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[P]
Fast Times at Phillips 66: The Old Woman Who Drove Backward

By osm in Culture
Mon Apr 03, 2006 at 12:00:00 PM EST
Tags: etc (all tags)
/etc

Summer was my least favorite time at the gas station. The heat and humidity in Missouri are suffocating. The air is thick and more difficult to breathe and sweat doesn't evaporate as quickly and your clothes stick to your body. We had no air conditioner and no way to open the windows. I was completely convinced that the water there was tainted with gas. Of course the owner, Bob and his 45 year old to-be-owner son, Larry, swore up and down that our underground tanks were strictly compliant with EPA regulations. That did little to comfort me; that water just tasted plain weird. I'd usually walk down to Amoco and pick up a few bottles of fruit punch Gatorade and leave them in the ice machine.


It was one such Summer that I agreed to work the day shift with Frog, since he was having trouble finding a suitable stooge. Working the day shift, you had to be at the station at 6am. That was a particular problem for me, as I have always been a night-owl. I don't think I ever made it to work before 7:30, but Frog never said anything about it, probably because he hadn't had sufficient time to get liquored up enough to melt away any control at all over his temper. Frog never went off on me the way he did most other employees anyway, though he might as well have, since whenever one of them screwed up - in his mind - I would have to hear about it for hours on end, "Yep. Fuckin' employees, fuckin' with xxxx" where xxxx could be pens, the credit card machine, paper clips, the gas pumps, the air hose, rubber bands, the water hose, the clock - basically anything under the sun.

The day shift was a whole different world. It might as well have been a different job altogether. It wasn't the crazy free-for-all anything-can-and-does-happen environment of the night shift. Even the customers were different, since most of the people who came in during the day were retired or working for businesses that had accounts with us. The day shift was structured, predictable and boring. I would usually pull in at 7:30am or later with a pot hangover and drag out the trash cans, air hose and squeegee buckets and then unlock the pumps. Frog would verify the books from the previous night, stick the tanks and call in the tank levels to Larry. He would then fill a 32 ounce plastic soft drink mug - the same one he had been using for years - three quarters of the way with vodka and then top it off with Mountain Dew. He used a piece of gray rubber tubing he had picked up at an auto parts store as a straw. Once we got everything setup, we'd hit off a brass bat until we were good and stoned. Frog would always have the radio on KY-102 and would laugh hysterically at the zany antics of the Deejays. I thought they were more annoying than anything. I would sit in the metal chair beside the desk and stare blankly out the window while Frog read the paper to me. If he saw something particularly offensive in the paper, he would rant about it for a half hour while I prayed for a car to pull in to release me from the bondage of his lunatic ravings. Sometimes, he would follow me outside spouting on about some news item, not even stopping to breath.

Eventually, I started bringing a cassette player and headphones to work with me and would listen to music while Frog just blindly continued ranting to me about crazy compact disk conspiracies or insane theories about the "Elite Intelligentsia." We had one guy who worked there a few weeks who had just gotten out of the Marines. Frog got rid of him because he thought he was a military plant investigating German ownership of the world's petroleum supply (the owners were of German lineage). I am not going to attempt to describe any of these fruity ideas here, since I never really understood them to begin with, and I'm certainly not going to try now. If I was really lucky, I would get to hear about Frog's failure to have sex with his wife the night before. He would describe how he would tenderly try to initiate a night of hot amphibian passion and she would roll over and say "get that thing away from me." Perhaps it was Frog's breath that turned his wife off so. He had several bad cavities and, from time-to-time, would make an offhanded remark about how the piece of food he had been using to plug a cavity for the past several days had become dislodged.

Frog's wife, Sandy, always seemed cool to us employees. A few of us went over to Frog's place one Saturday to trip on mushrooms. He had yellow post-it notes stuck everywhere to give us instructions like "Look behind you! Is that a cat trying to get outside?!" Sandy just laughed at our insanity and made sure we had plenty of orange juice to drink. She even made some incredible peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies. After that day, she always sent some to work with Frog for us.

