Joe drove home down the long and winding highway. The sun was setting behind the clouds in his rear view mirror, making the sky a vibrant mash of blue and pink against the onslaught of clouds he was driving towards. His apartment was a considerable distance from work because the only places affordable to someone with his income were at least an hour from town. Out in the affordable housing belt of the city were various shops, restaurants, and things to do but nothing like what was in the city. As he drove he noticed the battery level on his car was getting low. He pulled off on the next exit he knew had a gas & power station. He pulled into this gas station several times before, it was the same as any other. Over used and filthy, even with the lack of gasoline or diesel the place was still grimy and in a state of disrepair. The pavement was cracked and full of potholes one had to evade or else risk bending a wheel.
It had been raining all afternoon and the sky was a cool grey blue, fog was starting to form in the distance and made it hard to see the treeline out a few miles but nothing to impede driving. As Joe pulled into the station he picked the side closest to his charging port on his Civic and parked. He drove an older model Honda Civic with a sudo manual transmission, even in an electric car, it was a fun item installed second hand by the guy who he bought the car from. The transmission didn’t really do much but make the car lurch or increase speed accordingly as though it were really changing gears. Many street racers installed them to give the feel of the older more expensive gas cars that now could only get refueled by select stations that were big or old enough to still have gas pumps.
Joe got out of the car and opened his charging door, grabbing the charging cable and inserting it he looked over the price of the juice. Charging stations used to be free when they were new but now that every car used them you were charged per kWh much like a house would be. He watched as the indicator on the pump flashed and lowered it’s gauge to the similar number shown in his dashboard inside the car. Because there was no fuel, one could charge their car and walk inside the store for a few minutes with minimal risk of fires or explosions. Charging took generally fifteen minutes depending on the age and size of your battery pack. This civic had dual parallel batteries installed as it was once owned by an enthusiast who was into this sort of thing. Joe didn’t’ care, he paid for it cash off a friend, he just new his car got further on a single charge than most others. He locked the charging cable in place and walked towards the gas station.
The glass windows of the gas station were plastered in ads that lit up and changed widely from the old LED “windows”. The ads would change based on who was walking up so when a guy like Joe walked towards it ads for energy drinks and beer popped up. When a mom with kids walked up ads for hot dogs and clean bathrooms would appear intermixed with the others. Selective advertising, it was called, it also changed based on time of day and what your criminal record was. Those with a history could walk up and cause all the alcohol ads to vanish. Joe noticed an add for 2/20$ energy drinks and thought very hard about not buying them. He wandered to the back of the store and looked over the racks and racks of candy, chips, snacks, and overpriced automotive accessories. On one wall were the drink coolers one would see in any gas station, and the attendant in the center surrounded by impulse items and cheap things like gum and candy that wasn’t located on the candy isle.
Joe headed over to the soda section and looked around for the energy drinks that were supposedly on sale. The coolers were the older types with clear glass doors that showed you what was on the other side rather than screens. The screen coolers were more efficient as cold air wasn’t lost through the glass. Joe found two different flavors of the drink he wanted and held them in his hand. Looking around he picked up a bag of chips and another snack to have after dinner when he got home. The line at the register was a long one. Joe wasn’t the only person who had just got off work and needed to charge their car before getting home. Traffic had been bad due to the rain and many folks were running low because of it.
He stood in line behind an elderly woman who he figured couldn’t have been more than 4 feet tall as he could see the next guy in line clearly almost as though she wasn’t there. He stood there waiting, the cold drinks burning his hands, his shoes tacky against the old linoleum floor. Rain started to pick up again outside, he looked out the doors to see an old silver pickup truck pull into the parking spot in front of the gas station. A couple exited the truck and walked inside. First was a guy, visibly older than Joe but not by much, he was exceptionally thin and wore an old pair of red flannel pajama pants with cartoon characters on them. The ends of which were so frayed, wet, and dirty that his feet popped out from the bottom to expose his miss matched flip flops. He wore a golden-yellow tank top that appeared so brand new that it couldn’t even have been washed yet. Joe recognized it as a designer brand by the logo and the apparent thickness of it. The guy lifted a bony arm to take off his hat once inside, a proper gentleman, that which he proceeded to crumple up in his hands nervously as he looked around the room.
