It was mid May, and it was unseasonably chilly in Charlottesville, Virginia, fine for jogging, but a bit cool for sitting around, so I decided to buy a long sleeve tee shirt. The trip into town would also be a chance for our grandsons, Foster seven and Mack four, to get out of the house with us—a fun outing.
Foster, a lanky blond kid, was able to get himself strapped in on his side of the back seat in his father’s ten year old Honda while Mack needed some assistance with his carseat. The thing was obviously designed by some sick-minded engineer who actually never would use the device because he actually hated kids. The car seat had four straps: two to go over the child’s shoulder and another two that came up between the legs and buckled in the middle of the kid’s torso. The effort to get all the buckles in place left me sweating and were so tight that it seemed that Mack would not be able to breath. Instead, he bitched about the straps being too loose.
I told him to deal with it.
After banging my head while trying to slide into the driver’s seat, I fumbled with the key. The dark interior of the car was not relieved by the dome light. In fact the dim bulb seemed to suck illumination out of the auto as I stuck the wrong key into the ignition. The mistake caused the alarm of the other vehicle in the garage, a new Toyota Highlander, to blare in distress. The boys thought the bleating was hilarious and started laughing. Sheila also seemed to think the situation was quite amusing and started giggling.
My mood became even darker as I almost tore off the side rear view mirror backing out of the garage. The garage was less than ten years old and yet the doors seemed to be made for a VW Bug.
The laughter increased as I drove off the short drive and into the grass and bushes barely missing the large maples and irises next to the fence. When the car was at last on the street, Mack commented, “Opa, you’re so funny.”
Meanwhile my wife was shaking so much I thought she was either having a seizure or going to wet her pants.
The old Honda did not have a GPS system, so we had to rely upon Sheila’s phone to guide us to a store where I might find a souvenir UVA shirt. It wasn’t ideal as the snotty voice on the cell phone would tell me three seconds too late when I should turn, and we ended up touring several neighborhoods of old Charlottesville that we would have otherwise missed. Meanwhile, Foster, the seven year old, is offering his own advice on where we should be going.
By some miracle we ended up in a small shopping area where there was supposed to be a store that sold souvenirs of Virginia. After wandering around for ten minutes, a FED-EX driver gave us walking directions that would lead us to the Virginia Store. The place had Virginia themed pillows, jellies, napkins and thousands of stuffed animals, but no tee shirts. Of course, both Foster and Mack immediately bonded with the pigs and bull dogs and begged to have one of each, as if they didn’t each have about a thousand stuffed animals at home.
Somehow we managed to leave the store without purchasing anything, but the clerk told us about another store that was close that did have UVA products. “Close” was a relative term, and we would end up having to drive several miles, which meant that I had to deal with the demonic child car seat again. And, once more Mack complained about how loose the straps were.
I said nothing.
The store was actually pretty easy to find, and we spotted it just as we pulled into another small shopping center. There was plenty of parking on the street as this was the pandemic and not a lot of people ventured out to go shopping. Sheila saw another store that might have a top for her, so she took Mack and Foster came with me.
The long sleeve tee shirt for which I was searching was near the entrance to the store, right next to another rack of stuffed animals. Foster was pulled to the critters has if he were made of iron and the display was a strong magnet.
I admit to having been emotionally lazy at that moment. I just wanted to get this shopping expedition over, so I told Foster to pick a stuffed animal for his brother as well. He picked a dog for himself and a cow for Mack. A cow for crying out loud.
Sheila had spotted a store where she might find a casual blouse for herself, and we all went into the place to look around. Foster immediately started gathering items off the displays, sunglasses, a cell phone holder (of courser he has no cell phone), plastic cups, and other pieces of crap. I told him to put it all back, but after the experience at the other store, he seemed to think that he had carte blanche and kept picking colorful and shiny items for which he had no use.
Mack was impressed with Foster’s collection and quickly started his own. However, when I told him to return the junk, he was willing to do so. Of course he had no idea from where he’d collected his prizes, so I followed up, and so on.
Sheila had chosen a couple of blouses and placed them on the sales counter, ready to pay. Foster came along and put his stuff along side, but then was confronted with a hard choice.
Sheila, being much wiser than me, asked him if he wanted the stuff he’d collected or to go to McDonalds. This was like asking someone if they wanted to go to a circus or sit in a car.
So it was with heavy heart that Foster replaced all the stuff, but unlike his brother, he actually put everything back where it belonged.
