The Rear End

Blue Sky Over the Kwik Trip

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Shannon Sorenson |

Not everyone coming and going from the Kwik Trip holds the door for me, but almost everyone. I always hold it for people. Or at the very least, I lean back outside a little and keep the door open until the next person reaches out and grabs the handle. A polite little hand off. Anything more than this would be showy and it might make someone uncomfortable. What am I? A palace guard?

“Thanks,” they say.

“Yep,” I say.

I’m never fully comfortable in the Kwik Trip. I feel like I’m visiting someone’s house and I don’t know the rules of their home, but asking “What are the rules?” would be awkward and ridiculous. So instead of being awkward out loud, I am awkward inside my head.

I grab my COFFEE or my DONUT or my NAKED JUICE wondering if anyone is paying attention to what I’m doing even though they aren’t. We always think people are analyzing THE STUFF we do and the THINGS we buy, but no one does that. Almost no one.

I mean, when I see someone in the grocery store with 20 cases of Mountain Dew in their cart, I wonder. I don’t judge. But I wonder. Is that how much Mountain Dew they always buy? Is it for a party? Are they trying to win a contest? Should I be trying to win a contest?

But back in the Kwik Trip as I fumble and fuss with the stupid coffee lid dispenser – IT’S LIKE A FRIGGIN’ BEAR TRAP – I wonder if I’m failing to follow some kind of gas station protocol and everyone else knows it. I wonder if everyone’s rolling their eyes. On the inside. At me.

I assume this is why “pay at the pump” is a thing. Yes, it’s faster, but it also contains far fewer social landmines. Fewer interpersonal quagmires. Real or imagined.

I almost always pay at the pump. It is my way.

Out at the pump the other day I felt a bright, chilly breeze under a cloudless blue sky, yawning for miles over the Kwik Trip, over the whole city, over the whole Valley inside of which we live. It felt like winter was ending. Though I know it’s too early for that.

No one bothered to button their coats that day, and they took their time. They didn’t rush into the Kwik Trip for coffee and breakfast sandwiches and purple energy drinks. Gone was the usual blast of arctic air to herd them along.

I pressed the mute button next to the TV screen on my gas pump because that’s a thing now. I wonder about the people on that screen. I wonder what they say at parties and at lunch when people ask them about their job.

“I read news to people while they stand next to their cars and pump gas because maybe they feel awkward just staring into space for a few minutes. So I talk about CURRENT EVENTS and HOLLYWOOD and the WORD OF THE DAY.”

On that day with the blue sky I saw a lady walking into the Kwik Trip with four little kids – one on her hip, the rest scrambling along behind, jackets open and flapping in the breeze. She held the door for them.

And then a different lady came backing out, pushing open the door with her butt, using both hands to carry the largest iced coffee the Kwik Trip can possibly sell you. I wondered how she would open her car door.

But I never found out because my gas pump ka-thunked at me. I was all full and I didn’t want a carwash or a receipt. I pulled out the nozzle and dripped gas all over the place like I always do. I hoped no one was watching.

I hopped into my driver’s seat (i.e. my seat), fired up the engine, and took the easy way out. Most people rush for the nearest exit, but at this time in the morning, while everyone hurries to work, the nearest exit is the path of fools. Some of these people even try to turn left because they are the worst kind of idiot.

Not me. I drive down to the other exit, down where the traffic doesn’t back up. I pull out onto the street – effortlessly – and cruise by all the people still waiting to leave the Kwik Trip from the nearest exit. Their blinkers furiously blink.

And there, inside my car, under that hopeful blue sky, I feel very good about myself.

Journey Ahead

We all get old. In fact, some of us, right at this very moment, ARE old. V1's guide to challenges and opportunities of growing older in the Chippewa Valley. Presented by the ADRC of Eau Claire County