I came in to the Advance Auto Parts store in a small town in New York on the border of Massachusetts today, looking to find a replacement bulb for my broken headlight, hearing many words from many people in the back of my mind, in situations that haven’t yet happened,
Like when a male police officer would pull me over for the headlight as I was coming home from work, after working for so many days straight without having a day off to change it.
“Ma’am, your headlight is out. Why haven’t you changed it yet?”
I explain about the job and whatnot, about my not having time or daylight. He makes some joke about how my dad’s name is on my car and that it’s probably his car anyway. Why hasn’t he changed it if I’m incapable?
Like the time I was pulled over for my headlight previously and the police officer shook his head, expecting me to know better, like he was some disappointed elementary principal because I had blown a spit ball at the back of some kid’s head during English class. Who gave him the authority to feel empowered over a complete stranger?
and the guy at the auto parts store, the one with a dirty face and dirty hands, his hair is a mess and he has a keychain dangling out of his pocket that says “get r done.” His lanyard reads “NASCAR.” He would laugh at me when I ask for the proper headlight, make some joke about my owning a Prius. I’m sure he would tell me that age-old tale, like, “aren’t batteries bad for the environment, too?”
He’d joke about the price, that he’d never seen a girl in here, and would try to act like he knew everything about cars while I didn’t know anything, of course. I had boobs.
He’d sneer and giggle as he took out the small bulb and I would try to joke about it as if he weren’t a rampant sexist, like I did with the guys at the parts store in Albany last year, when I bought the small part for the water heater and I was surprised it only cost $3 when we expected it to cost $8. The guy shook his head as if I were some kind of idiot, as if I knew this part that we had only needed to buy once a decade of course cost $5 less than expected. What a dumb girl I am.
I thought these things as I held my breath, straightened my spine, and walked towards the gleaming red sign for the auto parts store I had entered a handful of times. I opened the door hearing the automatic bell ringing that comes with that kind of thing to greet the person behind the counter.
I was prepared with an apology for coming in 10 minutes before they were to close. “I had just gotten out of work,” I would explain. “I just need one small part. It won’t take long.” He would sigh, roll his eyes, and painstakingly retrieve the tiny little bulb I needed for my headlight. “And this is for a Prius?” he would exclaim, loud enough for the manager in the back to hear and giggle to himself. It was a fun joke for all.
But I did not find a man with greasy hair and jingly keychains behind the counter. Instead, I found a greasy woman, in her 50s or 60s, laughing at my immediate apology for coming in right before they closed. “You’re fine,” she said, her voice raspy with years of cigarette smoking. “We don’t close until 8PM. We close early on the weekends.”
“Okay,” I said, breathing a sigh of relief. “The Internet said 6. Do you guys have headlight bulbs?”
She smiled. “Of course we do. For what car?”
I told her the make and model of my car while explaining that this is the second time that exact bulb had gone out in such a short period of time. I didn’t know why, perhaps there was something else wrong with it?
“You need to hold the bulb at the base,” she told me, demonstrating with the bulb in her hand. “Touching these lightbulbs limits their lifespan. You could do whatever you wanted with older bulbs, but not these new ones.”
She smiled and handed me the bulb. “Oh, I didn’t know that. Thanks,” I said, still dumbfounded about the entire interaction. She knew what I was feeling. She had seen it many times, with women walking into the store alarmed, ready to fight back any sexist joke or overcompensate for their knowledge about cars. We had changed tires, oil, windshield wiper fluid. I had fixed a damn wiper blade in a blizzard near Canada, goddammit, and I will not take this total bullshit, sir!
This woman who worked at the Advanced Auto Parts store totally knew.
I swiped my card since they did not yet have a chip reader and she handed me my receipt as I made my way out the door. I looked her in the eyes and said, “thank you.”
“Have a nice night,” she said, smirk still plastered onto her face.
Photo Credit: tumblr users vhspositive and fuzzyghost