(Subtitle: Things are seldom what they seem, but sometimes they Are)
Coming up US 301, about ten miles north of Starke, I noticed that the needle of my gas gage was bumping atop the empty mark, which seemed strange since the red warning light had not provided the customary signal. But then, a lot of unusual things have been happening nowadays, don't you know.
But Damn! I had thought I could make it back to Jacksonville without refueling, and here I was in rural Florida, out of gas, at 8 p.m. Saturday night. And the question then became, could I make it to a gas station, and what were the consequences if I couldn't?
Where was help to be found, considering that the Baptists were probably all still busily cleaning up after their church suppers or seriously discussing how especially to celebrate Jesus tomorrow, while even the kids of sufficient age to be of possible assistance were absent from the public scene, and doing whatever teenagers do with one another beyond the observation of their parental masters, who themselves – to their publicly expressed horror – know exactly what kids do, having been guilty of the very same secret pleasures once upon a time, but long since having realized that such behavior was, well, best forgotten, and anyway atoned for by their now churchly perspectives, and certainly not to be remotely contemplated as involving "our Melissa!"
My contemplation of Melissa's perils was banished by the sight of a roadside sign: Caution – Adolpho Speed Trap – 3 Miles Ahead, a warning apparently sponsored by the good folks of Triple A. And one might hope that where there is a speed trap there may also be a gas station, may God save us!
Then more signs: Reduce Speed Ahead, then: Speed Limit Strictly Enforced.
I slowed down just before coming upon the white car parked next to an abandoned building, with its parking lights on but motor running, and yes, Police painted across its fuselage. And there beyond, dimly lit, was the unmistakable silhouette of a gas station! Praise be!
Pulling up to the first of two gas pumps, I exited my thirsty vehicle while fishing through my wallet for my Visa card, and then inserting it into the slot provided. Imagine my reaction to reading the pump's electronic message: Authorization Denied. Damn, what now to do!
I pivoted in place at the sound of the station's door opening, and was immediately struck by the competition of my senses on the one hand seeking rescue from my dilemma, and on the other to deal in some equanimity with the bizarre image strutting toward me. There was this man, I could only suppose, in a suit and a shirt the equal to any off Brooks Brothers' racks, a light blue foulard necktie featuring American flag repetitions, another American flag as a lapel pin, and wearing a mask! Some mask, can you believe it, featuring a furrowed forehead, knitted eyebrows, narrowed eyes, protruding ears, and a smirk! Yes, as God is my witness, this figure that paraded a half step past me to stop abruptly, then to execute a military style left-face to confront me, was wearing a mask of George W. Bush!
"Yer uhh access was uhh denied," emanated somehow curtly despite the inarticulations from behind the mask's smirk.
"Yes," was all I could summon, still stupefied by the sudden lack of confidence in my sense of sight. Could it have been, I wondered, that extra martini before departing Tampa earlier?
"Is yer uhh curosity uhh challenged as to why?" again from the mouth slit.
This time, despite the disabling of my articulation, I did manage two syllables: "Uh, yes," all the time thinking yes, it was the martinis, or perhaps this is some kind of a very hard-wired dream.
"Well, mister, our uhh surveillance got you."
"Your surveillance got me?" I managed.
"Yep, it uhh sure did, catches 'em evry time."