Oil and water will never mix

I met a Lao guy at a truck stop. I was on an eleven-hour long bus ride from New York City to Niagara Falls. The bus stopped somewhere between Syracuse and Rochester. I lost track of where I was. Outside of New York City, every suburbs in America looked the same. All I cared for was a breath of fresh air and a cup of sugary McDonald’s iced coffee. Laos guy approached me when I was chugging my coffee. He said hi, asking me what I was doing in a truck stop all the way out there. I told him I was on a trip to Niagara Falls. Just a quick stop here. I avoided eyes contact hoping this encounter would end soon.

Water exists in three forms: gas, liquid and solid. Oil exists mainly in liquid form. It does not crystallize or evaporate in nature. In daily life, both water and oil can exist in the common form of liquid.

He told me he was a truck driver and that stop was along his route. I nodded and took another sip of my coffee. You know I would have never thought I would be a truck driver one day, he said. He paused, taking a sip from his big red soda cup. I thought that conversation was over, the same way all conversations-with-strangers awkwardly ended in silence. I offered a polite smile and about to walk away.

Where are you from?, he asked just when I was about to turn away.

I looked at him. Out of all the places I had lived and could claim, I’m from Vietnam, I replied. I knew that was the right answer.

I’m Lao, he said. I didn’t need him to introduce himself to know he was at least southeast Asian. He was short with a short nose. His straight black hair was riddled with patches of gray hair. His eyes were monolid with wrinkles at the endpoint, looking like cracked lands.

So we were neighbors, huh?, he said. How do you like it here?

I understood what he meant by here. Us people, we all knew what that meant. I shook my head a little with my shoulder shrugged. It’s ok I guess.

I have been here for 32 years, he said. I didn’t have to ask him for anything else before he started talking on his own. He ran his hand through his hair, not to fix it, but just to had something for his awkward arms to do. I hate it here.

Water is made up of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. There is an uneven distribution of charge across the water molecule: a partial negative charge from its oxygen atom and partial positive charges on its hydrogen atoms. This makes water molecules polar. Especially in liquid form, water is polar and tends to only mix with other polar molecules.

He has moved to the US with his family since he was a young man. In his early twenty, it was a tough time but everything was so bright back then. He thought America was the place to be. Everyone in Laos talked about it. Everyone wanted to be here. His family was one of the few lucky ones that got to come over thanks to some US policies for ex US-pro veterans fighting in the Indochina. The sky looked brighter in the US. The sun was shining and even in the winter, the snow made it seemed even brighter.

His family was struggling here because everything was different. He didn’t have many education opportunities so he worked manual labor jobs. They were not bad, quite fun actually, decent money, he said about his old jobs. Then a friend showed him a long-distance truck driving gig and he has been driving trucks since then. Trucking made very good money, but there was a price to pay.

Oil are nonpolar. They are not attracted to the polarity of other molecules. In fact, oils are hydrophobic, which means water fearing. Oils are not only not attracted to water, but also repelled by them.

Lao guy was married once. His wife was pretty and his children were adorable. They were married for a while before he started trucking. His wife was happy when he decided to be a truck driver. The money was good, he explained. They even gathered enough money to buy a house in Florida. That’s the place that everyone wants to own a house and I did it, he smiled. But he lost his wife. Driving truck, he came home once a month. He barely saw her, didn’t even meet his children. And she left him. In the end, money wasn’t enough to keep love from dying.

Oil and water can't be mixed. They share the same liquid form in nature, but they are different in basic characteristics. When oil is added to a cup of water, the two won't mix. Oil will stays within its own and floats on top of water.

It’s not easy here, you know, he said to me after a moment of silence, breaking away from the life story.

Yeah, I replied, I know.

I used to think it is better here. But I’m so lonely, he said. He put his hand into his jeans pocket and shuffled his feet. I have nobody waiting for me at home, so I work. He pointed at a big blue truck in the lot, telling me that was his home then. It’s even lonelier being alone in the truck, he said softly as a whisper.

Maybe, I don’t belong here, he scratched his head. It’s easier to make money but I’m different, he tapped on his chest then pointed at me, we are different. We would never be treated the same.

How long have you been here? he asked

Close to ten years, I replied.

It has been 32 for me, he said.

I nodded and we both took a sip from our cups in silence. I didn’t know what to say to that. I didn’t know how to react to a life story of a stranger I happened to encounter at a truck stop. The randomness caught me off guard.

Some elements can dissolve into each other or react to each other after a certain period of time. The reactivity levels of the elements depend on their basic characteristics. However, water and oil will not mix and dissolve into each other despite time. When oil is added to a cup of water, it will not dissolve into water regardless how much time passed.

Lao guy didn’t say anything for a little while. I still stood there. I stared at the blue truck, wondering how far that thing had gone.

Uhm…can I have your number? Just like a friend to talk sometimes. He clumsily pulled out a piece of crumbled note from his shirt pocket and handed it to me.

How could you say no to a person who bared their souls to you?

Yeah. I took the note from him and he passed me a pen. I scribbled down then handed it back to him.

My bus was about to get back on the road. I realized that and said bye to him quickly. I ran away.

I saw him waving at me while I ran out the station.

I gave him a fake number.

2 thoughts on “Oil and water will never mix

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