There were three basic types of customers on the day shift: business accounts, the elderly and lonely housewives. Sometimes, it was fun to flirt with the lonely housewives, though none that I can remember were particularly attractive - some were cute, I guess. They desperately wanted attention and would be overt about getting it. I think some of them thought of a trip to the gas station as a wild night out on the town. Frog loved those women... to me they were just a way to kill time. I remember one had very long blonde hair. She was pregnant and would get out of her car and chat while I did her gas. She wouldn't let me do the windshield or anything, preferring to talk instead. She would laugh hysterically at anything I said that was even remotely funny, then she'd put her hands on my shoulders as if to prop herself up. I would always back away like she had a disease - she was pregnant after all - and that would make her laugh even harder. She already had two daughters - who looked exactly like her - and I would give them stuffed animals that another customer always left us as a tip.

The business accounts included the Metro Baptist Church and Gladstone Plumbing. The minister from Metro Baptist Church was really creepy. He was tall and white as a sheet. He had coal-black hair and his lips were extremely red. He had a mousy wife and three sons who looked like him. They all sort of looked inbred. He was constantly trying to get me to go to church. Constantly. It annoyed me to no end. Eventually, the head of the church called us and canceled the account because this guy was charging way too much gas. The Gladstone Plumbing guys were funny. They always gave Frog a hard time, calling him "Furry Beak." They liked me, because I was the only person there that ever cleaned their windshields.

It was toward the end of the Summer when Frog had finally found someone who was a known drug user to be his faithful sidekick during the days. I was anxiously awaiting the next week, when I could finally return to the night shift and it's world of loud music, insane druggies, gas station groupies and girlfriends coming and going as they pleased without fearing a visit from Larry. Jason would take over on the day shift.

Jason was a pretty cool guy. He was fresh out of high school and part American Indian. He was a tall thin guy with curly black hair and he had some sort of problem with his eyes that made them bulge out. He eventually went on to have surgery to have that repaired - they basically pulled his eyes out and reset them. He videotaped the whole thing, but I never saw it. He played the drums, which he had learned in a military school. He wasn't terribly literate though and he would often have me write letters for him. A few years later, he repaid me by taking Stacy and I to see Nirvana - his treat. It was their last tour.

Poor Jason would have to deal with Frog's insane paranoia and the weird old people that came in during the day. I didn't mind doing a little extra for the elderly, but sometimes they were downright disgusting or just outright insane. I remember one old lady in particular who would blow her nose and spit in a really small, thin tissue and then ask us to throw it away. There's nothing like grabbing onto a tissue and getting old lady slime all over your hand.

Everyone at the station had customer groupies. Some customers, for whatever reason, would become attached to a certain employee. They would demand that only that employee put gas in their car, check their oil and air up their tires. Some of them got downright mean about it - if Frog was busy mowing the lawn or unclogging the women's toilet and one of his groupies came in and I tried to pump their gas, they would yell at me angrily and demand I get Frog. One of Frog's groupies was a woman in her fifties. She claimed to be a psychologist, but as far as I could tell, she wasn't practicing. Every single time she came in, she had gauze wrapped around her neck and hands. She'd been wearing that gauze for years. Sometimes it would unwrap and fall off while she was digging for her credit card and there would be nothing unusual about her hands.

There was another regular who worked as a salesman for a major drug company - I felt a sort of camaraderie with him. He was into music quite a bit and he had personalized license plates that said "SUBPOP". He would always give me new music to listen to. He gave me one tape I particularly remember. I played it a couple of times, but was unable to listen to the whole thing because of constant interruptions by customers. Eventually, I listened to it in the Walkman to escape Frog's rantings. The more I listened to it, the more I loved it. The name of the album - you couldn't call anything that wasn't pressed on vinyl an "album" around Frog without inciting a one hour long diatribe - was "Bleach" and it was from a little-known band called "Nirvana."

