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Drama Romance Happy

Commute 5280 was going badly. Apart from the usual Monday morning traffic, bad weather, poor visibility and an announcement on the radio of an incident ahead causing delays, I’d had a run-in with an obnoxious driver, one that rattled me so much I’d been forced to pull over to catch my breath, at a badly maintained service station that nevertheless offered an oasis of calm. 

It was still pre 8-am when I pushed my way into the shop, leaving the rain for the brightly lit, muzak-droning interior, one I was far too familiar with after years and years of almost weekly drop-ins.

It wasn’t one of the big franchise stations but it was the only one along this stretch of motorway, and since I was prone to growing sleepy at the wheel, even this early in the morning (bad sleep habits, staying awake late on my phone, swiping through Tinder halfheartedly) it was one I’d come to know as well as my car.

The ATM in the corner that only gave fiftys. The cracked floor tiles, water-stained ceiling panels, spreading patch of mould by the door to the toilet. The life-saving, self-service coffee dock which against all odds gave good coffee, which is what I needed now to perk me up, so I made my way to it and got in line behind a woman in a wet parka, who’d placed a cup under the dispenser and was readying her bankcard to pay.

As I waited, I found myself wondering how many times I'd popped in here. Out of 5280 commutes, 2640 northbound, I’d probably stopped at this station at least twice a week on my way from point A to point B, ‘A’ being home, ‘B’ being my place of work, the same place of work I’d been commuting to and from for eleven years. Eleven years, 48 working weeks per year, very few days missed due to illness or family emergencies, 5280 commutes, there and back, give or take, made at least 1000 visits to this station.

Which was depressing. The same road, the same congestion, the same stops along the way to do a job I had long since grown bored of. 

Christ, I needed a change. 

With the kids grown, the divorce settled, the house paid for, freedom to choose something new now rested before me, I just hadn’t tried to seek it out. Too set in my ways, too stuck in routine, too afraid of changing direction. 

But I had to, or one of these days I’d die on this mind-numbing commute, leaving miles of regret in my wake. This morning had made that crystal clear. 

I didn’t want to dwell on it, because that would remind me of how blunt my sparkwheel had become over the years and how it could no longer ignite any flame. I just wanted coffee, to sit for a while and calm my mind, but the woman in the parka was having difficulty, cursing at the machine while tap-tap-tapping her card against the contactless sensor, getting nothing back in return.

“Damnit,” she said, giving up and turning to walk away. I recognised her then as someone I’d been seeing here for years, and she rolled her eyes when she saw me, like I was a friend. “Not working again. Always on a Monday, I swear to God. Awful weather.”

“It is,” I nodded, her thinning, grey hair another reminder of how long I’d been doing this. I sighed, taking her place at the machine before realising I, too, only had my phone with which to pay.

“Ah, shit,” I said, shoulders slumping as I realised I wasn’t going to be able to console myself with soothing, hot caffeine. This commute was going from bad to worse.

“...he’s just a poor boy, from a poor family.” 

The words surprised me when I heard them and I hesitated a moment before looking over my shoulder, in case they weren’t intended for me.

When I saw who was there, in a white blouse, black coat and jeans, honey-coloured hair tied in a ponytail, I knew they were, recognising the woman and responding the only way I could… 

*

I took exit 9 and cruised down the ramp towards the motorway. 

At slightly over the speed limit of sixty kilometres per hour, I craned my neck over the wheel of my Audi A3 as it cruised down the glistening wet tarmac, eager to see what kind of shitstorm the weather had wrought. When the three lane expressway came into view, I was surprised to see there wasn’t already a tailback. The traffic was moving at a steady pace, busy but not insane, and that allowed me to relax, raising the volume of the tune that was playing on the radio as I reached the base of the ramp and prepared to merge.

Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Again.

It was nearly always Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Or Dream On by Aerosmith. Or Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush. The station I listened to only seemed to have about ten tracks they constantly cycled through, all classics, and though that could get boring, at least I knew the lyrics to every song and could sing along for most of the trip, keeping the boredom at bay.

I wasn’t much of a singer, but that didn’t matter in the car, where I could roar at the top of my lungs, bopping my head and slapping my hands on the wheel, oblivious to the people in vehicles around me, only occasionally becoming conscious of what I was doing and composing myself when I accidentally made eye contact with a stranger, who would more often than not be staring and laughing.

But not today. 

