Countdown Story #8: Bristol, VA

After crossing into Virginia, I beeline toward the nearest gas station where I’ll celebrate another state with bad coffee and a big danish. Along the way I pass a marquee at the entrance of St. Anne’s Catholic Church. It says, “In the tapestry of life, we are all connected.”  

I park Little Buddy on the quiet side of a station mini-mart and head inside for my treats. Between bites of my honey bun, I remove two ticks from my lower leg—the first ticks I’ve ever had on my body. Then I watch a man fiddle with a large ring of keys, unlock an air machine, then empty its cache of coins into a padlocked canvas bag. As the quarters pour out, I ponder the profundity of paying twenty-five cents for three minutes of air.  

When he’s done he enters the mini-mart and exits with an extra-large styrofoam cup. He stops to admire Little Buddy who, yet again, doubles as an ice breaker. The man introduces himself. Tony. We shake hands. 

“I spend most of my life behind the wheel,” Tony says. “Traveling to places like this to service machines and collect coins. Done more than one hundred thousand miles in less than three years.”

Tony’s got a lot of time to think, which, he says, isn’t always a good thing. But he’s finally in a good space in his life. He’s coming up on the first wedding anniversary of his second marriage and couldn’t be happier. 

“First one ended when I found out she was having an internet relationship with a man in Pakistan,” he says. 

Tony confronted his then wife and gave her an ultimatum. Make a choice, him or the other guy. 

“But she wanted both and I was like, no way,” he says. “So it turned into a messy divorce.” Tony says his new life is peaceful. He and his new wife enjoy making plans for their future. Someday they hope to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. 

“We’ll probably do it in sections, though,” he says. “It’s too expensive to do it all at once.” Tony takes a long pull on his soda and says he’d better get going—there are more machines to empty before he can call it a day and traffic is already getting heavy. 

“And you know what? I’m not sure why I’m telling you all this stuff, anyhow,” he says. “I best get out of here before I spill my guts even more.”

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