Shady Gas Stations, Incarceration Facilities, & Shame on Me

Here is something you probably don’t know about me: I’m a little snobbish when it comes to gas station restrooms. If we pull up to a gas station, and it looks shady, I hold it. And I can hold it a long time, trust me.

Last week, we drove to South Carolina for my cousin’s wedding, and there were quite a few stretches of road between here and there without restroom facilities, gas station, rest area, or otherwise. So when J felt the need to warn me as he got off an exit– “There really haven’t been many options, so this will have to do”–I knew there was a chance I wasn’t going to like the bathroom that lay ahead.

Just off this particular exit was also a sign informing us that three miles down the road was an incarceration facility. Of course there was. But it could be worse, I thought to myself. At least it’s not like that place in Pennsylvania I used to drive through by myself that in addition to signs informing me about a nearby penitentiary were signs telling me that under no circumstances was I to pick up hitchhikers or stop my vehicle alongside the road. 

I’m good at imagining worst-case scenarios.

So we pull up at the gas station, and it is worse than I imagine. J pauses and looks at me before he gets out of the rental car, waiting for my verdict. I decide to go in and see what the bathrooms are like. I open my door car door–

And then I see a big white van driving toward the gas station, turn its turn-signal on, and pull in. It’s hauling a trailer filled with garbage and an ominous port-o-potty. The van is full of men.

“Are you kidding me?” I say in disbelief. “A van full of prisoners? I am not getting out.” And I shut my door again.

Then I think, Gosh, it might not be prisoners. Maybe it’s just a road work crew. I’m so judgmental. So I say that to J as he hops out to get gas. He looks. “Nope. They’re definitely incarcerated.”

And they were. They had on orange jumpsuits and vests that stated it clearly on their backs.

Okay then, I’m staying put. No way am I getting out of this vehicle. I can hold it.

The van pulls up beside us and I do not look over. The driver of the van rolls down his window and begins to holler to the guy getting gas behind us. They converse amicably (though at very loud decibels) for a minute or two, and then the van driver rolls up his window and they drive away.

I sigh, pleased they’ve left but still unhappy at the prospect of the shady gas station bathroom. I decide to head in. It’s just as bad as I imagine, but I try to get over myself, take care of business, and avoid touching contaminated surfaces.

A few minutes later, we’re both back in the car, and J asks if I heard the conversation between the van driver and the guy behind us. It had been loud but pretty muffled, so I couldn’t make it out. J filled me in.

First, the driver asked the other guy how he was doing. Nothing too out of the ordinary there, I’d say, except that it was shouted, and except that the speaker is driving a van full of incarcerated men.

But then he asked him how church was going. Church? Goodness, what is the backstory to this conversation? Was this guy the prison chaplain? Was this other fellow a former inmate? How many other people around here were former inmates? My mind is going crazy.

Then he asked him if he was praying (he was), and then what he was praying for. I don’t know about you, but I can count on one hand the number of times I have asked someone out of the blue if she was praying. (Zero.)

After a few more back-and-forths of similar content, he closed the conversation with I’ll pray for you.

Huh. So it seems that this fellow, driving a van full of inmates, pulled into the gas station and parked beside me momentarily for the sole purpose of inquiring about somebody’s spiritual life. Something I’ve never done.

Meanwhile I–judging books by their covers as usual–was afraid to get out of the vehicle.

Sigh.

Shame on me.

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5 comments on “Shady Gas Stations, Incarceration Facilities, & Shame on Me

  1. You are like me I have trust issues in which I don’t trust anybody and haven’t for about 12 years. I’m a single female I live alone and the prospect of shady bathroom gas stations scare me. I have watched enough Criminal Minds episodes to know what could happen.

    • elizabeth says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Kelly, and for sharing your thoughts.

      I do know what you mean–I avoid watching those sorts of TV shows for that very reason.

      In this case, though, I must confess that my hesitation about shady gas stations has less to do with trust issues and more to do with germ issues!

  2. I used to have public potty issues…but then I spent a summer in a 3rd world country. Nothing, no, nothing could out nasty some of those bathrooms! I learned the important art of hovering.

    You know, Elizabeth, I’ve been guilty of judging just like you did in this post. It’s so hard. We walk a very thin line between protecting ourselves and forgetting mercy. Ugh. We all need to learn from this story. Thank you for sharing it!

  3. cynthia41768 says:

    Elizabeth,
    Thanks for this reminder. I thought it was really cool when I saw the link to this on Facebook this morning. Neat because my college friend from my Alabama days who posted it is now living in Africa as a missionary and is reading your blog! Global community 🙂

  4. elizabeth says:

    Susie–“the important art of hovering”–love it. Your comments are always enjoyable. You’re right about being aware of what a blessing things are for us here in the developed world, even the things that we consider unpleasant or gross. It’s a good reminder to be thankful, even for those things… maybe especially for those things! After all, in other developing countries, like Europe, you often have to pay for public restrooms that aren’t any cleaner than what we get for free. Your comment also made me think about the disadvantaged here in our own communities, those folks who don’t have their own homes, let alone their own bathrooms to keep sparkling and germ-free (not that mine is!). These are good reminder.

    Cynthia! So glad you posted, friend. I miss you. And I’ve been wondering about the connection to Africa! Perhaps I should admit this, but WordPress eerily tells me where it “thinks” blog subscribers live. When it said Africa, I thought I was crazy! I mean, I might be crazy. But not for that reason.

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