In the middle of singing “I see a little silhouette of a man” along with Freddie, I happened to look out my window and found myself staring through the drizzling rain at a blonde controlling a Toyota in the fast lane, mouthing the words “Scaramouch, Scaramouch, will you do the Fandango!” back at me. 

She laughed, probably at how quickly I clammed up, but continued singing along to the song, on my radio and hers. “Thunderbolts and Lightning, very, very frightening me!” Her sense of fun inspired me to jump back in, joining Queen–and her–for a spirited shout-out to Galileo. 

For a few fun seconds I mostly held her gaze, whilst maintaining awareness of the road. I felt my heart lift and something like butterflies in my stomach, enjoying this weird, singalong moment with the stranger in the Corolla beside me.

And then, just like that, it was over, her attention diverted to her rearview mirror and the shiny, black Tesla that raced up behind her, flashing its lights as it urged her to get out of its way.

My side mirror showed me the moustachioed driver in bold, red shirt and mirrored sunglasses, who was clearly shouting obscenities as he leaned over the wheel. An impatient asshole, he then commenced pounding his horn, making the Tesla shriek when the flashing of its headlights failed to make the Toyota disappear. 

And so my Bohemenian partner had to go, one last glance at me to shrug before her speed took her ahead and she left me, hemmed in by crawling traffic on the left and impatient speedsters like Mister Tesla on the right.

Easy come, easy go, will you let me go,” sang Freddie, as I watched my short-lived duet partner’s car, licence plate number 192-D-3XY, draw out of sight past the dirty, white Hi-Ace in front of me.

*

“Spare him his life from this monstrosity.”

“Not sure I can do that, but I can shout him a coffee,” she said, reaching past me to drop three coins into the slot next to the sensor. “Lucky I’m old school and always have cash. Need a caffeine boost after the morning’s excitement? I know I do.”

“Oh, thanks, that’s really good of you,” I said, still caught off guard by the reappearance in my life of the singing blonde, not to mention how much prettier she looked outside her car. “I’ll pay you back. Do you have Revolut?”

“Cold in here, isn’t it?” she said, rubbing her shoulders while she surveyed the station. “Or is it just me after almost being run off the road?”

“Oh God,” I said, placing a paper cup under the dispensing nozzle and pressing the button that would make me a latte. “Can you believe that guy? Some people shouldn’t be allowed on the road.”

“Yeah, like, who did he think I was, Vin Diesel with a canister of nitro? Idiot going that fast in rush hour traffic. Then acting like a dick when you gave him a taste of his medicine. I saw you after I switched lanes. Can’t say that was the most intelligent move but if you did it to defend my ‘honour’...well, high five to you, good sir.”

She actually did raise her hand to high five me and I actually did five it back, as the coffee machine hissed, releasing its beautiful nectar.

“Oh, yeah,” I shrugged and cringed. “I wouldn’t normally… I just hate assholes who get right up on top of you when you’re already going the speed limit and don’t have space to move in. Flashing and beeping like they own the road. Ugh. I don’t do road rage but that got my goat and I couldn’t help myself.”

“Almost helped yourself to an insurance claim,” she said, picking three more coins from her purse in preparation of making her selection. “Or worse. Maybe you think you’re Vin Diesel?”

My cringe turned to full-on embarrassment and I felt like as much of a dick as Mister Tesla, opening my mouth to say something but shutting it again when the toilet door opened and out came a man in red shirt, blue jeans, polished shoes, trench coat and moustache.

She saw him at the same time as me and sniggered, looking at me with a twinkle in her eyes, singing:

“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”

The Tesla tore past me, still blaring its horn and flashing its lights at 192-D-3XY--who was now out of sight--and it annoyed me. 

Idiot. 

It was raining, the road was slick, he was doing close to 120. He was going to cause an accident or at the very least rattle the driver of the Toyota enough that she might cause an accident herself. 

What an idiot. How would he like it if someone was pushing him on like that? 

How indeed.

A glance in my mirror showed there was a gap in the fast lane once he shot past. Taking a moment to think ‘this is not me’ then making the decision regardless, I flicked down my indicator and turned the wheel, sliding in behind Mister Tesla, provoking a beep of annoyance from the Renault behind.

Hazard lights on, three second apology, hand high so it could be seen. The Renault flashed its lights. Annoyed. But at least I apologised. I wasn’t a dick, like Mister Tesla. 

