Our second day on the road was like a dream. First, we were in Warrenton, Virginia, a charming town self-consciously holding onto the past, to the point of not having traffic lights downtown. Then we climbed west on the Lee Highway to Shenandoah National Park, hoping to take Skyline Drive south, but the higher we climbed, the thicker the fog became, forcing us to turn around and drive down out of the clouds. At Sperryville, now in a steady drizzle, we stopped for burgers at The Pit-Stop, a take-out joint not much bigger than a food truck except customers could order inside out of the rain.
It was busy inside. Six others were waiting for their orders. Having ordered, I saw an automatic teller machine and, short on cash, decided to use it. Call me Mister Oblivious. The machine had no lights, no welcome screen. It was not plugged in. That did not deter me. In went my bank card. Nothing happened. It still took me ten, twenty seconds to figure out there was something wrong. “That ATM has not worked in years!” said the woman who took my order. “The company just left it after removing the money.” Apparently, I was the first in years to try it.
How does grace work? I see it work whenever my sense of humor remains intact even when the situation deserves anger and frustration.
With my fingers, I tried pulling on the quarter-inch of my card still showing, but it would not budge. By now, I was the center of attention for the other six waiting. I suggested out loud that I could just take the whole machine with me. That got a laugh. We had all seen security videos on the evening news of enterprising petty criminals wrenching machines out of walls. Soon the conversation widened, to the topic of machines and easy money. “I’ve got a friend whose son puts slot machines around the country. He can make thousands of dollars in a week from one machine! The State of Virginia only taxes him $25 a year for the machine and hopes he declares his income.”
I asked the woman at the counter if she had a pair of pliers. She did not. “Does anyone here have a pair of pliers?” One man, who could have been a contractor, had a tool box on his pickup truck. Soon I had a pair of Channellock pliers in my hands. They came with a disclaimer. “You can use these, but I take no responsibility with what you do to your card or the machine.” That comment in itself says a lot about our litigious nation.
Enjoying the attention of the six others, I gently pulled. My bank card did not budge. I pulled harder. Out it came!
With everyone now in a happy mood, I got to know four students from Missouri who were traveling together, visiting one national park after another, on their way to D.C. and then to Niagara Falls. I did not get to know the man with the Channellocks — he soon left — but I was surprised how quickly the remaining man and I got to know each other.
Dressed in dark gray top and bottom, like a laborer, he said he’d lived in that part of Virginia all his life. He complained that the place was becoming a rich man’s vacation spot, that people with money were coming in from D.C. and buying up land in what was now “horse country”. Land was getting expensive and zoning meant only lots five acres and more could be sold and could not be subdivided. Little guys didn’t have much of a chance. I told him I liked the look of the country. I told him my wife had a horse. Surprisingly, that did not put him off, no more than his comments had put me off. Perhaps seeing me dumbfounded by the dead ATM made me human.
We talked more. We were enjoying conversation and each other’s company, dry, away from the wet outside, looking forward to food even if it was slow in arriving. I told him we going to visit Monticello and Appomattox Court House. That made him say something odd. He made a big deal out of telling me that General Lee never shook General Grant’s hand at Appomattox. This was not a controversy I knew about. Afterwards, a computer search produced nothing. Lee not taking Grant’s outstretched hand does not appear to be a right-wing talking point. But this man was making the point, a point dear to him. We talked more. He confided that he did not think our nation had been more divided since the Civil War. He thought it a shame, wished it were different. It worried him. I agreed with him. We both hoped relations would improve. Then his name was called. We shook hands and he left.
Photo is of the burger take-out restaurant in front the rain-covered windshield of our car.
Great story, and I’m glad that you were able to one up Generals Lee and Grant by shaking hands as you parted ways. PS: was your debit card still usable?
From what I can tell, Generals Lee and Grant did shake hands when they first met, but just as a way to greet one another, not as the fictitious historical moment depicted in paintings. And, yes, my card still works. You can barely see the mark of the pliers.