Driving west on the freeway, it soon became dusk. Headlights flicked on amongst the eastbound traffic. The sun was low. Sheepishly, I reached for my sunglasses. Between the setting sun and the headlights’ glare, my middle-aged eyes felt the strain.
It had been a sunny afternoon on the golf course. Client golf. I love client golf. Give me a company credit card, pair me with a key account’s master hacker, and I am a happy man. An 8 handicap, I post respectable scores without working too hard. Golf’s greatest hidden truth: If everyone plays by the rules, most golfers are really bad. Client golf involves helping the client forget how bad he is. That makes him happy. When he’s happy, he buys more of our stuff. It’s easy to be nice.
My job is to sell more of our stuff. I give the guy with a 21 handicap a few do-overs off the tee. I give him a couple “practice putts” when his real putt is woefully off-line. I’ll write down a six, if he wants, even though the two balls he hit into the pond are four strokes right there. When he asks for a tip or two on sand traps, I give him a clue, and I let him hit ‘til he’s happy.
Eighteen holes, one G&T, a big-ass bacon cheeseburger, a few beers, a bit of flirting with the college girls waiting tables, and his account is safe with us for another year. I love client golf.
Back in my leased Buick Enclave, I zoned out as I headed home. A smooth jazz station played on the radio. I love how my son describes smooth jazz: “How can you tell when one song ends and the next song starts?” When I need to ponder, smooth jazz is good pondering music. One step removed from white noise, it is a quiet and melodic background hum.
I was reviewing the day for my thank-you note to my client. Even though I always pick up the tab, I like to send a handwritten thank-you. I’ll mention a few of his good shots. I’ll bring up something funny that happened during the round. Today, my client topped a drive and the ball bounced right into a very surprised crow 100 yards down the fairway.
“HEY HEY! First birdie of the day!” I said.
High fives ensued.
I thank him for spending his day with me on the course, and for his company’s continued business. I love client golf.
I was also making my plans for tomorrow. I had a charity golf scramble. We sponsor the par three 16th hole. I needed to be at the course early to shake hands, schmooze, pat a few backs. My heart skipped a beat.
“Clubs!! Shit. Clubs back there?”
My head swiveled. Whew. Across the back seat was my bag; TaylorMade woods and Mizuno blades neat and clean inside. I’d forgotten I had left my clubs with the bag boy to be cleaned and delivered into the backseat of my car.
Back to my mental checklist. Two corporate logo golf shirts? Check. Clean Bermuda shorts and socks for post-golf glad-handing? Check. Swag for the people who popped $200 apiece to support the Children’s Center at the outing? Check. Prizes for the folks who place in our Closest-to-the-Pin contest on our hole? Right inside my garage door.
I sighed, and leaned back, listing slightly to port as I relaxed into my car seat for the rest of the drive home.
I hadn’t taken three deep breaths when I heard a “pingpingping pingpingping pingpingping” and saw a gas pump icon flash orange on my dash.
“Ah, crap,” I said to myself. “Better get some gas. Otherwise, it’s a very early morning.”
I looked at my watch. No big deal, plenty of time to get home before the kids went to bed. Roll into the next gas station, throw in five gallons, roll out. Net time loss? Six minutes, tops. Easy peasy.
The sun was down. I placed my shades on top of my head, across the brim of my golf hat.
The lights were sketchy under the giant awnings at the BP station just off the freeway. A couple of the lights were bright. Some of them flickered. The rest were out. I could see the moths and mosquitoes flitting around the bright lights. As I pulled into the station’s northernmost driveway, I saw a few swallows grabbing meals on the run.
A jacked-up Ford F-150 was pulling into the empty station via the other driveway. The truck was tall – need a ladder to get in and out tall. The driver enjoyed deer hunting, judging from a Remington window sticker. The numeral “22” decal in one side window told me he was a fan of our fellow Michiganian; NASCAR ace Brad Keselowski. The Ford decal in his back window was so large that, transferred to my Buick, my rear window would have been rendered non-functional.
I have an AYSO bumper sticker.
The gas station was empty. I drove towards the middle island. The truck, looping around, also headed, from the opposite side, to the middle island. I got there moments ahead of him. We stopped, nose to nose. My Buick’s bumper would’ve fitted neatly under the 2 inch chromed pipes which made up the Ford’s massive grill, had I the wish to insert my vehicle under his. My passenger door was even with the pump. The Ford’s front end was even with the diesel pump several feet short of the gasoline pump station.
No fuss, no muss, but I was there first. Our eyes met. I smiled. I shrugged. I held up my hands in the universal gesture for “whoa.”
Ford driver’s eyes were expressionless. He did not return my smile. He did not shrug. His hands stayed fixed on his steering wheel for several moments. He took his right hand off the wheel, reached down to his gear shift and placed his car in reverse.
The driver backed up several feet and came to a halt. His eyes had not moved, still fixed upon me. He pulled forward, barely in motion, as he rolled past my car. He left two inches of space between our vehicles as he passed. If our door handles had been at the same level, we’d have been rubbing chrome. He did a one-eighty and pulled into the next island over.
“Island rage,” I thought. “Really?
His eyes remained fixed upon me. I debated the wisdom of leaving my vehicle. I had my cell phone in hand and thought of calling 9-1-1. I looked towards the attendant’s booth. It was dark. To gain anyone’s attention, I’d either have to lean heavily on my horn, or head inside. If I pulled out of the station, I felt certain that Ford driver would follow me onto the freeway.
Ford driver coasted to a halt at his pump. His door swung open and he jumped down from the cab, shunning the ladder bar along the back edge of his door and landing neatly beside the nerf bar. He was small, shorter than me, and wiry. He was wearing jeans with a hole in the front of one leg. His Tap-out T-shirt was stretched tight across his chest and back. Old, worn work boots were on his feet. He may have been small, but he was sturdy. I could see the veins in his forearms.
“Probably wrestled 126 in high school,” I thought. He looked about 145 ripped pounds standing there beside his truck.