MY GAS NEEDLE NUDGING "E," I PULL onto my exit to work this morning and weigh the scales: Gas before? Gas after?
Such are the elaborate innerworkings of a mind of unrecognized genius.
I conclude it's more efficient to stop before since the station is on the right on my inbound commute, rather than bother with a left turn after on my outbound commute. (I'm so smart.) Besides, when 4:30 rolls around, I'm ready to get me and my 220 horsepower of Japanese engine the hell out of Forsyth County - fast as possible.
For those of you not familiar with Atlanta's ever-expanding sprawl of suburbs, Forsyth County, just 20 miles north of the City Too Busy To Hate, was the subject of a 1987 Oprah show for its colorless distinction of not having had a single Black resident since 1912. That would be 75 years. Longer than Jim Crow. And its not because Blacks haven't tried to live there.
And this is where I commute 5 days a week.
I could be all dramatic and leave it at that - leave you to believe that I am the lone Black person in the entire county, bearing the whole weight of decades of racial oppression for nine hours a day on my lonesome lashed back; that I am psychologically tortured by my company's mandated Gone With the Wind screensavers; its vending machines which only accept Confederate currency; the Klansmen running Accounting; the wall-to-wall Stars & Bars carpeting.
But the truth is what you want. And the truth is - to Hosea's and Oprah's credit - as of 2004, the county does have a trace number of Black residents.
I mean, the county high schools do have to field basketball teams.
So I pull up to the pump, proud of my anticipated exercise in efficiency, and (who but?) two plump Forsyth County police officers are parked at the convenience store, leaned against their patrol car, guzzling coffee.
My heart does a little jump (which would not be for joy) as I tense for conflict.
Now, why would you be afraid of cops? would be the natural question. Are you guilty of something? Is there a warrant out for your arrest? Are you a fugitive from the law?
But such questions are the luxury of an other demographic. If you know me at all, you might correctly assume that I've never had a warrant out for my arrest. But the answer to one of the above questions is: Yes, I am guilty of two things.
I'm Black and I'm male.
Granted, I've never had a Rodney King experience, an Amadou Diallo experience, an Abner Louima experience, an Arthur McDuffie experience, a Nicholas Yarris experience, a Carl Lawson experience, a Michael Evans experience, a Vincent Moto experience, an Anthony Porter experience, a Dennis Williams experience, a Larry Mayes experience, a Leroy Orange experience, a Donovan Jackson experience, a Patrick Dorismond experience, a Joseph Nahume Green experience, a Darby Tillis experience, a William Gregory experience, a Perry Cobb experience, a Calvin Willis experience, a Walter McMillan experience, a Daryl Hunt experience, a Ronnie Bullock experience, a Charles Ray Giddens experience, or a Verneal Jimerson experience, but I'm in no rush to have one either.
There ain't many things that make me nervous, but cops make me nervous.
So I pull up to the pump and process the equation: (Black man) + (late-model Infiniti) + (2 Forsyth County cops) = TROUBLE. I begin destroying evidence.
First, I free my rearview mirror of its cowrie charm. Then, I eject Roy Ayers from the CD player and tune my dial to NPR; I adjust Steve Inskeep to a moderate volume, leaving the car door ajar for the officers in earshot.
Tag? Check. Insurance? Check. License? Check. Finally, I do what I came to do: I swipe my card, give my full back to the cops, and I begin pumping.
As I watch the digital meter, to keep myself calm, I count the gallons internally, One... two... three...
Halfway there, I think. Which is when the inevitable happens.
"Sir," a voice twangs like an out-of-tune banjo.
You didn't hear that, I think, even as I hear it. Besides, you're just pumping gas. If you ignore it, it will surely go away.
Pretending to check the nozzle, I give the cops more of my back - much as a gorilla might do in a zoo.
"Sir!" the voice twangs again, a little louder.
My collar begins to tighten like a noose. God, it is too early in the morning for this.
I tense as I turn around; the pig is still leaning against his patrol car. Why now? My blood is racing. Why now? Control. Control.
"Your rear tire," he says.
God, is it illegal to have tires now?
"It's a little flat."
If I could crawl into my fuel tank, I would. But I'd combust in flames.
A thanks would be appropriate, jackass.
COMPLETELY ASHAMED OF MY BEHAVIOR, I CAN'T EVEN LOOK the cop in the face. So as I top off my tank, I turn my back to them again. I can't bear to let them see me eating crow. I don't even check my deflating tire until after they pull off.
The tire looks salvagable. Though it is a slow leak, it is a quick lesson.
So, I scan the service station for a hose for Air. I find it, but my lesson isn't yet done.
News travels fast. It seems the Karma Fairy has already paid me a visit. The Air at this station is OUT OF ORDER.