4Q Conversations

Something I enjoy doing on this blog is sharing interesting conversations I’ve had with strangers in public. It’s funny because unless I’m in the gym or leading a class or otherwise in my element, I’m an introvert and do not freely welcome conversation from strangers. My exterior doesn’t make me any more approachable, either. Nevertheless, children are for some reason fascinated by me and so are certain adults with fun stories. Over the years, I’ve shared with you a conversation I had with some ladies regarding the sexiness of Axl Rose, a man who was rather rude to me while I was buying my mom flowers for her birthday and an evening where I had a wild experience talking to both the owner of a pizza joint in South Knox and a man named Toby who was loitering outside of his establishment.

This time I have a triple-header — Ronnie the Old Man from Down the Road, Tom the Truck Driver and Boris the Cashier.

Ronnie

Katie and I had a yard sale in the fall and had a pretty successful, though exhausting, day. We were visited by an older lady who kept trying to scam us, two women with cigarette lighter holsters, a sheriff who swung by after I accidentally called 911 with my new phone (I tried to sell him a mirror anyway) and a slew of non-remarkable people. It was getting late and I thought we were done so I started to pack up when a bright red 1955 Ford Thunderbird pulled into our driveway. A thin old man got out and immediately let me know that he thought we had some really good stuff despite not actually looking at any of it yet. 

He shook my hand and introduced himself as Ronnie then told me he lived up the road from us. He looked through our old tech, commented on my devil mask collection (that had been cut in half thanks to awesome sales) and suddenly fixed his eyes on some old jewelry. He picked up a necklace and asked me how much. I didn’t know how much Katie wanted for the jewelry and she wasn’t out there anymore so I started to panic then busied myself with untangling the necklace hoping to buy myself some time to generate a fair price. While untangling the necklaces, he said he was interested in the chains because the one he was wearing was getting old and he didn’t like it. The type of chain he was wearing was the kind you’d usually see dog tags on but I was surprised when he reached down into his shirt and pulled out a Life Alert button. 

He said he lived alone because his wife had died six months ago and he fell the other day and it almost killed him. “All you gotta do is press this button, though, and they’ll check on you! I was just mowing my yard the other day and when I knelt down to get my gas can, I accidentally pressed it and they started calling me. I told them I was okay, that I was just out mowing, but about 10 minutes later an ambulance rolled into my driveway!” 

I told him he could just have the necklace and he disagreed so he grabbed a second necklace and said “how about now?” Knowing that he wouldn’t stop until I told him how much, I said “a buck” so he grabbed a third and said “how about now?” We both laughed and he told me “something young folks don’t understand is we old people really want to help y’all when you’re out working and doing something nice.” He gave me a handful of dollar bills and continued browsing. He complimented my motorcycle in my garage before telling me that his son has a couple and ended up “taking” his Goldwing after riding it and realizing how comfortable it was to ride. Since a Goldwing is a Honda motorcycle, he wanted to make sure to rib me about how much better Honda motorcycles are than Harleys then went on to talk about how he likes to rile up classic car enthusiasts by telling them his classic Ford in my driveway was ran by a Chevy engine. “Those Ford people scrunch up their faces and they just don’t like hearing that but all I say is hey, I didn’t put it there!”

We had a giant furniture piece that Katie had brought in from her old office that was tall and slender, had several spots to install shelves and had a cabinet/cubby thing on the top. Ronnie was fascinated by it and said that would be a good thing for him to have because it’s the perfect size for one particular part of his house. He said he’d add some shelves to it and put his stuff on it that he frequently loses. Our Make Offer sticker on the cabinet turned into $10 (we just wanted to get rid of it) and he said he was going to go get his truck and be back later. 

When he returned to pick up the cabinet, I lifted it and slid it into the back of his truck. While he began securing the cabinet with a rope, we started talking about life and relationships. I told him about how my grandparents were married for over 60 years and how my Paps didn’t have enough money to take them out on a date so Gran pawned a transistor radio another man had bought her so they could go. Ronnie laughed and said that he and his wife would have been married 60 years if she had lived just a little longer. He also told me that one time he had found an old class ring in a parking lot so he put it in his pocket and later that day his wife said she was hungry for something from Krystal. Neither one of them had enough money to buy dinner that day so he pawned the ring and got enough money to “buy her a Krystal burger and had enough left over for lunch the next couple of days!” 

He said that he met her when he was 20 years old and immediately fell in love with her. They celebrated his 21st birthday together by going to see Elvis in concert. Once the cabinet was secured, he saw a shower caddy we had for sale so he grabbed it up and said he wanted that, too. Before asking how much, he said “Now, don’t tell your wife how much I gave you for this,” before slipping me a $5 (we were asking $1), “… because once a woman knows how much money you have, you won’t be able to keep her away!” I laughed and told him that if Katie knew how much money I had, she would’ve kept a healthy distance from me a LONG time ago.

Our interaction with Ronnie ended with him telling us about what other classic cars he owned, telling us about his cat, encouraging us to come visit him and inviting us to church. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever visit him and I’ll almost certainly not visit his church, but I was grateful that our yard sale day ended on such a beautifully entertaining note.

