Monday, January 04, 2010

Harter Union: Part One, Chapter 1

The small town of Baldwin City, Kansas was about as dead as possible at three in the morning. My 1991 GMC Jimmy coasted slowly into the parking lot of an auto shop and came to a halt alongside the building. I put the Jimmy in park and removed the keys from the ignition. I got out and took a deep breath of air. It was completely quiet and the night skies were lit up by thousands of stars. I looked around and saw the bright lights of a nearby convenience store and began walking toward them. The Kwik Shop was the only thing lit up in the general vicinity besides the ATM drive-through at the bank across the street and street lamps that lined Ames Street, also known as U.S. Highway 56.

I walked into the Kwik Shop and wandered up and down the aisles looking at the chips and candy bars. I grabbed a Dr. Pepper from the fridge and went up to the counter where the clerk was reading a magazine. I also grabbed an issue of the local paper which was extremely thin. The total was $1.69 so I pulled out my wallet, which had about $500 in it and gave the clerk a twenty.

“What are you doing here at this hour?” the clerk asked as he was getting my change, obviously noting the suit and tie I was wearing.

“My car broke down just outside of town. Luckily I was able to coast down the hill to that car shop down the block,” I explained. “Are there any hotels around here?” I asked.

“There’s one down the highway at Second Street but it’s not open at night,” the clerk said, with a Southern accent mixed up in a country twang.

“Damn it,” I said, taking my change from the clerk’s hand.

“I hope you have a good morning and thank you for shopping Kwik Shop,” the clerk said in an almost monotone voice.

“You’re the only place open…” I said as I left the store and started walking back to my car. I twisted open the soda and took a drink. When I got back to my Jimmy, I turned the dome light on and looked through the paper. I laid the paper in the passenger seat, turned off the light, got back out and went to the front of the shop and saw that the place opened at seven, which was good and meant I would only be stuck in Baldwin City for just a day. I woke up the next morning to tapping on the window. I unlocked the door and got out.

“Problem, mister?” asked an elderly man in a blue jumpsuit.

“Yeah, my car died here last night and I just need you to look at it and fix it. And hurry because I need to be in New York City by next week,” I explained, hurriedly.

“Sure, I’ll get right to it but first I’m going to need a little information from you, come on inside,” I followed him inside the shop and he went behind a counter and pulled up a form on the computer. “Name?”

“Jefferson Franklin. Just put Jeff Franklin.”


“Gee, I don’t know. Can you just put Topeka, Kansas?” I asked. I didn’t have a Kansas address anymore and I wasn’t sure what my new address was in New York.

“Sure,” he typed and quickly tabbed down. “Make and model of your vehicle?”

“1991 GMC Jimmy.”

“And what’s the problem?”

“Well, the car had been puttering ever since the Highway 59-56 intersection and finally died coming down the hill outside of town. When I stopped here, the car wouldn’t turn over,” I explained, not really knowing what he wanted to hear.

“All right-y. It might take me a while to see what’s wrong but in the meanwhile, there’s a wonderful diner down the highway here called the Dari Ring. Has wonderful biscuits and gravy.”

“Cool, thanks. I’ll be back in an hour or so…” I shook his hand and left the shop. I began to walk down the highway, past the Kwik Shop, across what was Sixth Street and then across the highway over to the Dari Ring. I walked inside, ordered the biscuits and gravy and sat down in the back room that had a TV.

“Wait-wait-wait!” I exclaimed, scratching the back of my head. “You’re gonna need to replace not only the engine but the fuel line?”

“Mm-hmm,” the mechanic acknowledged calmly.

“And how much is that going to cost?” I panicked.

“Well, the engine will be roughly $1500 and the fuel line $200 and that does not include labor or taxes and I’ll probably cut you some slack on the fuel line,” he calculated in his head. “So a grand total of around $1700 or so.”

“Gaah!” I shrieked. “I can’t afford that! I only have about $500 on me and I have to be in New York City by Monday and I’m stuck in this piss-ant town!” My breathing became faster and raspier and my face was twisted with rage.

“Calm down, sir. It shouldn’t be more’n a couple of days to get the engine and other parts ordered. There’s a very cheap hotel right down the highway, just get set up there and…”

“No, you aren’t hearing me: I don’t have the money to pay for repairs to my car and there is no way that I can get to KCI from here to get to New York by plane. There’s no one I can call for help, or to stay with. I am stuck here. I am stranded in Baldwin City.”

My eye twitched a couple of times and I walked to the passenger side door, opened it and took out the newspaper. I opened it up and began walking back to the Kwik Shop. “Where you going, mister?” he asked.

“I need to find myself a job and a place to live because I’m gonna be here awhile…”

Harris Chippedquea showed me the one and a half room apartment located on the south side of town. The apartment was furnished but with just a couple of tables and what I hoped was a water-stained bed. It was spacious apartment even though I didn’t have that much stuff to begin with but one thing concerned me…

“Where’s the bathroom?” I asked. Mr. Chippedquea led me over to a curtain and pulled it back to reveal a corner of the apartment with a drain in the floor and your average garden hose sticking out of the wall. “This is it?” I eyed the drain and the hose, “I understand the concept of the hose but the drain? How am I supposed to…you know…number two?” I questioned, fearing what the answer might be.

“You can unscrew the drain. The pipes lead the same place as all other toilets. The pipes are also nice and wide and the water from the hose can loosen it up if need be,” Mr. Chippedquea explained.

“Isn’t that in violation of some Kansas housing regulation?” I asked.

“Probably…” Mr. Chippedquea answered almost immediately, shrugging.

“I…see,” I shifted a couple times on my feet. “Well, I really need a place to stay so here’s three hundred dollars for rent and I would like to move in as soon as possible.”

“That’s okay. Here’s a copy of the lease, just sign at the bottom,” he pulled a folded piece of paper out of his back pocket and a pen and handed them to me. I quickly looked over the lease and signed. “All right, you can move in any time you want.”

“Okay, thank you.”

Mr. Chippedquea and I shook hands and he handed me a key. He nodded his head and left the apartment. I looked around the apartment and stared at the drain I was to now use as a toilet.

Jeff begins working at Baker Univeristy's Harter Union and meets the rest of the staff. Also, a flashback to Jeff's teenage years.