront her detractors with that information – not Judy’s style – but she’d definitely file it away in her internal, “I’m right” folder and go one with the savings.
But if Judy thought three dollars was worth the trip, oh boy was she in for a treat today. A normal person who was looking for a deal might quickly survey this petroleum rich intersection to see if any signs showed a lower price than the others. Amateurs. Judy’s gas saving game was so far above the average person’s that she may as well have been guilty of insider trading. Not only were all three of the stations Crossroads, Judy knew they were all owned by the same man: Wes. And Wes was good. To this day, she had never once seen a crack in the consistency of his gas prices. With no one to compete against and it not being worth the hassle to go anywhere else, every day the prices adjusted to the market rate and to each other within seconds: six a.m. and six p.m., just like clockwork.
Then it happened. No matter how lax and unprepared she allowed her deal hawk skills to be when she was driving through this intersection on a normal day, she could never miss a sight like this. Out of the corner of her eye, like catching the flash of a sniper rifle pointed your way in a foxhole, Judy saw the spin of plummeting numbers on the price sign of the southwest Crossroads.
Judy began to slow down, eyes no longer paying any attention to the road. As she craned her neck up, she saw the first number in the price hit zero. Gas hadn’t been less than a dollar since the 90’s. Something was afoot. Was the price miraculously set to 99.99 as part of a bargain bin deal or a humanitarian giveaway, the likes of which had never been seen in the gas world? No. The second number began to tumble, coming to a halt on zero as well. Then the third number. The sign indicated the gas was now valued at .68/litre. Not even Judy could hope for such a deal. Surely the last two numbers would roll down zero as well and the station would be closed. This knowledge in hand, she still couldn’t peel her eyes away until the ceremony was completed, even if it was only a matter of course.
This signage, Judy knew, was usually only reserved for when a gas station was out of gas. But how could that be? Wes was meticulous – certainly not the type to let one of his stations run out of gas while the others flourished across the street. Judy spun her head all around as she came to a red light at the intersection. The other two stations still indicated an identical and sensible price. Trying to piece together the puzzle before the light changed, Judy glanced with no expectation at the plummeting sign immediately to her right.
It couldn’t be. It was. The sign towering before Judy now read 000.01. Of course this was a mistake, but the question was, did that matter to the baroness of bargains? Could the founding member of the Cedarvale Moms Great Deals group possibly pass up the best deal she had ever seen? At a tenth of a cent per litre, the sign was no longer in the territory of a deal. It was screaming “FREE GAS” at her. Her ears rang with the siren’s beckon. In a single squeeze, she could save more than the penny pinching hunts that drove her all over the city could in six months. No time to waffle, the light was green and the horns behind her started to blare their discontent at her indecision. Instincts took over. Judy took a quick right and then pulled into the lot.
She hadn’t even gotten her car all the way off of the road before, who should appear in her path, but Wes. Well built, wearing a flannel shirt and shaggy red hair, he was a throwback to Walker, Texas Ranger. He waved her away with an urgency more than what was required for a station being out of gas. And then she saw why.
Just over Wes’ shoulder was the truck that confirmed the issue wasn’t a gas shortage. A large tanker was pulled along the far side of the building. Protruding into Judy’s field of vision was the end of the truck and a large, flexible spout aimed down at a hole in the ground where the gas was stored under the station. But the problem was not the truck of course. The problem was the fire.
Between the truck’s back tires and the station, an uproar of at least 10 meters across was spread out over the concrete. If you know even a little about concrete, you’ll know it’s not highly flammable. As you may have guessed by now, though, gasoline is and that’s what was ablaze.
Judy saw the driver of the truck in his high-visibility vest rifling through a compartment on the truck to find something to quench the flames while two uniformed Crossroads employees stood well back from the danger. For Wes’ part, he stood in front of Judy’s car waving her back with both arms like an air traffic controller. Another horn blared. Judy still had the backend of her crossover SUV hanging out into the road. Judy looked at Wes blocking the path in front of her, then turned to see the angry motorist right up on her bumper. She ever so slightly raised her baffled eyebrows at the station owner to indicate that she was at a loss as to how to obey his orders to go backwards.
For Wes’ part, he had done his due diligence to get this woman out of harm’s way and considered that he had much larger fish to fry – well actually, he hoped that nothing else was going to fry beyond the concrete that was already alight. He bounded off towards the fire, concerned but without apprehension – like if Thor was a firefighter.
