Paying it Forward (Revisited) and Paying My Respects

The morning I was to depart to pay my respects to my old friend, Ben Fine, started off ominously. After a restless night of sleep, I sat on our screened-in porch shortly after dawn. As I pulled up the newspaper on-line, I thought I detected a faint rumble of thunder in the southwest. Frogs, turkeys, whippoorwills, and a few mourning doves joined in a chorus in advance of the approaching storm.

Though the sun had risen, the woods and fields around our house began to darken.  The sudden sound of wind in the treetops added to the anticipation as the fast-moving storm approached.  Big splats of rain began to hit the deck. They were accompanied by nickel-sized chunks of hail.  It was fast and furious, but in 20 minutes it was all over.  The hail was mercifully light. 

As I got in my car to head the direction from which the storm had approached, weather forecasters on the radio warned more turbulent weather was on the way. 

On my way out of town I made a brief stop at Scooters for a large cup of dark roast coffee to go.  On my last trip through Scooters the people in front of me had paid for coffee for my wife and me.  I had declined to pay for the vehicle behind me when I found their bill was the better part of a twenty-dollar bill including tip, and my bill had been just under six bucks.  I had second-guessed my decision that entire day. 

Today I intended to make it up.

As I ordered my coffee, (three bucks) I glanced at the car behind me.  It was occupied by a single female.  When she had pulled into the line behind me earlier, she had blocked the lane for cross-traffic, a pet peeve of mine.  As I continued to watch, she lit a cigarette and talked into her phone.  Maybe not the person I would have chosen to buy coffee for, but I was committed. 

As I progressed in the line, I noticed the car behind the lady behind me was occupied by several people.  It was déjà vu all over again.  I was going to pay for her drink ($4.76).  Then she would ask how much for the car behind her and it was going to be twenty bucks.  She would be faced with the same dilemma that had troubled me the last time I visited Scooters. 

Or maybe not.  Based on her “I’m in a hurry” lane blocking, she might have just taken her free cup of coffee, exhaled a cloud of smoke, and sped away.

The important thing was that I had paid it forward and still had enough money for my trip.

Near Springfield, Mo, I decided to take a quick side trip and visit Fellow’s Lake.  That’s where the Marina was located from which Ben and I had rented aluminum rowboats and gone fishing many times. That was way back in the days of the Richard M. “Tricky Dick” Nixon Administration.

I drove slowly through the countryside as I neared the lake, savoring the trip down memory lane. 

A surprise awaited me.

As I pulled into the Marina parking lot, yellow tape blocked the concrete stairway to the lake.  The noise of heavy equipment from the direction of the Marina dominated the beautiful setting.  Peering through the trees down to the site of the Marina I saw a large machine rip up a section of the Marina floor and carry it aloft to a large, nearby dumpster.  The Marina was being demolished.

The Marina I remembered . . .

A slab of Marina flooring headed to the dumpster

All that was left of the Marina the day of my visit- Going, Going . . . Gone!

Maybe its my fault. 

The hospital where I was born?  Demolished.

The Church where my wife and I were wed?  Demolished.

The High School I attended? Part of the original building is being demolished even as I type this.

And now the Marina from which Ben and I launched many fishing trips, mostly on days when the fish were not biting? Demolished.

A new Marina is planned. It just seemed ironic that the very week Ben died they tore down the Marina that had been standing, actually, floating, since 1958.

Overhead the sky began to rumble.  I took a few pictures and got back into my car. On the radio was more talk of weather watches and warnings, flooding, damaging winds, and lightning.

By the time I reached Republic, Mo. it was raining so hard the windshield wipers were having a hard time keeping up.  The next 30 miles were similar to what I imagine driving 50 mph in a car wash would be like.  Following the instructions of Google maps, I turned onto HW 39 south at Aurora, Mo. 

The deluge continued unabated.  In some places water began to run across the road.  At one spot, I was carefully passing through standing water over the road when a large pickup pulling a large travel trailer came speeding around a sharp curve toward me, edging ever closer to the center line.  When the truck hit the water,  I anticipated the travel trailer might spin in my direction.  I am not sure what happened. As the truck hit the standing water it threw up a tremendous spray that completely obscured my vision.  The travel trailer prolonged the blinding spray of water.  

I braced for an impact that never came. 

There had to be some (very wet) angels protecting me. It wouldn’t be the first time.

I drove on.

When I was finally directed to turn west on 248 toward Cassville, the curvy road followed a ridge to my destination.  No more water over the road.  I made it without further incident.

As I pulled into the funeral home parking lot I reflected on the white knuckle drive.  At least, I thought, if that travel trailer had wiped me out it wasn’t too far to the funeral home.  