He was pulling away from me, fast, the road ahead clear. 192-D-3XY had switched lanes out of his way. Good. Now let’s show him what it’s like. I pressed down the accelerator, gripping the wheel with both hands, watching the speedometer rise, 100-105-110. Closing the distance between us, raindrops impacting, wipers swishing, Queen singing about letting go.

I flashed my lights as I drew close, close enough that I could see his stupid glasses in his rearview mirror. “Go on then,” I said, hoping he was looking and could read my lips. “I’m in a hurry now too, why don’t you get out of my way?”

115-120-130.

I was feet away from his bumper. He wasn’t speeding up, though there was a stretch of open road now ahead. He wasn’t indicated left, though there was a gap in the lane alongside. 

What an absolute…

His brake lights came on, abruptly, blazing red, and my blood ran cold as he slowed.

“Fuck!”

Instinct and reflexes kicked in. A millisecond glance in the passenger mirror then I was jerking the wheel to the left, swinging into the centre lane, inches ahead of a small blue Fiesta, tapping my brakes to avoid ramming into a Kia as I turned the wheel back and straightened up. Mister Tesla was pouring on the speed again having slowed right down to 80, causing the Renault behind to slam on its brakes and blast its horn, grinding to a near halt as the black car ate asphalt and disappeared.

 “Jesus,” I spat, armpits sweat-soaked, heart pounding. 

In my rearview mirror I saw the male driver of the Fiesta give me the finger. My speed dropped, 80-75-70. The rain hitting my windscreen intensified. “So you think you can stone me and spit in my eyeee,” sang Freddie. Up ahead, through misty rain, I could make out Peachways Station. I turned off the radio, indicated left, took a breath and made my way into the outside lane.

*

“Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality,” I replied, as we watched Mister Tesla secure himself an extra large energy drink from a fridge, a red can as loud as his shirt.

“Looks like he was in a rush for the loo,” my companion said, handing me my coffee and placing a cup for herself under the nozzle. “Maybe Beelzebub had a devil put inside for him?”

Aside,” I corrected, smiling at her joke while placing a lid on my cup. “And I hope it was a monster. Look at him, swaggering around like 1970’s Burt Reynolds. He could have killed someone. Still could, if he keeps driving like that. I’m going to say something.”

“Oh, my hero,” 192-D-3XY joked, her coins clinking into the machine, her finger jabbing the button to select a flat white. “Do you stand up for all the ladies like this?”

“I don’t even stand up for myself,” I said, sipping my coffee, the warmth and the taste giving me succour. “But you know what? Today I feel like being different.”

And so I was, stepping towards Burt as he passed me and blurting: “Excuse me,” before I could change my mind.

He stopped, looked at me blankly, no mirror glasses.

“Sorry?”

“Um, look, this is a bit awkward but I wanted to say, you should consider slowing down on days like this, with poor visibility and wet roads.”

“What?”

“You know, it’s dangerous going fast when it’s rush hour and raining. There’s enough accidents on the road every day as it is without…”

“Are you the dickhead who was up my ass back there? Are you for real? Talk about dangerous, what were you playing at?”

“Me?” I spat, not quite believing what I was hearing.

“Yeah, you! You’re lucky you didn’t hit me or you’d be looking at a massive repair bill. Did you see what I drive?"

“Wow, seriously, are you… That’s what you were doing to the woman in front of you, I was trying to show you what…”

“Fuck off, pal. Stay out of the fast lane if you can’t handle the speed.”

He turned away, almost walking into 192-D-3XY, who’d made her way around him as we spoke.

“Hey, you missed the special offer, two cans of Bastard for the price of one,” she said, shoving another red tin into his hands. “You need all the energy you can get to rage-drive for Elon. Vroom vroom!”

She moved her face closer to his as she made the sound, eyes wide, head cocked, then stepped away, leaving him speechless, linking my arm and taking me with her, out through the door into the…sun? 

“Cleared up nice!” She took a sip of her flat white. “Oh, that’s good!”

“Yeah, this place is a bit of a dump but they do good coffee,” I said. “Hey, can you believe that guy? Lucky you dragged me away, I swear I was going to…”

“Were you?” she asked, raising her eyebrows and releasing my arm. “Going to go all Jason Statham on his ass?”

“Probably not,” I conceded, taking another gulp from my cup. It tasted even better outside, now the rain had stopped and the clouds were letting in light. “Not exactly the confrontational type. Not sure what got into me.”

 Both our cars were parked across from the shop, either side of the Tesla, which must have been there when I arrived but I was too shaken to notice.