###

Tom

It’s true that when you reach a certain level of meat-headedness that a lot of your life revolves around when you’re supposed to eat. Presently, my daily nutrition consists of a pre-workout protein bar, a post-workout protein shake, breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, dinner and dessert — and that’s all while cutting!

I love dessert so I almost always have one at night. I also love hitting that protein shake after a workout so I never miss it. I also always have a little something to eat before those workouts — usually a Quest bar or another comparable protein bar. So what happens when you don’t have any protein bars at home? 

You hit the truck stop at the Watt Rd. exit at 4:45am and cough up $3 for it. 

Normally at that time of day there’s usually me, a clerk behind the counter and another clerk stocking supplies. On this particular, no-protein-bar-having day, however, there was another person. He was tall, had a scraggly beard, was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved flannel over a t-shirt. He had a case of water on the counter as well as a DVD copy of Mad Max

As I shuffled toward the counter, I could hear the man talking up a storm to the clerk about his time in Iraq. He had apparently spent some time in the armed forces and according to him, nothing we were told in the American media was true and it had nothing to do with George W. Bush, Barack Obama or Donald Trump — it was all a covert operation of some kind established by a number of American ambassadors to Iraq. He never really said what, exactly, they were trying to accomplish but it was on them either way. 

Once he saw that I was waiting to pay for my one item, he apologized and moved his water. He then started talking to me about his time in Iraq and his knowledge of media fabrications. Once it was time to pay for my $3 protein bar, I slid my card in the reader, chip first, and … card read error. So I did it again. Same. I did it a third time, same. I swiped it per the instructions on the reader only to be told, swipe is not allowed

It’s happened several times before. I just try again and it works, but not this time. Meanwhile, the war vet just kept droning on about his distrust of American media before seamlessly going into a story.

People are crazy, man, you know? They just don’t respect truck drivers because they just assume they’ll never see us again. I had this one guy, he just, this one guy, just, he, man, he was rude to me and what he doesn’t know is that we talk, man, and truckers all over find out about people treating truck drivers that way and they won’t go back.

I went up to him, man, I’m telling you, I went up to him and I backed him up against a wall and let him know he doesn’t know who he’s being rude to! I told him, man. I let him know! 

— Card read error; Card read error; Please Swipe; Swipe is not allowed —

Frustrated, I shrugged and said it was cool, I didn’t need it, and started to leave before this man stopped talking and offered to buy my protein bar. This somewhat-crazy, definitely conspiracy-theory-believing war vet-turned truck driver went from annoying and unnecessary to way cooler than he had any reason to be. 

To me, a stranger who needed a little something on his stomach on leg day before most people in Knoxville got out of bed.

I thanked him and reached my hand out to shake his hand in appreciation. He shook my hand and before I could tell him my name, he shouted MY NAME IS TOM AND I GOT JESUS IN MY HEART! 

And my name is Justin and I have protein in my belly, thanks to Tom the Trucker.

Boris

In case you haven’t heard, Katie and I have a wedding coming up and everyone is excited about it. I’m excited, she’s excited, my mom is excited, our friends are excited. It’s basically the talk of the town. Since our engagement back in June, both mine and Katie’s Facebook ads, Instagram ads and Pinterest suggestions are overwhelmed by wedding rings (already secured), wedding dresses (already secured), wedding venues (already secured), wedding cakes (already secured) and a number of other wedding necessities. Our digital worlds have been completely taken over.

And while neither one of us are old, per se, Katie and I have more of an appreciation for classic pleasures than most people our age. I stream music every day but I also have a collection of thousands of CDs, a handful of cassettes and a hundred or more vinyl records. We have bookshelves full of books (neither one of us read e-books or listen to audiobooks) and … we still buy magazines. 

Namely wedding magazines. The contents are limited in comparison to the endless depths of Pinterest but there’s something magical about turning the pages of a magazine and not knowing what surprises may be on the next one. Writers, photographers, printers and designers all come together to create a beautiful experience that cannot be replicated online, yet it’s all for a still-dying industry.

Any time I go to a store with a magazine rack, I always check to see if there are any new wedding magazines I can bring home to Katie. It’s a simple, inexpensive, small gesture that sends her over the moon (take notes, guys). And I just happened to come across a new one recently while out doing some Christmas shopping. 

When it was my turn to check out, I approached an older gentleman I’ll call Boris. I laid the magazine on the counter and he scanned the barcode, tapped the cover with his finger and slid it into a bag while saying “keep that away from me!”

“Wedding magazines?” I asked.

Yes, keep those away from me! Weddings and Las Vegas! 

He laughed just as I asked for clarification — are those two things related for you?

“Yes, my second wedding was in Las Vegas! Never again! Haha! Never again!” 

I told him my parents eloped in Las Vegas and it seemed pretty cool and I was sorry he felt that way. I told him I was pretty excited about getting married. 

Well you see, the thing is … I remarried my ex-wife! We divorced and when the alimony ran out, she came back! So we went to Vegas and got married again. Never again! Never again, keep it away from me!

I finished checking out and made a compromise with him — I’ll still get married, but I’ll stay the hell away from Las Vegas.

Me: Deal?

Boris: Deal!

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