I pulled up to Des Plaines Oasis while Sadie was still babbling on in the passenger seat about her night-class professor, some mustached old Timothy-Dalton-now-lookalike with cheap blue blazers that were too big even for his strange gorilla frame, Phillip something. “There’s a whole way,” Sadie was saying, “like, the whole system, of how everything has been designed to keep women from power.”
“Jeez,” I said, trying to look through the thick ice and snow built into a haze across the windshield. “It’s murder out here.”
The parking lot was covered in white and terrain hazards in snow drifts and mounds so that it looked like a construction zone where parking spots had hastily been carved out of a hilltop. The wind outside continued to blow the falling snow around in a faint fog that could blind you for more than a few feet.
“Dr. Phillips showed us how – I can’t remember exactly how he put it but it was very thorough,” Sadie was saying, “but even money itself is built around-”
“Can you see if I’m double-parked?” I asked. “I can’t tell if I’m double-parked.”
I decided “fuck it” and shut off the SUV’s engine. As soon as I opened the door, the cold began to creep through the warmness the car had created, reaching around between coat and clothes like tendrils and then solidifying like a solid block, this stone-hard irrepressible sheet that filled the space. Without waiting I clomped through the snow mounds that an orange-vest-clad transport worker was shoveling up near the entrance into the foyer of the Oasis and shook the snow out from my clothes.
A few seconds later, I heard Sadie come in. “I almost tripped out there,” she said.
There were only two other travelers about: a hawk-faced woman sitting at a table by the windows that overlooked the interstate, staring out at nothing, and a big, round-looking middle aged man bundled up in a lot of winter layers and a skully cap waiting by the McDonald’s counter. It was past 3 in the morning and no one had a reason to be here. “I’m going to use the bathroom,” I heard Sadie say; I was already heading for the McDonald’s, which was the only place open at this hour.
It sounded faintly like Sadie was going to say she wanted something too, so I just yelled over my shoulder, “Hurry up in there!” to drown her out.
I stepped in line behind the big bundled up guy. He looked like he’d been up for 3 weeks straight or something, his clothes covered by the grimy layer of dirty snow that comes with prolonged exposure. There was no one at the counter. “Can you believe they closed the 290 exit?” I asked to make conversation. It was the whole reason we were still here.
“I was over there; it’s damn good they did,” Bundles said turning, suddenly full of vigor. “Those idiots were trying to go around the jackknifed truck. Some assholes think just because they have an SUV they can climb over the median! Only a moron would try to get through there.”
“Woah,” I turned away, laughing a little. “Easy, gov’nor.”
“The people who know what they’re doing make those decisions because they have all the facts – they have a system for it.”
“My system wants a steak & cheese McGriddle, haha,” I said, my hands up in an I don’t know anything about that kind of indication, my face open and charming. Most people could relate and softened when you acted that way.
“You,” the man at the counter had appeared. “How dare you show your face again.”
“What?” I asked. He was a short Mexican, kind of dad-looking, with short black hair. I’d never seen him before.
“Did you think you could just come back in here after what you did? Get going before I bust up your face!”
“What did this guy do?” Bundles asked, looking at me with suspicion already.
“He came in here weeks ago,” the counter guy said. “Same time, when I was working. At this hour, we have a system. There’s no computers, it’s cash only. I have a notebook, I have a pen. You order, I add it up, you pay in cash.”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “I was here, I remember.” I’d been driving home blind black-out drunk after a Christmas party so I couldn’t really be faulted for not recognizing the counter guy at the McDonald’s in Des Plaines Oasis. “What, is that a crime?”
“We have a system,” the counter guy continued to Bundles. “It’s 3 in the morning, a few people stop by for breakfast, that’s how we do things. I don’t know exact tax and change. We round it, you get breakfast. This asshole called up Corporate and complained about unprofessional, that we used a notebook and pen, that I didn’t give him exact change. It’s how we do things! Now we have business suits coming down and retraining everyone for ‘standard procedures’ and ‘quality assurance’ – all this bullshit, they don’t know! Because this asshole called! I lost my manager position. Back to hourly half-time. I cannot make rent this month! My daughter cannot go on school trip to Washington – she wrote a winning essay on ‘American Dream.’ Now she cries and cries.”
I felt a shove on my shoulder that spun me around. “You son of a bitch,” said Bundles. “How do you sleep at night?”
“I didn’t call anyone!” I said. That I knew for sure. I had lost my iPhone at the party before I drove home drunk, and no one had found it yet. I was using Sadie’s shitty older iPhone in the meantime, and I certainly hadn’t called anyone at McDonald’s after, when I was sober – I didn’t even remember stopping here! But they weren’t listening.
“Of course you did!” said the counter guy. “Look at you! That’s the kind of guy you are. Asshole!”
“That is the kind of guy you are,” affirmed Bundles, stepping slowly towards me.
“Someone else must have called! I don’t know who it was. I don’t know – how would I know?” I was stepping backwards, my arms up in the go-to position: How would I know anything about anything? But it wasn’t working. He was still advancing.
“You better get out of here!” the counter guy yelled from his place now further away.
“My highway exit is closed,” I said. “It’s impossible to see out there. Cars are just spun out all over the place!”
“How can you live with your bitch-ass?”
I felt my back against the wall, and my arms were waving and waving I ain’t know shit! I ain’t know shit! but it wasn’t stopping him. The message that mastered any message How can I be expected to know ANYTHING? flapped futilely and I couldn’t help but think, finally, as the bigger man was over me, Bitches always take forever in the bathroom!