“Don’t have to be confrontational. You already proved you’re my Knight in Shining Audi,” she said, as we made our way across. “And besides, as flattered as I am, I’m capable of getting my own payback. Mr. Reynolds is going to find it hard to rage-drive when he comes out to two flat tires.”

Saying this, she opened her free hand to reveal the two, small valve caps she held then laughed as she ran to her car. 

“You didn’t!” 

“I did! You can call me…Magnifico. And you're my Figaro.”

I watched her open her door, start to get in, wanting to say something, anything, not wanting this moment to pass. But what could I say? I didn’t want to come across like…

“I don’t have Revolut,” she called. “Old school, remember? But I do like this coffee and I’ll be here at the same time tomorrow if you want to shout me back.”

Magnifico didn’t wait for a reply, just slid inside and shut the door. A second later she was driving past me, waving as she went for the exit. I waved her off, sipping my coffee, smiling.

The world felt different. The day was looking up. Commute 5280 had gone quite badly but things were looking up for 5282.

My sparkwheel had managed a light and now I had a flame to keep burning.  

August 04, 2023 23:48

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35 comments

Kevin Logue
09:56 Aug 05, 2023

You weaved this beautifully from lane to lane. The formatting of getting glimpses of how they ended up at the gas station were well executed, really made it flow and add mystery. Lovely bookends with the monotony of the commute, lates nights on tinder, to the possible joy of the next commute and the possible blossoming relationship with Magnifico. The Queen lyrics worked a treat too. Great job 👍 - "As I waited, I found myself wondering how many times this made I’d been here." There something wrong here, meant maybe not made?

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10:08 Aug 05, 2023

Thank you Kevin! See my reply to Chris about this one , it was a breech birth! Good catch in that line, tiredness got the better of me in final run through last night! Impressed with yours this week. So much depth!

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Kevin Logue
10:31 Aug 05, 2023

Breech birth ha, they happen. Regardless of how you got here the result is great.

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Annie Persson
16:02 Oct 26, 2023

I love this! Very cool setting with the cars and all, you certainly don't see this in romance very often! I really liked this, thanks for sharing!

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20:23 Oct 26, 2023

🥰🥰🥰 Thanks Annie! I am waiting til the weekend to read your 3parter!

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Annie Persson
22:17 Oct 26, 2023

You're welcome! I hope you enjoy them! I have had some feedback that the magic system isn't very well explained, but it's my first finished piece, and I haven't had time to correct it....

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Belladona Vulpa
06:29 Aug 11, 2023

I love how emotions change and develop during the story. I was curious about the character and his interactions, I think we all empathize with the anger against the careless fast driver that has no regard for the safety of others on the road. The interactions in the gas station were the most interesting part. Nice hopeful feeling at the end!

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12:37 Aug 11, 2023

Thanks Belladona! I appreciate you reading and commenting! :) Yes I liked writing the interactions between the three, they were a lot of fun to do. Had to keep them brief due to word count but glad they were still memorable!

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Marty B
05:18 Aug 11, 2023

Great story! I loved the interactions over gas station coffee (though that the coffee is good, turns this story into a fantasy!) The license plate names were a great touch, as well as the bad guy driving a black tesla (perfect choice) . Fantastic!

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06:23 Aug 11, 2023

Thank you Marty. Well you have to keep the faith that you will find good coffee in a roadside service station! It can happen. And if not we can always write about it and pretend 😁

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Lily Finch
19:53 Aug 10, 2023

This story is a great perspective of road rage and budding romance all at once. Bringing the couple together, united by their hatred for the Tesla man is such a great idea. I thought your scenes were totally believable and done well. The pacing and flow of the story were so naturally done. Great premise and plot. Your protagonist wins out in the end. Who doesn't love a story that revolves around Bohemian Rhapsody?

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06:25 Aug 11, 2023

Thanks Lily! Yes indeed, so many infuriating drivers on the roads , I thought it would be nice to have a couple team up against one. And maybe fall in love in the process 😉

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Anne Ryan
15:41 Aug 09, 2023

Very exciting and true to everyday drive on a motorway.Love the choice of Music.Freddy Mercury was one of a kind.Well written.......

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Michał Przywara
20:45 Aug 07, 2023

Ha! The story is fun and has a lot of good things going for it, but I think what really stands out is the pacing. Don't get me wrong, the other stuff is good, it's just the pacing is excellent. You keep dropping these little cliffhangers, and then there's a scene switch, and each time I found myself thinking "I want to know what happened!" And the situation just keeps building and building, with everyone ending up at the same place, unknowingly. Great tension! Leads to a satisfying ending. "I found myself wondering how many tims" - tim...