I had accumulated a couple of groupies during my time on the day shift. One was an old woman who was clearly getting a bit senile. Frog called her my Princess. She would come in every Tuesday at exactly 10:45am. She would always pull in the exact same lane and park at the exact same spot in the lane. She always got ten dollars worth of gas and had me check the oil, which was never low, and the tires. She'd always give me a fifty cent tip, which was good for a Dr. Pepper at least. The funny thing about it is, her gas cap was in the middle-rear of the car, just behind the license plate. She could have pulled into either lane on the near island, but even if there was another car in the inner lane and the outer lane was open, she would wait behind the other car so she could pull into the inner lane.

Frog was driving an old blue 280zx at the time - the car he had before he got his primer-gray Ford pickup. Actually, Frog had a different car every few months, because he usually just got his cars as throwaways from friends and relatives. He really was an excellent mechanic and he taught me a lot about it, which would come in handy later when Stacy's dad replaced her Ford Probe with a convertible Jeep that liked to break down constantly. But usually, the cars Frog got were so far gone, he could no longer keep them running and the 280z was on its deathbed - the thing was pretty much 90% rust and chunks of it would fall off anytime he drove it. I remember traveling from Kansas City to Saint Joseph with Frog one rainy day to pick up some morphine. Every time we hit a pool of water on the highway, the floor mat on my side of the car would get pushed up by a gush of water. It didn't make me feel any better when Frog told me the friend who had given him the car had referred to it as a "Death Trap."

One day, Frog and I had just finished off a couple of cars and we were standing outside chatting. He had just turned in his registration for membership in the "Traveler's Protection Association" - "TPA" for short - to a regular customer that was always trying to lure Frog and me into joining this or that club or attending some youth function at the community center. Frog could never say "no." In exchange for his signature and twenty-five dollars in dues, Frog received an official, blue TPA sticker that had big white lettering that read "WATCH THAT CHILD!" He affixed it to the rear bumper of the Death Trap, positioning it so it covered a large rust hole.

As we stood in the shade of the canopy, Frog looked out to the street, "There's your Princess!"

Sure enough, the old woman was driving along - and she didn't stop. The station had two entrances, she usually came in the south entrance, but she passed it. I wondered if she wasn't going to get gas or if, due to some bizarre glitch in the fabric of space-time, she had actually decided to use the north entrance. As she approached the north entrance, she slowed down and I just assumed she would pull in there. Except she didn't turn. She stopped right there on the street. A couple of cars pulled up behind her and stopped. Frog and I watched as she put her car in reverse and started backing up. The two cars lined up behind her turned and drove into the other lane, honking their horns. Cars traveling in the southbound lane swerved over on the shoulder to avoid the oncoming cars and started honking their horns. Employees of the Amoco next door and Texaco across the street all stopped what they were doing and watched the ballet. Finally, the old woman had backed up thirty feet or so, which was enough to turn into the south entrance of the station. She pulled into her usual position, acting as though nothing unusual had happened.

The old woman got her usual ten dollars, but didn't ask me to check the oil or tires. She heard the pump stop as I let go of the trigger right at ten dollars - an experienced gas pumper could have the pump going at full speed and stop at an exact amount; you got to the point where you were able to feel the rhythm of the numbers changing on the analog pumps. She called me over to the window and I left the nozzle in the tank, thinking maybe she had decided she wanted more gas.

"Could you tell me the number of gallons."

"Sure. It's 10 gallons."

"But, you didn't check the pump."

"Ummm. Gas is ninety-nine point nine cents per gallon and you got 10 dollars worth, so it was 10 gallons." You'd be amazed how many times I had to explain this to people.

She scowled and wrote the number down in a small notebook. She turned the car on and threw it in drive.

"Oh, wait, I didn't take the noz..."

"You've changed! I'm never coming back here again!"

"What??" I asked, incredulously.

But it was too late, she took her foot off the break and the car lurched forward. She hit the gas and tore the hose out of the pump. It snapped around and lashed Frog in the leg, startling him. He stepped back, tripped and crashed into the bumper of his Death Trap. The force was enough to knock it completely off the car. Somehow, it broke the back hatch as well, since it wouldn't stay shut after that. The old lady drove off with the gas nozzle and hose still hanging out of the back of her car. Indeed, she never came back.

