The Thing With Routine

People really are creatures of habit. We like, for the most part, when things remain the same and unchanged. We like doing things the same way repeatedly. I don’t know if it’s the calming familiarity of a set pattern, or that we’re too lazy to do something a different way once we have established our way of doing it, but we generally do repeat what we have done in the past. That’s why I when I had an hour-long commute for work, I also had a set routing on the days I stopped for gas.

My routine was well-established: First, I’d pump the gas (obviously). Next, I’d go inside, walk up the aisle, grab a package of brown sugar and cinnamon Pop-Tarts, and open the end before I cooked it in the microwave for 14 seconds on medium power. Then I’d walk to the back of the station to the coolers and pick out a pint of low-fat chocolate milk (after I carefully checked the expiration date) and go back to retrieve my now heated Pop-Tarts. Then I’d take my part of a nutritional breakfast to the counter and pay for it and the fuel before I returned to my car. Once in the car, I’d set the milk in the cup holder and rip down the seam in the Pop-Tarts package to help them cool. By the time I hit the interstate, the Pop-Tarts cooled enough to eat one at a time by first eating all around the edges and then finishing off the best bit in the center. I’d save my first drink of milk until on Pop-Tart was consumed. When it was time, I’d open the milk and take a small swig to leave space to mix it.  Then I’d shake the milk. I didn’t use an up and down motion, but rapidly rocked the container back and forth (imagine opening a door knob and you’ll get the idea).

I did this two or three times a week and always did it the same way (yes I realize it’s weird that I remember it in such detail, but you trying doing something that often for a few years and see if you don’t). One day, it went horribly wrong.

I stopped at my usual gas station near Exit 4 on I-24. I pumped the gas. I went inside, got and heated my Pop-Tarts, went to the back, grabbed some milk and checked the date on it, retrieved my Pop-Tarts, took it all to the counter, and paid for it. I got in my car, set the milk in the cup holder, opened the Pop-Tarts more and drove off. When I got on I-24 headed to Nashville, I began to eat. I finished eating the crust off the first Pop-Tart a I passed Exit 8. Two quick bites and it was completely consumed. I reached for my milk and removed the cap with my left hand and quickly used my right to bring it to my mouth. Just then, a bulletin about a wreck came on, so I set the milk down to turn up the radio. Fortunately, the accident didn’t affect me as it was not along my route. I smiled as I reached for my milk (and careful readers know what happened next).

Just as I passed Exit 11 (the last Clarksville exit), I picked my milk from the cup holder and gave it my customary shake. That’s when I discovered what it felt like to be in the rinse cycle of a dish washer, assuming that somewhere there is a dish washer that utilizes low fat chocolate milk and also has a liquid saving feature that only uses up a pint at a time. The front interior of the car was absolutely drenched with chocolate milk, including me.

I now faced a choice. Should I turn around at Exit 19 and backtrack to home or figure a way to salvage the situation and still make it to work on time. I quickly assessed my predicament. The front of the car seemed to have borne the brunt of the deluge and though my shirt was completely soaked, my pants were mostly spared. Both were good news because laying on the back seat was a camp t-shirt I hadn’t worn yet. Elated, I passed Exit 19 and planned to stop at Exit 24 which has a gas station closer to the interstate.

I got off I-24 and pulled in to the gas station. I took a deep breath and prepared for what I knew would be the worst part. I grabbed the shirt from the back and walked in to the gas station in the small community of Pleasant View, TN (unincorporated). Regardless of what happened in pretty much every 80’s movie, I don’t think records scratch and stop while everyone stares if you walk into an uncomfortable situation, but I knew this would be as close as I had ever come to that happening.

I walked in and tried to ignore the looks I garnered on my way to the bathroom. Of course it was occupied and I stood there with my chocolate milk infused shirt clinging tightly to my chest. I wish I was brave enough to just stare back, but I kept my eyes trained on the floor. Finally, the door opened and I dashed in.

I cleaned up as best I could in the small bathroom as I wondered exactly which restrooms the sign out front referred to as “clean” (I concluded there were other restrooms hidden away somewhere). I heard muffled laughter and conversation through the door the entire time. The talking ended when I opened the door, but started back up before I made it out of the station. I thought very briefly about buying some more chocolate milk (I still had the other Pop-Tart after all), but decided I really didn’t want them to wonder what I was going to do with it.

As I walked out the door I heard someone say, “That had to have been the worst wet t-shirt contest ever!”

© Leighton Brown and Stories Now Told, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Leighton Brown is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leighton Brown and Stories Now Told with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information, please see the Copyright page.

About leighton

I could be considered a true Renaissance Man after having a long and storied (seriously, people actually tell stories about it) college experience and varied careers. I am also a shameless self-promoter (who did you think was writing this anyway?) who is prone to flights of fancy, an abundance of passion on any given subject, ,obsessive behavior, spontaneous storytelling (whether anyone listens or not), and making parenthetical references. I would also be thrilled if I heard someone use the word "raconteur" to describe me.
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4 Responses to The Thing With Routine

  1. Leighton, I’ve known you for a very long time. You were only a child when we left Clarksville in 1991. You might not even remember us, but our chrildren Bonita, Leigh Anne, and Angel were about your age, and we all attended church together. Anyway I just wanted to say that you have developed into quit a literate writer and I am enjoying each and every article. Keep up the good work and congradulations on all your acomplishments. Sincerly

    • leighton says:

      Of course I remember you! I remember Wednesday night class at church and that timer we would set and hide from you. Of course, one of my fondest memories is of delivering Christmas boxes to various places and you dressed as Santa one year.

  2. tulisha says:

    I suddenly realize that there’s a gap in my understanding of your life timeline. When did you live near Exit 1? (In my head you’ve always lived on the same property–first in your parents’ house, now in your own.)

    • leighton says:

      I didn’t. That was a typo I missed which has now been corrected. And before you asked, I used Exit 1 because it let me avoid school traffic at Exit 8. 🙂
      But I’m really laughing about “understanding of your life timeline.” For some reason that seems to add a layer of gravitas of which I seem hardly deserving. 🙂

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