I was getting snow tires put on my car and as I sat down to wait an older man in one of the other chairs asked me if I was the girl with the book yesterday. I did have a book in my bag but I said I wasn't there yesterday, and he said, "I thought you were her because she was slender like you and had the same looking bag, and she sat there reading a book the whole time."
"Maybe I have a twin and I don't know about it," I said. We had the requisite long conversation about the cold, and he said the winters are milder now. He remembered one year when it was -31 on January 31. He had a cup of coffee from the vending machine and I considered getting one, because I hadn't had breakfast and was heading towards a caffeine headache. I wondered why he had been to the mechanic shop two days in a row.
I fiddled with my phone, but felt a wave of disgust for staring at small screens and put it away. My friend hadn't seemed to notice and asked me about my snow tires, saying his car had year-round tires that worked well in snow. I explained that I was from California.
That started the conversation about the weather over again, and we talked about where I worked ("That's a great company. I think they started here, a little shop down on Main Street.") and where in California I had lived.
"I know where that is. I lived right near there, in Alameda, when I was in the service. We had boot camp there. There was a place we would go to get beer and the drinking age was 21 but they let all us Boots in even though we were only 18. That's a great place to live; San Francisco, the Playland. Did you ever go to Playland?"
"No, but I've heard the name." I think Playland was torn down before I was born.
"The Cliff House?"
"Yes, I've been there."
"They gave us beer even though we were only 18. Drinking age, you know, but they served us Boots. I really liked San Francisco and that whole area. And boot camp. We had fun. It was a very nice boot camp."
He had lived for while in Boston. "Have you been to New England? It's beautiful. Of course, we went all over; Greenland. Bermuda. It was fun. I was in for three years and three days; when I got into Boston I said, 'Will I be getting out?' and they said, 'Only if we arrive before midnight. We don't discharge anyone on the weekend.' So we arrived at 12:05 and I had to wait till Monday morning to get out."
"Why did you leave?"
"I had a honey," he said.
Another old man came in and got coffee from the machine. He had red-rimmed blue eyes and looked like a Vermeer. They knew each other and exchanged banter.
"I tried to hold her hand but she slapped me."
"It's about time someone did that."
"I try to be bad but no one lets me."
The conversation started over. The weather. Where I worked. "That's a great company," said Vermeer.
"Didn't they start here? I think they had a little shop down on Main Street."
My tires were ready, I told them goodbye. As I paid my bill I heard, "She moved here from California...."
I wondered how many times those same stories have been told in that waiting room. He told me to go back on January 31st and he would show me where in the paper it said that the record low was -31. Maybe I will.