Yep. Fuckin' employees, fuckin' with elderly customers.

Fortunately, the pumps are outfitted with a mechanism that prevented gas from spewing everywhere when a hose was snapped off like that. It wasn't the first or last time that happened. Sometimes, the nozzle would come out of the gas tank and leave a nice big scratch on the side of the car and the customer would eventually be referred to Bob or Larry and they would never be heard from again. That played well into Frog's German petroleum paranoia, but I knew the owners had just told the customer to get lost. They told all of us if anyone gave us a hard time to tell them to leave and don't come back.

Frog killed two birds with one stone - he reattached the rear bumper of his Death Trap by running a piece of rope through the trunk, down through a rust hole in the floor and around the bumper, then back up through the top of the hatch where he had drilled a hole. He wrapped it around several times and drove the car that way with that stupid "WATCH THAT CHILD!" bumper sticker patching up a rust hole like some decayed piece of food plugging one of his cavities. The car died six months later with a thrown rod.

* * * *

Installments

01. The Pervert
02. The Night the Retards Came
03. The Paranoid Schizophrenic
04. The Art Institute
05. Frog's Restroom Misadventure
06. The Pixie Who Destroyed His VW Van
07. The Hooker

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Poll
Next Installment:
o The Asshole at L.C.'s Hamburgers, Etc. 11%
o The Melted Pen Cap 3%
o Access Denied 5%
o The Dog Lady 3%
o The Death of Champ 1%
o Homey the Pigeon 1%
o The Dead-Heads 0%
o Bryan's Breakup and Breakdown 11%
o The Coin Collector 1%
o Kasey Blue 0%
o The OG 1%
o Poopie Gets a Date 13%
o I've Seen Tongues 9%
o The Brown Recluses 30%
o The Back Room 1%

Votes: 52
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o 01. The Pervert
o 02. The Night the Retards Came
o 03. The Paranoid Schizophrenic
o 04. The Art Institute
o 05. Frog's Restroom Misadventure
o 06. The Pixie Who Destroyed His VW Van
o 07. The Hooker
o Also by osm


Display: Sort:
Fast Times at Phillips 66: The Old Woman Who Drove Backward | 40 comments (33 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
+1FP, and a slavish plea (none / 1) (#2)
by nostalgiphile on Mon Apr 03, 2006 at 10:01:21 PM EST

Come on people, don't be wu$$es, this time vote for "The Brown Recluses" or I will be pissed. Please.

"Depending on your perspective you are an optimist or a pessimist[,] and a hopeless one too." --trhurler
maybe if i suggest that stacy plays a prominent (3.00 / 2) (#3)
by osm on Mon Apr 03, 2006 at 10:02:28 PM EST

roll in that one...

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[ Parent ]

err, role that is. (none / 1) (#7)
by osm on Mon Apr 03, 2006 at 10:15:06 PM EST


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[ Parent ]

Stacy AND her younger sister (none / 1) (#9)
by nostalgiphile on Tue Apr 04, 2006 at 12:31:56 AM EST

Would be even better..., no?

"Depending on your perspective you are an optimist or a pessimist[,] and a hopeless one too." --trhurler
[ Parent ]
stacy was the younger sister... (none / 0) (#11)
by osm on Tue Apr 04, 2006 at 12:45:59 AM EST

she had an older sister, Susan, who was married. Her older sister was my age - way too old for me.

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[ Parent ]

These Teutonic gas barons who owned your station: (3.00 / 4) (#8)
by gai goa tse on Tue Apr 04, 2006 at 12:16:18 AM EST

Would you describe them as arrogant, or merely condescending, or none of these?

I live in a world of cold steel! And dungeons! And mighty foes!

yes, now you know where it came from (none / 1) (#10)
by osm on Tue Apr 04, 2006 at 12:42:10 AM EST

as well as fat-time charlie.

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[ Parent ]

I have read your series on this.... (none / 1) (#12)
by terryfunk on Tue Apr 04, 2006 at 12:54:04 AM EST

and re-read them. Excellent stuff and keep it up. They are fun to read.

