Today I bring you "Tales of Clerkdom", and the Customer of the Week. Enjoy!
One of the things I missed about my job at the Gallon while I was gone was getting to talk to the local cops. While I worked night shift, the cops and newspaper carriers from all the surrounding districts and jurisdictions would be a large portion of the people I would interact with. I was on friendly terms with all of them, and their visits helped pass the time during the long nights.
Well, while I was away, the newspapers all got consolidated, so that the one guy who used to bring me the Nashville Tennessean, now delivers all three of the daily papers. Also while I was away, My Fair City got a New Chief of Police, and the night-shift cops I had known so well got promoted to day-shift, and a couple of new, young, cops got put on nights. The new guys are odd characters, and I am not sure what to think about them. I will probably have more to say about them in a later post, but for we will call them Officer Doug* and Officer Jerry*.
Officer Doug was hanging around the store, talking to me about something or other, when he looked out the window and interrupted me, saying, "I think I'm about to get talked to".
Three people then walked through the door. A young, good looking black couple, and an elderly man who, sure enough, wanted to talk to Officer Doug. He approached with a small card in his hand.
"Excuse me, do you know how to get to..." He looked down at the card, reading, "..Ool -teh- wah?"
To those of you to whom that sounded like baby talk, Ooltewah is the actual name of an actual city just outside of Chattanooga, which, If you think about it, has just as silly-sounding a name. Anyway the word is Cherokee for "Owl's Nest", but the locals usually pronounce it more like "Ootle-wah", or "oodewa" depending on how strong their accent is.
Officer Doug knew something was wrong. He had been observing the man's approach to the building, and had noticed the man was acting erratically. He decided to answer the question with a question.
"What are you heading to Ootlewah for?" Officer Doug said, giving the word the correct local mispronunciation.
"I live there."
Officer Doug and I shared a look. That was creepy, The man couldn't find or correctly pronounce the name of the place where he lived? I then realized the card in his hand was his Driver's License. He had had to check his own ID to find his address!
His story was, he had gotten off work at midnight, taken a wrong turn, and had been lost for the last two and a half hours. His wife was freaking out, he said, because he was so late, but he just gets lost real easy, and if we could just point him the right direction to Ooltewah, he would be really grateful.
I knew where Ooltewah was. It was just a bit northeast of Chattanooga on interstate 75. I started to help this obviously troubled man, but Officer Doug cut me off with a sharp look, and continued his friendly, conversational, interrogation.
"Where do you work?"
"At the T.G.I. Thursday's*, in Hixson. I'm a Dishman, there." he said, a little too loudly.
Hixson is an area in northern Chattanooga. Ooltewah is, as previously mentioned, just slighty north and east of Chattanooga. He was talking to me about fifty miles west of Chattanooga. He had gotten really, badly, lost. After a few more questions along the lines of"Are you OK?" and "Are you sure everything's all right?" Officer Doug retreated into a calculating silence, and I broke the directions down as simply as I could for this poor guy, who had just turned a 30-minute commute into a five-hour drive by getting on the interstate going the wrong direction. He repeated the directions back to me, making sure he had it, and they seemed to be ringing the right bells, so he left, shuffling back out to his car, which was parked on the far end of the parking lot.
The young couple who had come in at the same time as him approached the counter to pay for their stuff. Officer Doug was still chewing over the situation. He asked the young lady what the old man had asked her in the parking lot. Apparently the man had shared his predicament with her much the same as he had with us, only she was not from the area and had no idea where anything was.
After she paid for her stuff and left, Doug and I were still mulling over the situation. Doug didn't like to just let the guy go, in the state he was in, but didn't feel quite justified in arresting him just for being lost. Because the old-timer had parked so far away, and because he moved so slow, he was just leaving the parking lot after the young couple had already taken off. He turned left out of the parking lot, toward the interstate exit, but as we watched, we noticed that he hadn't crossed the median when he turned and was now headed east in the westbound lanes of the divided highway! Officer Doug let out a curse, jumped out the door into his car, and, with quite a bit more tire squealing than I though was strictly necessary, sped off after the Lost Dishman of Ooltewah.
A couple of days later, I saw Officer Doug again, and asked him what had become of the Lost Dishman. Turns out, he had suffered that night from "Sudden-Onset" Alzheimer's Disease. Before he left work that night, he hadn't had a single syptom, according to his wife. But somewhere on the road it struck, and two hours later he had to check his own ID to find out where he lived.
These are the sorts of things you see, in my line of work, as a gas station clerk.
* This is a true story, only the names have been changed to protect the itinerant.