With Wes out of her way, Judy pulled her car out of the road and paused a moment in place. Judy wasn’t thinking of her own safety or of the station’s. Coming to it totally by impulse, Judy found herself turning over the finer details of gas station pricing procedure. Two years earlier, Judy had forced her 15-year-old son to work two weeknights after school and Saturdays at a gas station when her $5/week allowance started to seem like a pittance to a teenager. It was this decision that gave enormous breadth to her understanding of gas pricing and was the major factor in Judy becoming a guru, nay the guru, of the Cedarvale Moms Great Deals message chain.
Pumping her entirely disinterested son for information, Judy was now in possession of the otherwise entirely useless data that pinned her to the spot. Some gas stations had an integrated system. When they changed the pricing on the pumps, it simultaneously rolled the sign’s pricing accordingly. This was the easiest to avoid a discrepancy. But some stations had a non-integrated system. When they had to change their prices, there were two separate mechanisms: one for sign and one for pumps. Judy knew more about Wes and his entrepreneurial ways than anyone could expect, but this specific knowledge was beyond even her field of knowledge. If the station she now sat at was non-integrated, there was no chance the same error was made twice. The pumps would match the prices across the streets and she would have no advantage in risking her life by staying. But if they were integrated… If they were integrated then Judy now sat 15 feet away from the best gas deal she would ever be afforded in her life.
Judy stretched in her chair to see around the pumps and assess the situation. There were definitely still flames and Wes and the truck driver seemed to be busy at something, but she couldn’t see much more. The fire at least hadn’t engulfed the station yet, she thought. In fact, she couldn’t be sure it had grown in size at all. It could be out in seconds and her hesitation would have cost her the price of a dinner for two at the Red Lobster, an indulgence she wouldn’t allow without some comparable windfall that she could use to justify it like the guaranteed lottery win in front of her.
Suddenly Judy’s car was back in gear and she rolled forward and aligned her gas tank with the pump. She could see now that the fire was not going to be out in seconds. It turns out that the flexible spout that guided the gas into the subterranean storage area had been damaged below the sealed valve when the truck was reversing into position. That meant that there was nothing to turn on or off to stem the tide. Gasoline flowed freely from the gash with no reasonable hope of sealing it quickly.
The driver of the truck had apparently been digging through the storage area for large buckets of sand which he now dashed liberally against the ground closest to the truck. Wes, for his part, was spraying a fire extinguisher at the other end of the blaze closest to the pumps, the farthest of which Judy was now parked at. Wes let off a blast near his feet and jerked his head away, covering his face with an arm to avoid the plume of white suppressant that ballooned in front of him.
With that turn away from the flames, Wes did a double take when he saw that the same woman he had just waved away from the fire had now not only pulled up to one of the pumps, but was stepping out of her car. Judy didn’t see Wes coming as she tried to rush a glance at the price on the pump through her oversized sunglasses. Just before she had her confirmation of the pending status of the integration of Wes’ station, he took her by the elbow through her nylon windbreaker.
Wes wasn’t one to grab a hold of a woman or even raise his voice to one, but the situation seemed to warrant both. “What the hell are you doing? Don’t ya see the fire, lady?” Wes looked down at her waitingly, as if he was expecting her to respond. Judy smiled and raised one hand apologetically. She nodded her head several times and offered along with this gesture only the totally non-specific sound, “mm, mm, mm.”
Wes spent a second considering her bizarre response, a long second considering that he was presently fighting a fire, and examining her foreign visage, he wondered if Judy spoke any English. Judy did of course speak English, but this was a seed of doubt she tried to sow often when she needed to appear to be agreeing, but couldn’t abide. It wasn’t her fault that everyone’s first assumption was that a non-white face had a high probability of not knowing the language. That she often appeared to be agreeing when she had no intention of acquiescing was owing more to her inability to do something so confrontational as to actually speak the word “no,” than it was an indication of her willingness to comply.
Presently, the matter was taken out of her hands, however. No matter the ruse, she simply couldn’t see the number. How could it be that when the answer to her question was no more than a few feet from her, she had reached this wall, this immovable barrier? Wes was careful not to hurt Judy as he moved her, but whisked her with such surety back into the driver’s seat that her curled coif bounced and rebounded on top of her head. He was careful to make sure that both feet had safely entered the vehicle before he closed the door behind her and ran back towards the fire.