The woman with him was very short, and very full figured, yet her legs were disproportionately thin. She wore flip flops as well, but with excruciatingly short white denim shorts and a light purple spaghetti strap tank top. Everything she wore seemed to be in an effort to display all the tattoos she had. The backs of her calves, full shins, front and back of the thigh all had full color highly detailed floral work done with realistic butterflies and roses. Her arms had a similar theme along the back triceps, delts, and along the forearms. Should she have had anything done between them it would have made full sleeves and legs. Her hair was tied back in a tight ponytail that she adjusted once inside. The girl pointed her boyfriend to something along the wall behind the gas station attendant and walked back to the coolers.
The guy scratched the thin whiskers on his chin that matched the color of his hair. Joe wondered what on earth these two were going to buy. As he casually took note of their actions, the old woman in front of him took her turn at the register. She was buying two small cans of cat food, a scratch off, and a tallboy of Tecate. Joe watched as she placed the items on the counter. As a law, any shop that sold alcohol, weed, or nicotine could not use the auto pay systems. Too many instances of teens with mom and dads phone walking in and buying beer. Joe hated it, but didn’t like going to the “no-sin” stations as they would always text or email you religious tracts after you left. Soon a second station attendant opened a new register to help with the line. Joe let the girl behind him go on so she could buy her milk and bread. Then the couple showed up behind her in line.
The girl had a case of soda under one arm and a bag of some kind of jerky. The boyfriend had a six pack of beer and a small pack of little powdered sugar donuts. After the lady paid for her milk the couple walked up to the counter and placed their items down. Joe looked ahead to see the old woman in front of him still paying for her items, and had paused to scratch off her lottery ticket, win 20$, buy six more tickets and scratch those as well while the line started moving to the other side. Joe didn’t mind as he was now interested in seeing what this couple was going to buy. The girl pointed out something along the wall behind the cashier who asked if they really wanted them. They both nodded their heads and the cashier turned around to get a pack of cigarettes from the bottom row of the THC and nic wall. He placed the pack of cigarettes down on the counter and whispered to them the price to which the couple handed him two 100$ bills. The other register attendant motioned to Joe to pay for his drinks. He pulled out his phone to pay when he asked the guy to throw in a pack of nic pods.
“What flavor?” he asked.
Joe picked blueberry caramel cream waffle, his favorite at the lowest concentration. He tapped his watch on the sensor which turned green, then the guy bagged his stuff. The couple was now outside the station, standing under the awning as the rain was now pouring down in sheets. Joe put his drinks in his outer jacket pockets and tucked the box of nic pods into his inner jacket pocket. He dashed outside to his car under the now well lit awning. The rain was so hard the large overhead awning wasn’t doing much to keep anything dry. He shut off the power supply on the power pump which unlocked the connector on his car. He put it away quickly and hopped inside the vehicle. Joe put his drinks in the cup holders in the center console and turned on his car and wipers.
In front of him he saw the couple climbing into their truck, which once inside, they lit up a cigarette to share. Joe thought for a moment and came to the realization that the couple were not some broke trailer trash who just spent their weeks food budget on sugary drinks and cigarettes, but were actually very rich people who just simply didn’t care or were trying their best to hide it. The woman had over ten grand in tattoos and had bought very expensive sodas and junk food in the station. Then Joe realized that those cigarettes they bought were easily over $60 for the one pack. They had to be rich, he thought there was no other way they could afford such luxuries. The guy was wearing pajama pants in the middle of the day when anyone else would have been at work, so clearly he was working from home, perhaps they both worked from home. That was it, he thought, these two were some kind of upper tier software consultants or did some other type of online well paying job and this was their way of dressing in order to not stand out. They didn’t charge up the truck, which meant it hadn’t gone too far and about a quarter mile from the station was a very affluent neighborhood.
Joe sat in his car for a minute, waiting to see if the heavy rain would subside before he got back on the road. He tried to imagine the couple in their truck in front of him in a vintage gas powered Ferrari, having steak for dinner every night in their downtown apartment building in the city. They probably had more than one apartment and even rode bikes to work! No, not ride, they probably could walk to work with whatever supertech job these two had. He came up with a thousand reasons as to how this couple had so much money to waste. Soon however, the truck they were in went into reverse and backed out of the parking spot. He watched as the windows of the truck faded to black, a custom installation done on auto-driving cars to allow the riders privacy. He was right, the couple were in what appeared to be a busted up pickup truck that was actually an expensive custom auto car. He watched as the truck drove itself to the service road and out into traffic where it made a U turn back towards the city. Joe put his civic in fake first gear and rolled out of the gas station and back on the road.