This time around in Alabama, it was the saline solution for my contacts. And there were my contacts, poor things, all dried up at the bottom of the lens case, because the solution had somehow leaked out during the trip. They were like Aquaman in the big city, all ready to shrivel up and die if they didn't come into contact with water...and soon.
Besides, they were the only contacts I had. I just haven't gotten around to refilling my prescription, even though I've been using the same pair for months. Never enough time in the day. These contacts had to be saved!
Grudgingly, I threw on my sweatshirt, shoved my hotel card in my pants pocket, and headed out the door for the lobby. But when I got to the gift shop, I realized that, among the dusty packages of aspirins and toothpaste boxes, no saline solution was to be found.
"Y'know, I meant to stock up on saline solution a few months ago," said the lady at the front counter, casting a weary look at the sad little gift shop. "Guess I forgot. Or was I looking to refill the shaving cream?"
"No problem," I replied, ever the accommodating one. "Can you point me in the direction of the nearest drug store? I can just walk there and--"
"Shucks, why don't I just take you?" said a voice from behind me. I turned around to find an older African American gentleman standing there. He was tall and lean, with puffs of white hair, the texture of cotton candy, around his ears and chin. He was wearing a brown vest and blcak pants, the uniform for the hotel.
"You'd take me to the store?" I asked, kind of taken aback. Northerners don't do things like this!
"Sure, it's only five minutes down the road," he said. "I've got time."
"You don't mind leaving work?"
He dug his his hands into the pockets of his pants to take out his car keys. "Nah, I've got plenty of time." That was it, case closed, as far as he was concerned. Obediently, I followed behind, to an older sedan parked in the handicapped section. I peered inside. Neat as a pin, everything in its place.
"What are you here for?" he asked, as we made our leisurely way out of the hotel.
"Helping to film a video about the tornadoes."
"Aha." His weathered brown hands turned the steering wheel of the car, moved us onto the highway. The hands were thin, long, expressive. Piano fingers, my mother would have called them.
I glanced out the window, looked up at the sky. It was a slightly overcast day, and the clouds in the air were heavy, slightly ominous. "Looks like it's going to rain out tonight."
"Sure does," he said, his voice light and without a hint of trouble. "After what just happened, we get a touch nervous when we see a storm coming."
I would imagine so.
The store truly was only about five minutes down the street. Maybe even less than that, only the way he was driving stretched the time out. At the store, he came out of the car with me, waited inside while I made my purchase, then stood in line with me. He was on a first name basis with the lady behind the counter.
I have to say, in some ways, it was kind of a jarring experience. The ways of my people are so different and all. I can't imagine anyone from New England offering to drive a stranger like me in their car like that, let alone walk into the store with them, wait with them in line. As if we were two old friends, not strangers in some hotel. I'm not used to that kind of courtesy. Part of my nature doesn't trust it, wants to push it aside.
Of course, I did give him a tip, at the end of the ride, but I'm really not sure that's even the point. Even then, I asked it carefully, not wanting to hurt his feelings. "You can if you'd like," he said, as if it really didn't matter either way.
It was a glimpse into a less intense way of living life, I guess. My life's all about go, go, go. Produce, move on to the next thing, worry about what's coming up. My people don't have time for little courtesies, they're too busy focusing on those important things that fill up their days, whatever they are.
It's a glimpse I'd like to see more of, frankly. Say what you want about the South, there's certainly a lot to be said for Southern comfort.