I'm so sorry I ignored you. I really wanted to do that thing people
do, not the clapping-in-the-airport thing because we were at a gas
station, not an airport, and there weren't other people around to clap
with me and it would have looked sarcastic on my part (which it most
definitely would NOT have been), so No, not the clapping-in-the-airport
That other thing. The thing where I walk up to you, stick out my hand, and say with reverence (and shyness, of course), "Thank you. I just want to shake your hand and say 'thank you.'" And it would be barely above a whisper, especially in the late afternoon wind coming off of Clear Lake, and you'd say, "What's that again?" as you shook my offered hand, and I'd get all embarrassed and probably over-compensate by shouting it at you, word for lame word.
That thing. That Thank You Soldier thing.
But if you only knew me you'd be thanking me for not doing the shaking hands thing because I was at that moment sort of covered in barf and bits of sodden Kleenex, which would have put a definite damper on the encounter, a low point even for a Middletown gas station. I guess I could have saluted you, but I really didn't want to get my hand that close to my face. I spared you.
I also spared you the shrieks of a mortified carsick child, already cowering in the back seat of our car and trying not to be seen in her undies, since her pants were stowed in the trunk in their new mantle of partially digested cheeseburger and ice cream cone. Shaking your hand would likely have brought attention to our car, doors open in the chill January wind. It would have become a "what's that smell?" moment. I spared you, and me, and the aforementioned (yet unidentified) barf-covered half-dressed child.
So thank you for your service, young man, to me and my reeking family, and to your country. You are a credit to us all.
(the one who kept walking by you to the trash bin)