“Why would anyone live here?” an old friend asked.
He was standing at the end of my driveway surveying the view.
Toward the west, a corn field drew his gaze clear to the horizon. To the north, a bean field did likewise. To the east, corn again and beyond a vast south facing bean field, an abandoned creamery slumped against the remnants of an old store.
These were the last two buildings standing in Almost Iowa and are the only thing for miles that is neither corn nor beans.
I struggled for an answer. Something he could comprehend.
“Free parking,” I told him.
For the briefest of moments, a green wave of envy rippled across his face because in his section of the city there is no parking at all.
What there is, is more of a feeding ground for a ravenous pack of tow trucks who prowl the streets and back alleys of our old neighborhood eager to pounce on anything that rests on wheels.
We had a nice visit – but that green flicker of envy bothered me. It haunted our conversation like the proverbial loaded pistol laying on a table in a Chekhov play.
You know if it is there in the first act, it will be used by the third.
Besides he had come to pick up something that my buddy Stan had ‘borrowed’ from him and I suspected that despite my pleas of innocence, he held me partially responsible.
“Say,” he said just before he left, “why don’t you two come up to The Cities next weekend. We could meet at the street fair.”
“Oh! Let’s do that,” my wife cried. She loves street fairs – about as much as I detest them.
“I dunno,” I said, “there is no place to park.”
“Sure there is,” my friend said, “I volunteered to run our church’s parking lot for the event. The money is for a good cause and I will save you a spot.”
What followed was as inevitable as that pistol in a Chekhov play.
The next Saturday morning when we pulled into the parking lot, my old friend was there to greet us. The green wave of envy had been replaced by the purple tinge of revenge.
He smiled as he tapped a sign that read $20.
“That’s outrageous,” I protested.
“It is for a good cause,” my wife reminded me.
“Then you pay,” I told her.
“My purse is in the backseat,” she said. Her purse is always in the backseat whenever money needs to come out of it.
So I paid.
“Follow me,” he said, “I’ll show you where to park.”
I puttered slowly in his wake as he wove through a sea of parked cars.
“Hey, why not that spot?” I yelled, indicating an open space along the fence.
“It’s spoken for,” he told me.
“Or that one,” I asked.
“It’s for somebody.”
Apparently, I was not somebody.
He led us to the far corner of the lot where a sliver of asphalt lay wedged between a dumpster and a rusty International Harvester pickup truck.
“How am I supposed to get in there?”
He measured the space by holding his thumbs out at arm length and squinting at the distance between them.
“You got at least three inches on each side.”
“Okay, then how am I supposed to get out of the car?”
He tapped the sunroof.
My wife nodded her approval then announced, “I am getting out here.”
So I squeezed my car into spot and clambered out the sunroof. No sooner had I skidded off the trunk onto the pavement than my wife, said “Greg.”
“You knew my purse was in the back seat.”
I crawled back in to get it.
“Greg,” she said when I handed it to her.
“My sunglasses are on the dash.”
My old friend was enjoying every bit of this.
“Greg,” he said.
“That will be another $20.”
He pointed to the yellow line running through the middle of my parking place. “You took two spots,” he explained, “I could of parked a couple of motorcycles there.”
I started to protest but again my wife reminded me, “It’s all for a good cause.”
So I pulled out another $20 and handed it to my old friend. He smiled.
“Give my regards to Stan,” he called after us as we wandered away through the sea of cars.
I promised I would – then when we were out of earshot I grumbled about the way we had been screwed and I cussed about how all of this had been a plot and as a result I had no money for the street fair.
“Don’t worry,” my wife said, “we won’t be here long.”
“Why do you say that?”
She cast her gaze toward the west. There, looming above the urban canyons, an ominous squall line swept across the horizon.
“You have your sunroof open.”