I like you, I'll kill you last. - Killer Clown
The ScuttledMonkey: A Story Collection

thank you, sir (3.00 / 4) (#13)
by osm on Tue Apr 04, 2006 at 01:14:14 AM EST

it was fun to live it. i hate time.

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[ Parent ]

um....i know (none / 1) (#14)
by terryfunk on Tue Apr 04, 2006 at 01:18:00 AM EST

EXACTLY what you mean!

I like you, I'll kill you last. - Killer Clown
The ScuttledMonkey: A Story Collection

[ Parent ]
+1 FP, not a dull read. (none / 1) (#18)
by Mylakovich on Tue Apr 04, 2006 at 08:57:23 AM EST

Surprisingly engaging.

s/break/brake/g (none / 1) (#19)
by HackerCracker on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 06:03:39 PM EST

Probably far too late to fix, but anyway:

"But it was too late, she took her foot off the break and the car lurched forward."

thanks - i can stil fix all that stuff (none / 0) (#20)
by osm on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 06:09:48 PM EST

on my website at least.

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[ Parent ]

Wow (3.00 / 2) (#21)
by frozenfruit on Thu Apr 06, 2006 at 05:22:30 PM EST

The scarcity of comments in this forum is shocking.

it disappoints me. (none / 0) (#22)
by osm on Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 01:54:17 AM EST


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[ Parent ]

lets face it (none / 1) (#24)
by Linux or Mac OS X on Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 07:24:47 PM EST

your stories are dull.


"Ugh, my stomach is full of tequila and semen." - LilDebbie


ysb
[ Parent ]
no yuo (none / 0) (#25)
by osm on Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 08:34:49 PM EST


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[ Parent ]

These are great (none / 1) (#23)
by Jebediah on Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 07:09:53 AM EST

I just gotta say that I love these stories. A bright spot in the day for sure.

How did this end up here? (2.00 / 2) (#26)
by Tango Down on Sun Apr 09, 2006 at 06:26:26 PM EST

For all intents and purposes Kuro5hin is a site for, and about, Nerds. This story is amusing, and I am not about to lambast the poster for drug use, but how in the world did this get on a site like Kuro5hin? Technophiles as a group are fairly accepting of all types of illegal activities, many of my friends are thieves, counterfeiters, and pirates of one type or another. Hell the biggest theme of Hacker literature is breaking the rules, but as a rule Drug use is not accepted in any of the groups I have been affiliated with. The few activities that will get one ridiculed and ostracized are violent crime, NARCing, and serious drug use. I could go to my friends and inform them that I have adopted ass-screwing and rugby as my two favorite hobbies, and they would likely just blink and shrug. If I offered them a hard drug; however, they would tell me to get the fuck out and never come back. So the question is, why did this post ever end up at this site, and does it really belong here?

everybody can relate to having a crap job (none / 0) (#27)
by osm on Sun Apr 09, 2006 at 07:06:41 PM EST

when they were younger - well, a lot of people. as for what you and your clique do or don't do - it's all fine with me. i've had several jobs - including my current one - in the tech field and i've seen a lot of drug users working around me. in fact, it astonishes me how prevalent it is, whether it's some younger people who go to raves on ecstacy or middle-aged women who love their painkillers. it's so prevalent, it might as well be legal.

no, this isn't really technology-oriented (personally, i'm so burnt on that subject, i can't even bring myself to look at anything related) but a lot of stuff around here isn't.

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[ Parent ]

I guess. (none / 0) (#28)
by Tango Down on Sun Apr 09, 2006 at 09:05:00 PM EST

The world is filled with all types of diffrent people, and mentioning the groups that I am familiar with is probably a bad idea, blame it on my youth. I understand having a crappy job, my years as a telemarketer could spawn many stories like the ones you tell. I guess what I was really doing was using a rhetorical question to point out the reason why there is not much posting about your stories. The constant drug use is interesting at first, but then becomes a bit over the top. It gets to the point where I have trouble relating to them. I can not sympathise or really understand everyone being high 90% of the time. But yeah, I listened to alot of interesting conversations at work when the telemarketer was high on something or the other, so I will reserve judgement. Diversity is one of the reasons this is an interesting site.

