You may remember Lisa of “J” fame.
As I said, she and I have a real Thelma and Louise relationship. Many stories would support this analogy, but the most perfect example is the rest stop story.
It was 19mumble-mumble and Lisa was moving back from her Colorado adventure. Actually, it was more like she was dragging her feet and being pulled by her hair back to Indiana. She loved living in Denver and only felt like she had to leave because she wasn’t having much luck supporting herself in her new dog training career. And she missed me.
I rode a Greyhound bus for 27 hours from Muncie, Ind., to meet her in a dicey Denver bus station. For the first four of those hours, a foreign exchange student I didn’t know kept dozing off onto my shoulder. for the next 23 hours, I worked hard to dodge the romantic advances of a young man who was a little too eager to share the scars of his gunshot wounds and his future with me. It was long before cell phones, so it was impossible for me to send a text message saying, “park the car at Colfax and 7th and watch for the bus. I’m going to JUMP.” Instead, I stepped off the bus, made eye contact with my friend and said, “we need to go. Now.”
Less than 24 hours later (dude, I had to get back for class), I was helping Lisa pack the last of her boxes and get the cat into the cab of her little truck. We waved goodbye to the mountains and Lisa cried for at least the next 150 miles. I tried to cheer her up by singing Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits. It mostly worked.
As Lisa had been cooling her heels in no hurry to leave Colorado, we left around 2 or 3 p.m. with every intention of driving straight through. It was a super plan. We had about $25 in cash and I had at least $68 dollars available on a credit card, since it was going to take at least three days for the bus ticket to clear. With $30 reserved for Diet Coke, we almost had enough money to buy gas.
Throughout the ride, we continue to joke about pulling a Thelma and Louise style robbery to support our adventures. We decided we weren’t comfortable waving a gun around, so we modified the plan to something less violent: robbing the tampon machines in gas station bathrooms. We cracked up thinking about how that was a plan so insane, it just might work. But, we were honest women and not prone to acts of crime; we knew it was only a joke.
Somewhere in the night around 3 a.m. and defying all of the wisdom and common sense our parents had instilled in us, we pulled into a rest stop just west of Concordia, Mo., for our 15th pee break. (Two cases of Diet Coke. ’nuff said.) The cat was unwinding from his kitty quaaludes and starting to act like he needed to pee. So, we planned for one of us to walk the cat, while the other hit the bathroom.
As we pulled into the dark and lonely stop, Lisa noted one lone vehicle parked there. She saw a man sitting there and casually said, “keep an eye on him.” It wasn’t an, “OH MY GOD! KEEP AN EYE ON HIM! THE GUN IS UNDER THE SEAT IF YOU NEED IT!” kind of admonition. (There was no gun under the seat. We had to save our money to buy Diet Coke.) It was more of a casual, “Hey, friend. Heads up! There is a dude in that vehicle over there. We all know everything will be fine, but just be smart. Here are the keys to the truck. Be safe while you walk my cat.”
So, we locked the truck and I took the leashed cat for a little walk. (His name was B.J., which was short for Bon Jovi. Lisa was 15 when she named him.) There was grass just a few feet from the parking space, so I didn’t move far. Meanwhile, Lisa headed up the sidewalk to the bathroom, some 30 yards away. The entrance to the building faced away from where we were, so I watched as she disappeared around the building, feeling an unfounded safety once I believed her to be inside.
As I waited for the cat to do his thing, the man in the truck suddenly got out of the his vehicle. I startled – as did the cat – at the sound of his truck door opening. I looked up to see the man emerging, then pulled out my freshman year safety training: I stood up straight, pulled my shoulders back, looked him directly in the eyes and said hello. He wasn’t going to scare me! He nodded back and I watched him, too, as he disappeared around the men’s side of the building. I relaxed. This was obviously just a man who had been sleeping in his truck in the middle of the night and when we pulled in, we woke him. Now, he had to pee.
And that’s when all hell broke loose.