With a foolish sense of relief, I followed Sheila and the two gremlins out of the store while wondering how difficult it would be to find our way to the McDonalds that was not far from the boys’ house. It was at that moment that Foster started to run down the sidewalk toward the car. Mack took this as a challenge and ran with the obvious intention of beating his older brother. At the end of the block, Foster paused to look for cars, and Mack took advantage by racing across the street without a glance in either direction.
Meanwhile, Sheila and I are both screaming our lungs out, trying to get them to stop. It was like trying to get the attention of dogs chasing a squirrel. With Mack out in front, Foster ran with renewed intensity, trying to catch up and reach the car before his brother. Mack, feeling the thrill of an upcoming victory, now dashed across the street in mid block, again ignoring any traffic that might be approaching.
There might have been other times when I felt more helpless, expecting tragedy to fall within seconds, but I couldn’t remember when. To watch those skinny little legs dash into the street made me weak. I was trembling by the time those little shits reached the car.
Now that the boys were safe, my first thought was not grandfatherly. I took a few seconds to think about homicide, but then realized that Sheila might disapprove of my actions, not because she thought the boys didn’t deserve a good throttling, but that she would have to visit me in prison.
I was set to explain how frightening it was for us to see the boys racing ahead of us and not stopping when we called after them. They merely laughed. Somehow, I was not getting through, making my frustration worse. Violence again came into my mind as an option. Fortunately Sheila came to our rescue and ordered them into the car.
Once again I had to deal with the bloody car seat restraint. Either I was getting better at it or didn’t care if Mack was getting squashed. At any rate, the car was silent as we all got settled. I started the car, but left it in park while the air conditioning cooled the air. Sheila raised the question of what went wrong today, but was answered with silence. The boys were subdued, yet they were not ready to discuss the matter. Instead, Foster asked if he could have the sack that contained the stuffed animals. Cheeky little shit.
Sheila calmly pointed out the things that went wrong and wondered if we should still go to McDonalds. The possibility of missing Happy Meals got the boys’ attention. While I steamed in silence and admission of guilt came from the back of the car followed by promises that the wild behavior of the afternoon would not be repeated. I decided that it would probably be the best for everyone if we did go to fucking McDonalds, mainly because I did not want to go back to the house and explain to the boys’ parents why everyone was so unhappy.
The afternoon of fun was not yet over.
There was a long line of cars that were waiting to get to the drive up window. The number of vehicles was so great that there were cars on the street waiting to get queued up. We thought we could avoid the long wait by going inside the restaurant to order, but, this was during the pandemic and the doors were locked with signs on the glass apologizing for the inconvenience.
A few minutes later we were waiting in the street behind a green Mazda convertible with the top down. A young man was sitting in the driver’s seat while a large, golden retriever was on the passenger’s side. That breed is the party animal of dogs, and all of us enjoyed watching the beautiful creature that looked as though it were telling humorous stories to his driver.
Slowly the line inched forward, and we were no longer on the street. The boys were remarkably patient, but they were aware that if there was any sort of discontent that we could easily pull out of line and go back home without Happy Meals. [To be honest, my stomach was rumbling, betraying my own set of ethics. I wanted a couple of cheese burgers—the basic ones that I scarfed down as a teenager. I never appreciated the Big Mac and always preferred the cardboard thin beef patty and the American cheese as well as the sloppy catsup and mustard.]
We inched past the big display with the long list of options. Everyone already knew what they would order: two Happy Meals with chicken nuggets, orange juice, apple juice, three cheese burgers (for me), a shit load of fries, and a variety of burgers for the rest of the family.
The line crept forward but there was no one to take our order at the speaker box. The first service window was empty, yet when the guy in the sports car got to the second window, he was handed a soft ice cream cone. The retriever was ecstatic but was astounded when the driver held the treat away from the dog and pushed him back over on his side. [I was quite amazed myself. The guy was in line for half an hour to get only a stinking ice cream cone? A McDonald’s cone?]
We had a little surprise when we came up to the service window. The guy looked pained when he asked us what we had ordered. Somehow we had missed the place where we should have given our order. We had no choice but to either leave or go back around and get in line.
It was past dinner time by now, and the boys’ parents were expecting a couple of bags of fast food. There would be little time to prepare anything else for our evening meal. So we drove back out into the street and got in line again.
I still love those little cheeseburgers.