Just over the border, I stop in Hornbrook, California. The Chevron station may well be the only establishment in Hornbrook. While I pump my gas (elated that I remember how after living two and a half years in Oregon, where pumping one’s own gas is illegal), a car-full of late-teen boys pulls up beside me. Washington plates. They get out of the car, moaning and groaning about soreness and tiredness. There are five of them.
Once my tank is full, I move my car to the parking area and go inside to get my receipt and use the restroom. When I emerge, I pull out my camera to photograph the cherry blossom leaves that have hitchhiked on my back window, all the way from Sellwood (and as I’m writing this post in San Rafael, the leaves are still holding on strong).
“Take a picture of me,” I hear from behind.
I turn. It’s one of the boys from the car.
I put down my camera and say, “Where are you guys from?”
“Washington,” the same one answers. “Battle Ground.”
“Oh, okay. I’m from Portland.”
“Cool,” he says, his friends kicking parking lot pebbles, and I’m thinking, For someone who wanted his photo taken, this one isn’t very chatty.
I say, “Where you headed?”
I say, “Why?”
“Cousin’s wedding.” Still, the same boy. Apparently, the others don’t know how to talk.
There’s a pause, and then he says, “What about you?”
“Huntington Beach,” I say, because it’s close enough to Fountain Valley, and more people know where that is.
The boy repeats it: “Huntington Beach,” then makes a joke about “honey” and “beach” that I don’t quite catch.
I nod and smile. There’s a pause.
I’m about to turn back to my car when he says, “It’s nice to see someone else normal here.” And at this, his friends remember they have vocal chords and laugh.
I laugh, too, or perhaps “offer a dry chuckle” is more apt.
“Well, have fun,” I say.
“You too,” the boy says.
I get back in my car. I think about that word “normal,” how he meant it to compare the six of us to the gas station employees and the locals strolling the aisles. I think of this trip I’m taking, where I’m headed next, the photos I took of myself in the bathroom of the Hornbrook Chevron. I watch the boys from my rearview mirror as I pull back onto the 5. Normal, I think. Darlings, you have no idea.