Friday, August 28, 2009

Fill 'er up?

A few weeks ago when I had my flat tire, I took it to get it fixed at a service station. Not a gas station, a service station. It sits at what I would guess to be the center of this old town, or at least at the intersection of the two main highways that run through it.

A real service station.

There was a self-service island of pumps and a full-service island, where they still pump it for you. And a garage with six bays where they still do actual car repairs--front-end alignments, brakes, shocks, and yes, tires.

A real service station.

I had driven by it hundreds if not thousands of times and even had some work done there before, but this particular afternoon was the first time I'd ever been inside. As I stepped in out of the Alabama summer and looked around, it was as if I had covered thirty years in a couple of steps.

I was struck by the relative emptiness of the large store area. There was one rack of various snack items--peanuts, chips, and such--two coolers of cold drinks, and a shelf of car care items. No bread, no Slurpee machine, no aisles and aisles of groceries. This was no convenience store.

As I sat and waited, no fewer than four mechanics passed through, each with his name on his shirt. They would be talking to some customer about their car or asking the lady at the counter what they needed to work on next, maybe stopping to grab a cup of coffee from the machine in the corner.

A real service station.

It was busy that afternoon and as the minutes dragged on I engaged in bits of conversation with the lady at the counter. She told a couple of stories about the history of the store as I walked around and looked at the numerous pictures on the wall.

There were photographs of the station through the years, including one each from the '60s, '70s, and '80s. In those particular three, you could see the sign outside with the price of gas on it: fifty-four cents in the '60s, eighty-one cents in the '70s, and a dollar and four cents in the '80s. The brand of gas was different and it had gone from two pumps to four and then six, but I couldn't help thinking not a whole lot else had changed.

As I sat back down, I looked out the big front windows at the world passing by. The contrast was not lost on me. Out there, cars whizzed by on the four-lane. It was a scene of noise and hurry. Everybody with somewhere to be. But in here, things were quiet. Cool. And just a little bit slower.

On three of the four corners at the intersection of the two main roads that cut through this old town sit a Walgreens and two gas-stations-slash-convenience-stores. On the fourth corner, right in the middle of a town that has sprung up around it, sits a service station.

A real service station.

"He pumped your gas and he cleaned your glass. One cold, rainy night he fixed your flat. A new store came where you do it yourself, you buy a lotto ticket and food off the shelf. Forget the little man..."


  1. Did it have the hoses that *ding* everytime someone drove over them? I miss that.

    I love Walgreens. The slurpee places I can pass on.

  2. Ten years ago, the baggers at the locally-owned grocery store I shop at always carried your bags to the car, even if you only had one. Then they started asking if I wanted them to carry it. A few years ago, they stopped asking. Even though I never took them up on their offer when it was optional... I miss that.

  3. I really loved this post. You have a writing soul who sees stories all around you. I can tell you feel them, and then you write them down - to share. I like that you share them.

    You remind me of one my very favorite writers .. Pat Conroy. YOu notice the very intricate normal everyday moments of life - and you appreciate them. You appreciate them, not necessarily in the sense that 'hey this is fantastic.. but more of 'hey this is life.'

    Have you ever looked for an agent?

  4. This post really brings back memories! My Great-grandfather owned a Texaco station in Kentucky. I used to love visiting that place when I was young. I can close my eyes and still smell the gas from the pumps and the rubber from all the tires stacked against the wall. He knew I loved Reese cups so there was always a full box when I was around. My favorite thing in the garage was an old drink machine with the glass bottles. The highlight of my visit was to tug on the ice cold bottle to remove it from the rack, pop the top {no twist tops!} and dump a bag of salted pnuts into my coke! Come to think of it, I've not had a coke that way since I was a little girl. Do they make cokes in the those glass bottles anymore? I have no idea but that is my search for this weekend! Thanks for bringing back those happy memories for me Bone!

  5. It sounds as if your service station still gets enough business to stay in business. that's good. I think that we might have one here, but I never go there because it is really inconvenient to get to and normally their price for gas is much higher than where I go (the convenience store that is owned by my grocery store). They seem to be doing well dispite my lack of business there.

    I've been so lucky (knock wood) to have not gotten any nails in my tires with all the new roofs going up around me. I still am working to get a new roof on my house. sigh

  6. I think its great that a service station that old still gets good business and doesn't have to shut down in today's economy. That's saying a lot about the quality of their business. Have a great day.

