The Keeper At the Gate
The Guardian is no match for the boys
We pulled out of the parking lot behind the saloon and turned onto Coronado Avenue. There was a pretty good breakfast crowd at the Little Lighthouse Restaurant, but otherwise things were still quiet. Soon enough the tourist trade would come pouring in, filling the art shops and boutiques that line both sides of the Avenue, as well as the four or five saloons that make up the drinking scene in Ruby Beach. We are a small town, really. It was only a few hundred feet to the beach ramp. As we pulled up to the toll booth, there was the Atlantic Ocean. On this crystalline day in March the sea was brilliant azure close in, with dazzling white breakers gently slapping the morning sand. Further out, where we would be going, the ocean was a far darker hue, rolling along in large smooth waves that would give us a fast, undulating ride across the surface.
The sky was clear and blue, except for the seagulls that flocked constantly along the beach, waiting for handouts. The beach vendors were pulling in and setting up for the day. They all drove step vans like mine, pulling large trailers from which they would dispense hot dogs and sodas and bicycles for rent and kites and lounge chairs and all the other accoutrements of a tourist's day at the beach. We paused at the toll booth. The elderly lady working the booth stuck her head out.
“Five dollars please.” she said.
“No, ma'am, I said, “”We're not going to the beach. We're just dropping off some supplies to some of the other beach wagons, then coming back.”
“You say that every week and I'm starting to think you don't really come back.” She knew how this was going to turn out but I admired her effort.
“There must be a mistake,” I said. “I'm new on the job and this is my first day on this route. This is my supervisor right here...” Cromwell leaned over towards the driver's side and gave the poor lady a stern look.
“Lady, we've got almost two-point-five metric tons of ice in the back of this wagon and it's melting fast. Plus I've got to train the new guy here and this really isn't part of the program. But if a lousy five dollars is that important...”
“No, Sir, but I'm sure I remember you from last week and they told me to watch out for you boys and one of you is named Blix and...”
“Blix?” said Cromwell. “What kind of made up name is that? Sounds like bad info to me, ma'am. I'm Fred and this is Joe and we really gotta get this ice to the vendors down here.” She was beaten from the start and we all knew it. It looked to me like she was trying not to laugh and I know that someday I will be punished for keeping a straight face in these situations but until then it is all part of the game.
“Well, OK, but I'm watching you boys and you better come back through here pretty quick or else.” She was grinning pretty big now. This was a cool old lady. Hell, everybody in this town is cool. “By the way, what's in those red cups?”
“Training Juice, ma'am,” said Cromwell as I headed the big truck down the ramp onto the sand.