Judy felt no impulse to open the door again and risk a more aggressive encounter, but she also felt no inclination whatsoever to leave. Afterall, all she wanted was the tiniest scrap of information – 5 digits that could tell her everything she needed to know in a nanosecond. What to do?
She assessed the fire once again. It could now be more accurately described as an inferno. The two men working on the problem saw the same thing that she did. The gasoline was creating an ever expanding lake of fire. In one direction it reached towards the tanker, threatening to run back up the gushing liquid and ignite the contents of the entire truck. Towards Judy, it spilled in a path leading to the pumps that were connected to the underground reservoir of fuel. Just as bad, Judy now saw what the truck had punctured it’s hose on. Someone had left the metal door of the propane storage cage wide open and hanging out into the laneway. The truck had backed into it when it was reversing into place and so entered a third extremely flammable, or more specifically explosive, threat into the situation.
Agreeing to herself not to exit the vehicle again until she was absolutely positive that the prize she sought was worth the gamble, Judy slid into the back seat of the car. She removed her sunglasses and strained her eyes through the window. No luck. She leaned her body back into the front seat and lowered the back window. Sneaking a quick glance at Wes, who she was glad was paying more attention to the fire than to her, she stuck her torso out of the car through the window and stretched towards the pump.
There it was. The golden ticket. She was Charlie, and she was going to own the whole chocolate factory. 000.01. An integrated system! A single mistake in two beautiful places at once! Nothing in Judy’s heart spoke of danger or apprehension; not of the fire and not of its burly guardian. The vixen of value wouldn’t be denied.
She opened the side door of the car, closing it behind her to get at the gas cap. Before she knew her hands were moving, she’d removed her credit card from her wallet and was pressing it against the quick-tap paypad. Judy was in a slow-motion sequence of an action movie. Her hands moved like they had never known any other motion: pump up, premium selected, gas cap off, nozzle inserted, and all at once, the liquid gold was flowing into her car.
Judy pasted her eyes to the section of the display where the number of litres pouring into her car was recorded since she knew the price indicator would never even reach a single cent before gasoline came bursting out of the top of her tank. The gauge felt to her as if she was still operating in slow-motion since now that the fateful decision was made to start pumping, though it was hardly any decision at all, Judy once again became aware of the fire.
Wes had now moved with his second fire extinguisher to the frontier of the fire that threatened the propane tanks, assessing them to be more dangerous. That left the expanding horizon of flame that had already enveloped most of the pumps closest to the tanker only five feet from her. She looked back at the pump, heartened that at least there hadn’t been an explosion yet: 28 litres pumped, 29, 30, 31… With the gas she already had in the tank Judy was sure she could fit 40 more litres on top of what she already had. It was too late. The flames had reached her and licked at her cheap white sneakers. Decision time. No. Judy was beyond decisions. She was robotic now. She was in deal mode and her programming couldn’t be rewritten for even the most outrageous fire. Unthinkingly, she climbed with both feet into the well of her back tire and stood perched on her hubcap, never taking her hand off the pump.
…37, 38, 39. “Hey!” the hollar came. The gig was up. Wes was far away, but given his total indignance, Judy began to ever so slightly perceive the absurdity of the peril she had placed herself in. The pump finally clicked and disengaged in her hand. 40.46 litres pumped. God, Judy’s estimation was sharp.
Her tank was full, her body yet unharmed. Wes now almost blended into the background, his face as red as his hair and the flames growing around him. Judy reached for the window and with remarkable agility for someone her age, slid back into her backseat. She hopped into the front, started the engine, threw it into drive, and as she started forward she turned and made eye contact with Wes, raising her hand and bobbing her head one final time, as if to excuse herself of any minor inconvenience she may have caused.
Judy pulled her Rav 4 out onto the street in the same direction she had been travelling before she stumbled upon this boon. She considered making a u-turn at the light, but heard the roar of every type of siren speeding toward her and decided it was best not to be in the way. She went straight at the lights and continued on the long way home. As explosions behind her ripped through the sound of the traffic, Judy looked down at her phone and lamented that it was probably too late to share the great deal.
The original dream:
My dreams are so boring. Even when crazy things are happening I’m still focused on the most mundane thing. Like the other day I dreamt there were three identical gas stations and there was a huge fire at one of them, but all I wanted was to get a good deal on the gas.