I didn’t expect to learn anything that day.
I was driving on the the freeway with another 20 minutes to go until I reached my destination. All of a sudden, I had to use the bathroom. I had recently drank an entire Brisk Watermelon Ice Tea. It was about 32 ounces. It was a little too sugary for my taste, but it was only 99 cents. Even a bottled water was $1.29. How could I not get it?
Anyways, I knew that I wouldn’t make it to my destination without having to stop so I pulled into a rundown gas station. For some reason I specifically remember seeing the sign for the station. “Double A: Gas and Foods.” I parked my car and speed walked into the convenience store portion of the station and found the bathroom door. It was locked. I walked up to the counter where an old man with grey hair under a backwards cap and a full grey beard was standing.
“Excuse me, is there a key your bathroom? I’ll buy a candy bar or something.”
The man squinted at me and it gave me an eerie feeling. For whatever reason, I got the feeling that the man hadn’t left the store in days, maybe weeks. There was an old cat sitting on some storage boxes behind him. They were both staring right through me.
Finally he held out a key.
“You can buy some candy if you like, but I’ll give you this key if you promise to listen to a story when you are all finished.”
“Umm, what if I buy a candy bar and a drink?”
The man just stared at me without saying a word.
“Uhh, sure I’ll listen to a quick story, but I sort of have to go to the bathroom right now.”
The man handed me the key and I hurried to the bathroom. It was pretty much how you would expect any gas station bathroom to look, pretty disgusting and felt to be some unique temperature that no one had ever experienced outdoors, like 82 and a half degrees or something. Also, on the wall, next to the mirror, there was a poster for the nineties show Reading Rainbow. The strange thing was that the poster looked new, like it had been put up in the last month.
I finished using the bathroom and as I was washing my hands I remembered the odd contract that I had made with the station attendent. I started to feel an awkward feeling coming upon me. I thought about just backing out on my promise and walking out of the station and driving away. But what if I had to go to the bathroom on my way driving back down this freeway? You want to keep as many bathroom doors open to you as you can on this road that we call life.
So I walked out and went looking for a candy bar hoping that maybe the man would just forget about the deal. Luckily they had those whatchamacallits? Oh right, Skittles. They also had Whatchamacallits. So I grabbed my two favorites candy bars and headed to the counter.
The man rang me up for $2.15 and I gave him the money. He put the money in the register, but held the candy bars. I knew the story was coming.
“Son, have you ever heard the story of why the Credit Card was invented?”
“Uhh no, I haven’t. But…umm…do you know how long this is going to take? I sort of have this thing..”
“Once upon a time in 1983, there was man named Jason. Jason had it all, a great girlfriend, a promising career, a loving family, even a precious golden retriever named Sammy.
But one day, everything happened at once. It was a Sunday. And so many emergencies happened at the same time. His dream job had called and said that if he could come in immediately they could do a quick interview and he would likely have the job. But all of his nice shirts were dirty, he’d have to go buy a cheap dress shirt at the discount thrift shop to at least look acceptable.
But it was also his girlfriend’s birthday. She knew that money was tight and she told him weeks ago, “get me a card and a stuffed animal. That’s it. I know you forget a lot of stuff, but if you can remember that it will be enough for me.” And he had gotten her the card and the animal, weeks ago. But he left them at McDonalds immediately after buying them. Why did he even take them into McDonalds?
It was also his parents 30th anniversary and he had promised to get a new remote for their TV. Their current one had broken and they didn’t understand technology enough to find it themselves.
On top of all this, Sammy had gotten very sick and he needed his medicine, which was sold at the pet store.
Jason jumped in his car and headed to the mall where all these things were located. He was in real trouble. He had to find everything and act fast. He checked his wallet and his heart stopped.
$12.67. That’s all he had. The banks were closed. It was only enough money to buy one of the things he needed.
He realized what was happening. He was being tested. He had been so fortunate in life and had so many great things. It was time for him to decide which of those things meant the most to him. He began to panic. The mall was so crowded. Why were there so many people here? It made it harder to think. He began to breathe heavily. He ran to a mall directory to see where some of this stuff was.
Then all of a sudden, it happened. The aroma caught his nostrils. What was it? It was glorious, that’s what it was? It relieved his stress. Finally he looked around to see what it was.
There, standing in front of him, shining like a beacon, was an Aunt Annie’s Pretzels. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He was overwhelmed and all of his worries floated away. And there was the sign: Cinnamon Pretzels: $4.99.
He couldn’t. Could he? It wouldn’t leave him enough money to buy any of the things he needed…But without realizing it, he was walking towards the stand in the middle of the mall.
“I’ll take one cinnamon pretzel.”
“Sure thing,” the jolly man replied. “That will be $4.99.” Jason handed the man a five-dollar bill.
Then the man started laughing uncontrollably. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA, WISE DECISION MY FRIEND.”
Then he threw the pretzel past Jason like an indifferent owner throws the rest of a steak past a dog to chase. Jason hurried after it and crawled on his knees. He picked it up and started nibbling on it like a rat, with tears rolling down his face. What had he done? He chose a pretzel over everything that meant so much to him in his life.
After finishing the pretzel and wiping away his tears, he checked his wallet. He still had $7.68 left. Not enough to purchase any of the things that he needed. ‘Well, I guess now, there’s no harm.”
He walked back to the stand.
“I’ll take one more cinnamon pretzel please.”
“Absolutely, here you go sir.” The man gently handed Jason this pretzel with a smile.
A young entrepreneur happened to be at the mall that day. He witnessed the whole thing and realized how dangerous it was to have an Aunt Annie’s Pretzels stand in a place where people came to buy their necessities. People only carry so much cash on them and what if they get tempted by the scent of delicious pretzels?
So that man invented the credit card to avoid other pretzel related tragedies.
“But only after Jason had lost everything. He didn’t get the job and he never got another offer anywhere else. His girlfriend left him. His parents stopped calling him and they never found out what happened in “Three’s Company” that week. And poor little Sammy died.”
Then the gas station attendent, still holding my candy bar, looked me straight in the eyes with a stare that shook me down to the inner most parts of my soul.
“And this Jason….that man whose life was ruined all because of a pretzel…that man…WAS ME!!!!!!!!”
And with that, he squeezed his fists, crushing my candy car into a chocolate ooze as tears began to run down his face.
And you know what the saddest part is?
I still ate that Whatchamacallit.