I’d put in a long day at work and hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, so at the end of the day I was starving. I decided to stop at Taco Bell, since it was right on my way home.
The kid behind the counter wore a name badge identifying him as Derek. He rang up my order and said, “That will be $5.38, please.”
I handed him a five-dollar bill, then I dug into my pocket and pulled out a dime, two nickels, some lint, a shirt button that had fallen off earlier in the day, and a crumpled gas station receipt. I started rooting around for more change, when Derek said cheerfully, “Oh, don’t worry about it — I’ll just give you the senior discount.”
I turned to see who he was talking to, and then I heard the sound of coins hitting the counter.
“$4.73,” he said. “Have a nice day.”
I was dumbstruck. Senior citizen? Me? I took the bag with my food in it and walked out to the parking lot, wondering if someone should point out to Derek that he needed to have his eyes examined.
I got all the way to my car before I realized my keys were missing. I searched all over for them, but no luck. I must have left them inside, I thought, and headed back. There was Derek, grinning and holding up something shiny.
“Dude! Can’t get too far without your keys, can you?”
I took the keys from Derek, thanked him, and went back out to the parking lot, my face burning with embarrassment. I got into my car and put the key in the ignition, but it wouldn’t turn.
I puzzled over this for a moment, and then I noticed the colorful beads dangling from the rearview mirror. Gradually, a few other objects came into focus: the toddler seat… the Happy Meal toys littering the floor… a partially-eaten cookie on the dashboard….
Faster than you can say ginkgo biloba, I got out of the alien vehicle.
Moments later I was speeding out of the parking lot. I didn’t get far before I felt gnawing pains in my stomach. I reached for the bag with my food in it, and to my horror I realized that it wasn’t in the car.
I didn’t want to face Derek yet again, but I was clean out of cash, I’d left my credit cards and checkbook at home, and I was beginning to feel weak from hunger. So I turned around, drove back to Taco Bell, and went inside, hoping that someone other than Derek would be behind the counter. As usual, luck was not with me.
“Did I leave my food in here?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” Derek said. “Just your keys.”
Feeling defeated and humiliated — not to mention ravenous — I went back out to my car. As I was getting in, a young lady approached me, holding out a bag.
“I think you left this in my car by mistake,” she said.
Mortified, I took the bag from the young lady and apologized.
“Oh, don’t feel bad,” she said cheerfully. “My grandfather does things like that all the time.”
All of this is to explain how I got a ticket for doing 85 in a 35 mph zone. Yes, I was racing some punk in a Prius. And, no, I told the officer, I’m not too old to be driving this fast.
When I finally got home, I went inside, went straight to the rocking chair, sat down, and covered my legs with a blanket.
At least I’d managed to find my way home.