The rain began to slacken and I hurried to the front door of the funeral home.

The attendance at my friend’s visitation was not as heavy as I had expected.

A lot of sensible people had stayed home rather than brave the horrendous weather and treacherous roads.

Just goes to show Harry Truman knew what he was talking about when he observed, “It doesn’t matter how big a ranch you own or how many cows you brand, the size of your funeral is still gonna depend on the weather.”

Next up:  Ben Fine’s funeral. I lost a good friend – but I found two!

On the Road Again

What Would You Do?

My wife and I were barely 20 minutes into our first vacation since the good old “pre-corona” days.  The morning was cool.  Our spirits were high.  We were headed to Branson, Mo. to enjoy a week of vacation that had originally been scheduled for May of 2020.  That week was cancelled when I received an email from the hotel suggesting we not come due to the uncertainties, closures, and untested restrictions that had been implemented in response to the then newly declared pandemic.

So – this was not to be a “blazing new trails” trip.  It was an “ease your toe back into the water” trip visiting long-familiar places in and on the way to Branson, Mo.  Having grown up only 40 miles from there, my wife and I had been enjoying Branson since our parents had taken us there to enjoy the Christmas parade when we were just kids.

Our first stop was to join a moderately long line at a Scooters Drive-thru in Jefferson City for a burst of caffeine.  I rarely sleep well the night before we leave on vacation.  This vacation was no exception.  Rarely, also, do I face a question more difficult than “room for cream? (NO!) when I order my usual large, dark roast coffee. 

Today would be different.

We advanced slowly toward our goal of two dark roast coffees, large for me, medium for my wife, no sugar, no cream.  Just delicious, tasty, dark roast non-prescription caffeine to clear our heads and invigorate our souls.

As we waited, I observed the car behind us from my side mirror.  An older guy was behind the wheel, unsmiling, with a short, gray-haired lady in the passenger seat. Maybe they were married.  Maybe it was an older son caring for his octogenarian mom.  He seemed stressed. 

As I pulled up to the drive-up window expecting “That will be $5.67” and adding a buck in the tip jar, the cashier said something unexpected.

“I’m sorry.  Could you repeat that?” I asked.

“The car in front of you paid for your coffee.  You don’t owe anything”. 

That had happened to me once before when I got in line behind an old man in an old pickup truck with a dog of undetermined age by his side.  It had seemed to take forever for him to get thru the line.  When he finally pulled away, I pulled up to the cashier, ready to pay and glad to be on my way. 

“That guy just paid for your coffee,” said the cashier.  That pleasant surprise was diminished by the embarrassment I felt from the realization that only moments before I was wishing he would just hurry up and get on his way.  The cashier said they were at fifty-something people in a row who had “paid it forward”.  I did the same to add 1 to their record.

Back to the present.

I know the thing to do when someone pays $5.67 for your coffee is to then pay for the coffee of the person behind you.

“How much do the people behind me owe” I asked, holding a ten-dollar bill and ready to happily pay it forward. 

“Their bill is $16.71” the cashier replied.

$16.71?  My eagerness to pay it forward suddenly evaporated.  I am a man of simple tastes, a man satisfied with a good dark roast coffee, no cream, unaccustomed to paying for designer lattes.    No wonder the guy was stressed., I thought to myself.   At $15 a day he was shelling out $450 a month to Scooters.

I wish I had had the opportunity to drink my large cup of Scooters coffee while I pondered this dilemma.  My usual decision-making rationale of “I’ll sleep on it!” seemed inappropriate.  Drivers behind me were beginning to get restless.  In fact, drivers in a drive-thru coffee line are restless when they enter the line.  I have long advocated for an express lane for customers at a coffee drive-thru whose order involves two ingredients or less.

“Uh”, I think I will pass” I said as the cashier waited patiently to see if I would continue to “pay it forward”.  I had fully intended to pay it forward if I had not been stricken with sticker shock.  And in retrospect, I wish I had. 

Large coffee in hand I drove away with a full day ahead of me to second guess my decision. Forking over $16.71 (plus tip) is better than the “cheapskate” guilt I experienced in response to my refusal to let a stop to purchase two cups of coffee set me back the better part of twenty dollars less than twenty minutes into our vacation.

From now on, the cashier will receive no blank stare from me when informing me the car in front of me has paid for my coffee.  I have already charted my course of action should this situation reoccur. 

I plan to pay it forward up to a $20.00 maximum, including tip. 

And if the tab for the car behind me exceeds that amount, I will resolve the situation with one simple question: “How much for the car behind the car behind me?”

We had been on the road for about 30 minutes and our vacation was already off to a memorable start.