I was trying to encourage the cat to pee, but he was still a little stoned from the travel meds and annoyed to be on a leash. He was laying in the grass and staring at me with great disdain. Suddenly, I heard a noise from the direction of the building and I looked up to see Lisa running at a full tilt. Now, Lisa and I have never really been athletes. Even when we are being health conscious, our activities are more like hiking, taking a leisurely stroll along a lake, puttering in our gardens and that sort of thing. But on this evening, in the wee hours of a Missouri morning, my friend Lisa was running like she was in Olympic time trials. I stood there for a moment or two trying to figure out what in the world was happening. And then, I knew.
She had robbed the fucking tampon machine.
Oh, Lisa, I thought. That was a JOKE. We may be destitute, but we are not thieves!
I started to open my mouth to yell at her, when she screamed, “GET IN THE TRUCK!!!! GET … IN … THE … TRUCK!!!“
She didn’t have to tell me twice. I didn’t know what horrible thing she had done, but I knew I was going down with her. I also knew she’d never forgive me if I didn’t bring Bon Jovi. So, I moved to scoop up the cat and I looked up to see the man emerging from the ladies’ restroom.
Oh … my … god …
I raced to the car and somehow managed to slide the keys right in the door. (Note: I had the key ready in my hand the whole time. Freshman year safety training. I’m telling ya. Best class ever. Well, until the next part of this story, when I lost my mind.) I tossed the cat in and climbed in the passenger side and promptly locked the doors. Meanwhile, the man is slowly walking down the path and Lisa has just made it to the truck. “OPEN THE DOOR!” She screamed. “IT WON’T UNLOCK!!!” I screamed back. “GET IN THE TRUCK. HE’S COMING! OH MY GOD, HE’S COMING!” “OPEN THE TRUCK!!!” As I started to realize my best friend was going to get eaten by a monster, I finally remembered I had the power to unlock the door. I pushed the button.
The door popped open, I tossed her the keys and she started the truck as soon as the man was crossing the sidewalk. We squealed tires as we beat it the hell out of there.
“What happened? Oh my god, what happened? What did he do to you?”
Lisa, of course, shaking like a leaf and unable to speak was in EVERY condition to drive, as we raced onto the interstate. I kept asking her to pull over and I would drive, but she said we just needed to get to the next exit. She finally found words to tell me what had happened, while I started reading maps (pre-GPS days, y’all) to find the nearest police station.
Apparently, as she was finishing up her business, the door opened. For a split second, she thought it was me. Then, she heard a footstep and realized it was not. As she zipped her pants, she saw men’s boots walk in front of her stall and into the adjacent stall.
She wasn’t sure what to do and in her very brief moment of hesitation, she was there long enough to see his hand come under the door with a scrawled note that had been crumpled and straightened more than once. It said, “Give me your panties or I’ll …”
Or he’ll what, we will never know, because that’s all the further my smart friend Lisa read before she flung open the door of the stall and set her sights on setting a land speed record.
Unbeknownst to us, there was a Concordia exit just a mile or so down the interstate with a gas station at the exit. (If we had KNOWN, we would never have stopped at a freaking rest stop in the middle of the night. DUH.) We pulled in and I jumped out and ran inside, screaming for the attendant to call the police. Lisa followed me. We had to buy her a Diet Coke to calm her nerves. A police officer actually pulled in as the call was being made, so we flagged him down and told him the story. While we were in mid-sentence with a description of the man and the vehicle (we even knew the make – yay us!), the dip-shit came driving past. When he realized it was the women he tried to molest talking to the cop, he sped off, but not before we pointed him out. Sadly – very, very sadly – the cop knew him by name and relayed another sad tale to us. The police officer hurried away after taking our report to catch him, although he said he knew where he lived, so it wasn’t a big rush.
We left and were completely awake for the rest of the drive home, finishing a 1,000 mile drive in 14 hours, with about 20 pee stops (although none at rest areas).
That, my friends, is why Lisa and I will drive from Indiana to Topeka by way of Arkansas or Iowa, but never, ever along I-70.