[ Parent ]
If you don't like it, (none / 1) (#29)
by Trollaxor on Sun Apr 09, 2006 at 09:22:17 PM EST

don't read it.

And if you still feel the need to bitch, email Rusty. He'll block you, but you can still say you whined to someone about it.

[ Parent ]

Calm down kido. (none / 0) (#30)
by Tango Down on Sun Apr 09, 2006 at 10:04:12 PM EST

I was not attempting to insult the story, it is funny. I was just trying to give the writer a bit of constructive critisisim, the stories would be more interesting with less drug use, that is all. Not everybody is a whiner or a "Troll".

[ Parent ]
i see your point (none / 1) (#31)
by osm on Sun Apr 09, 2006 at 10:27:38 PM EST

what's sad, is i don't see it as over the top - in fact, i have been toning it down. i got so sick of it - and i screwed something up really bad because of it - that i quit doing them completely for a decade.

but, that's the way it was...

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[ Parent ]

I see yours also. (none / 0) (#32)
by Tango Down on Mon Apr 10, 2006 at 12:51:45 AM EST

I grew up in a asisited housing in Kansas city, Kansas, but moved before I was really old enough to notice all the drugs. In the small town I live in now, I really am not exposed to much in the way of drugs, although I saw some meth use when I was telemarketing. The useres were kind of funny in a sad way. I suppose I have lived a sheltered life, but where I am from, people keep their drug use in the closet. It is kind of disturbing to see it potrayed as something so blatant and pervasive. If that is the way it was, I will accept your stories as true. But, hey, you made it out. Just curious if this is not to personal, Are you still with "Stacy"?

[ Parent ]
i wish i was (none / 0) (#34)
by osm on Mon Apr 10, 2006 at 12:57:16 AM EST

lesson learned :)

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[ Parent ]

who cares? (none / 0) (#33)
by catmatic on Mon Apr 10, 2006 at 12:54:09 AM EST

I think the stories ring true. And don't need any bowdlerization from the likes of you. So write your own "drug free" stories and post them if you don't like that very real facet of life showing up in writing. And wait, your friends don't like drug use or NARCing? I seriously doubt these friends exist.

[ Parent ]
i haven't even changed anyone's name (none / 0) (#35)
by osm on Mon Apr 10, 2006 at 01:00:34 AM EST

including my own, because i'd never be able to keep up with it if i did.

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[ Parent ]

bowdlerization (none / 0) (#36)
by Tango Down on Mon Apr 10, 2006 at 01:28:36 AM EST

I looked that word up, hmm, you learn something new every day. I have never run into it before. As for the "Likes of me" I am not sure what you mean, but whatever you do, I do not think it is good. And you are correct, I have no friends, I make it all up so I can live by proxy in the form of internet blogging and be insulted by people I do not know....:>).

[ Parent ]
not bad (none / 1) (#37)
by ethereal on Mon Apr 17, 2006 at 12:22:26 PM EST

I liked it, but you used "breath" instead of "breathe" at one point.

--

Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Hey, osm! (none / 1) (#38)
by rodoke3 on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 12:11:07 AM EST

All of your "Installments" links are broken (ATM?).

I take umbrage with such statments and am induced to pull out archaic and over pompous words to refute such insipid vitriol. -- kerinsky


i've been rewriting the series (none / 0) (#39)
by osm on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 01:56:31 PM EST

under contract. i didn't have to take down the old site, but i thought it would be proper. you can check out the new series here. it goes into much more depth than the old one and is more chronologically correct.

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[ Parent ]

Ahh, thanks a lot! (none / 0) (#40)
by rodoke3 on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 06:44:21 PM EST

Luckily, I hadn't noticed the date of this story, or else I wouldn't have posted anything.

I take umbrage with such statments and am induced to pull out archaic and over pompous words to refute such insipid vitriol. -- kerinsky


[ Parent ]
Fast Times at Phillips 66: The Old Woman Who Drove Backward | 40 comments (33 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
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