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21:33 Aug 07, 2023

Thanks Michal. Was able to fix that typo cheers for the heads up! Glad you enjoyed. Thank you for comment re: pacing. Nice to hear it reads well!

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Aeris Walker
21:15 Aug 06, 2023

Ha, loved the twist. That really is the worst—running into the very same drivers you anger on the highway. I liked how you framed this around lyrics from Bohemian Rhapsody, showing how music was an important background sound in the character’s daily commutes. Well done :)

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13:58 Aug 07, 2023

Thank you Aeris! Yes the fact music was a constant in his daily routine/grind was what I wanted to express, also that the songs he listens to are so old he really was stuck in a rut. Needed a catalyst to get him moving forward again. Hopefully he has found it!

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Bruce Friedman
15:04 Aug 06, 2023

Derrick, perfect piece of writing. Could not have been better. Great sense of urgency in your words that propelled me forward. I had to look up a few words like spark wheel but could not find a definition this side of the pond.

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17:02 Aug 06, 2023

Thank you Bruce. Sparkwheel is just the wheel on a lighter you roll down to ignite the flame . 😊 Glad you enjoyed

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Bruce Friedman
17:15 Aug 06, 2023

Nothing like the Irish for spinning a great yarn. Your style and vocabulary are unique.

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Michelle Oliver
11:14 Aug 06, 2023

I enjoyed this story. The road rage giving me anxiety driving fast in poor conditions. I could feel my heart racing as I read. Excellent sensory writing. I loved the Queen lyrics that you wore through the story and this little meet cute rested on those lyrics so well. The hopelessness it he beginning is nicely balanced with the sense of hope at then end. Great work and lovely story telling.

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14:00 Aug 07, 2023

Thanks Michelle! Yes I wanted the chance encounter on the road to act as catalyst for change in his life . He needed something to break him out of the cycle he was stuck in. Magnifico might just be it.

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Ben LeBlanc
04:18 Aug 06, 2023

Wow, serious class and skill in this story. The flawless weaving of timelines and the thematic drop in of Queen lyrics--bon apetit! And you say this was a thrown-together story. Also, your descriptions are pitch perfect and the dialogue was very quippy and lived-in. Nice job. I was hooked. Definitely talking notes haha.

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08:07 Aug 06, 2023

Wow thank you Ben! That is high praise indeed. So happy you enjoyed!

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Mary Bendickson
20:52 Aug 05, 2023

Hot and sweet like the coffee.☕ Rock on.

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21:55 Aug 05, 2023

🤘🤘🤘

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Nina H
18:28 Aug 05, 2023

I love how they play out the Queen song! She’s a fun and ballsy character, and brings out something in him he’d lost along the way. You have some great lines in here too, my favorite is the “miles of regret” on the road. I want to go back tomorrow too and see what happens with them. ☺️

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21:56 Aug 05, 2023

Thanks Nina! Appreciate you reading and commenting. Yes I'm kind of curious how it will go myself. I think it's going to be good 😉

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Kristin Johnson
17:29 Aug 05, 2023

I like the reference to people as license plates. That's a unique character quirk. Hat tip for Kate Bush "Running Up the Hill," currently re-popularized by "Stranger Things." Well done.

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17:52 Aug 05, 2023

Thanks Kristin. Yes I actually had mentioned Stranger Things in the story but .... word count, had to cut!

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Kristin Johnson
18:50 Aug 06, 2023

I hear you!

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Chris Miller
08:08 Aug 05, 2023

Giving me anxiety when they're on the road and again in the shop! Really good descriptions of the action and how he gets pulled into something out of character. Good use of the lyrics. There's room for more Freddie, but it would also be easy to overdo it. Thanks for sharing.

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08:47 Aug 05, 2023

Thanks for reading Chris. This all came together yesterday out of three other attempted abandoned ideas. Nothing seemed to be working for me and I almost gave up yesterday morning but really didn't want to. So I crammed everything together and hammered away and I've ended up happy with the result. The song was randomly chosen based on what was on my own radio at the time but man it just fit perfectly!

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Unknown User
21:41 Aug 09, 2023

<removed by user>

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22:04 Aug 09, 2023

Trust me Joe. Written from experience. Some absolutely nutters driving around out there! Thanks for commenting!

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