It was a shade before 8 am on Sunday when I inched perfectly into the parking spot.
The lot was barren, desolate, as were the streets I’d so recently navigated.
The sky was dark and there was a chill that permeated the air.
It was one of the first days I had to fire up the heater, letting the warm air blast against my face, alternating using the vents on either side of the steering wheel column to warm up my chilled hands.
I’d made good time from home to my destination, a small solace for such an early journey.
The type of journey that forced me to put on real pants. Hard pants. Not soft pants.
My passenger, sitting quietly in the back seat, was not pleased to have been forced to make this journey with me.
Initially there had been loud, plaintive complaints, but as we started to move, I was met with a stony silence, my entreaties falling heavily between us, like throwing stones into a dark, cold lake.
Ripples full of potential. Then nothing.
I’m not sure what was worse. Conversation or the silent treatment.
I hadn’t really been given much of a choice. The trip was a necessity.
We were the first ones, the only ones, in the lot.
But that wouldn’t last long.
Within a few minutes, a second vehicle pulled up diagonally across from me. And a few minutes after that, two others arrived, one on either side, sandwiching me.
I called the number prominently displayed on the front window.
COVID protocol. No one was allowed inside. Make the call and they will come and get you.
After a brief chat, verifying and confirming information, I was advised that someone would be out shortly. My phone flashed 8:06 am.
And then we continued our wait in silence, my attempts at initiating conversation falling flat for another 10 minutes until the young woman approached and motioned for my passenger to follow her, saving me from debasing myself further.
Alone in the car, having only had my large morning coffee, I let my mind and eyes wander.
It was at this point that my gaze me that of the gentleman parked diagonal to me.
From the expression on his mustachioed face, his morning had started similar to mine. He was in his mid to late 50’s, almost certainly of Italian heritage as my astute detecting noted, along with assistance from all the Italian paraphernalia in and on his car. His darker complexion lined with wrinkles and grooves gave the impression man who had faced the elements for most of his life.
We exchanged a nod, the nod of recognition although we were unknown to each other up until that point.
I see you.
The Zulu greeting that captures more than hello, the recognizes the essence of who we are. Our humanity.
And then we waited. And waited. And waited some more.
More cars arrived. The lot now full. Overflowing. Cars seeking space in the lots next door.
In this time, a quasi friendship developed. Unspoken. What else takes place in on quiet Sunday when tethered to one’s car in a parking spot with another directly in your line of sight?
A friendship without words. A tacit understanding.
An hour or so passed. My bladder, which I’d steadfastly ignored to this point, would no longer take my inaction. The pressure was intense. Building. Rising. It could no longer be tuned out.
I had to pee, or there would be a most embarrassing accident. And a soiled seat.
In normal times, this wouldn’t have been an issue. But we’re still in the midst of the Time of The Covids and most places have strict “no walk in” policies. To add to that, my micturitional urgency reared itself so early on Sunday morning, when most establishments that possibly offered respite, were not open, yet.
I didn’t want to lose my parking spot, but I vaguely remembered a coffee shop at the end of the block, or thereabouts, so I decided to stretch my legs, and walk. Hoping that this gentle, rhythmic physical activity would soothe the painful cramping from within.
I was correct. There was a Second Cup a few minutes away with a restroom for public use. Salvation.
Now, I’m a one coffee guy, and had already imbibed in my version of the heavily sweetened bitter brew, but the guilt of having used their facilities urged me to purchase another – a small holiday blend with three sugars and two creams.
With cup in hand, I strode back to my car. I noticed my new friend was gone. His spot taken by someone else. The parking lot growing ever fuller.
I settled back in my seat, Spotify playing my 70’s road trip mix, even though I was unmoving in the year 2021.
Until the second bolus of caffeine got to me.
My legs shaking, nerves firing. I had to move. Shifting the Bluetooth connection from my car back to my earbuds, I popped them in and decided to pace back and forth along the adjacent sidewalk.
It was during this frenetic back and forth that I noticed my friend had returned. This time with another passenger. I presumed his wife. His original spot taken, he managed to find a spot in the next lot.
We shared another silent nod, this time of deeper recognition.
The morning had dissolved, and time on its never ending march, strode into noon.
About 15 minutes after his second arrival, the same woman who’d come out of the building earlier on my arrival, went to him and his passenger. They exited the vehicle and followed her through a long stretch of laneway between the two buildings towards the back.
This seemed odd to me. Out of place. No one had done that for the past four hours.
As the thought entered my mind, it vanished, and I was caught up in the music that used to make me smile, softly pulsing in my ears.
A few minutes later, as if by some divine provenance, or algorithmic intervention, “Easy” by the Commodores started to play.
I’m easy like Sunday morning
If only this Sunday morning were easier, I remember thinking to myself.
The next song, one of my favourites, rolled in.
The distinctive sound of Don McLean singing “American Pie”.
As his distinct words poured over the music, I saw my friend and his passenger heading back towards me through the laneway, side by side, with a box like item between the two of them.
As they approached, I could see clearly, and something caught hard in my throat.
Our eyes met again. Barely a nod.
This time the exchange was different.
His eyes red. Bloodshot. Pained. So much pain.
He placed the empty pet carrier into his car.
They both took their seats.
I could see him curled forward in the driver’s seat, his rugged, weathered hands covering his face, his shoulders shaking.
As he managed to compose himself and drive away from the Emergency Veterinary Hospital, I heard Don McLean quietly sing…
The day the music died.