  7. You forgot to mention that the mayor owns it. Or maybe you didn't forget..... or, perhaps you didn't know. I'm sure the last one isn't right though.

    When I used to deliver mail at that post office, that's where we would take our mail trucks to get filled up. We didn't use the self service lanes! :)

  8. Murf - No, I don't think they had the ding. Or maybe I just didn't notice it. Yeah, I like the ding, too.

    R8chel - Yeah, twenty years ago, when I worked at a grocery store, we carried groceries out, too. And sometimes people tipped :) Or maybe they were just giving me money so that I could buy a nicer tie. I wore those knit ties, and I only had three--red, black, and pink.

    Shelby - Wow. Thank you for such a wonderful compliment. I definitely felt this one, and knew I had to write about it eventually.

    No, I have never looked for an agent. Know a good one?

    Living and Loving Life - What a great memory! Reminds me of an old country store that I wrote about years ago, here. When I was going through the office the other day, I came across my first checkbook and like 80% of my checks were made out to that store, mostly for 10, 15 bucks at a time. At first I thought they were for gas. Then I remembered sometimes I would write her a check for cash. Actually, I probably should go back and add that to my last post.

    Renee - Yeah, ours is a little higher on gas, too. As I recall, when there were actually full service stations around, they usually were a few cents higher.

    I don't go there for gas, either. But I'll be getting all my repairs done there from now on.

    Michelle Johnson - Yeah, I couldn't help but wonder as I was sitting there how much longer it would be in business. But like I said, it seemed to be doing quite well the day I was there.

    Mrs. R - Really? Are you sure? I didn't know that. I mean, I knew it was the same name, obviously.

    My Mom goes there all the time.

  9. This post brought back such great memories. I miss real service stations.

  10. What a beautiful post, Bone. You certainly have a way with stories like this, a way of taking a slice of life and making it come alive for all of us. That's a talent few people have.

    For some reason, it makes me think of driving through New Mexico, on ol' Route 66. While a great portion of the Route is closed, there are sections that still take traffic, and across there you can see many old, often shut down, service stations. I get sad for the times I didn't even know sometimes.

    At the very edge of my hometown, there used to be a service station. I remember going there with my parents, and wishing there was more than a cooler of drinks and snacks. Now, when I drive by and see the delapitated building that's not in use, I would easily give up the bigger convenience store in town for just a day or two of the way it used to be.

  11. You had to know I would love this. Cant help this: so what did you find?
    Sweet home Alabama. I was reading a book the other day--Greg Iles writes about Natchez--that said "people from the Carolina's only think they're from the deep south."
    Because I know you and live in SC I knew what he meant. And all our service stations have full convenience stores which I can't get used to as I'm used to the East--fill em up, get oil changed, maybe a tire changed, leave

  12. Your writing still amazes me after all these years.

  13. Nice writing, Bone. You remind us of what we've lost.

  14. This post brought a tear to my eye.

    The drive-thru at the Walgreens has a *ding* but it isn't the same thing.

  15. Mama Zen - Me, too. But I've been as guilty as anyone at opting for quicker and cheaper.

    TC - Thank you. There is always something sad to me about a closed down store. I try and picture how it must have looked when it was open and alive with business.

    Oh, I was the same way when I was younger! I thought the big convenience stores were much cooler than some simple old gas station.

    Pia - Well, I hoped you would :) Love the quote. I think Iles is from Mississippi.

    Well, I'm glad they let you leave ;-)

    Heather B - Well, thank you. My, it has been several years, hasn't it.

    Sage - Thanks. Reminds me of the lines to a song I can't quite place. Something about "They call it progress, but I just don't know.

    PennyCandy - Aww, well I suppose that's not always a bad thing. Thanks for the comment.

  16. You write so well. You're a natural story teller, I think. I was totally there with you then. :)

  17. This made me remember the small town in Ohio where my grandparents lived....whenever we visited, it was like stepping back in time. Thanks for bringing back these memories, Bone...I especially remember going to the candy store with a few pennies and buying those wax candies shaped like coke bottles. We'd bite off the tops and drink the sugar liquid elixir that was inside. I hadn't thought about that in a long have a gift for giving people fond memories back when you write these lovely posts.

  18. I like how you keep repeating

    A real service station.

    That service station has character..

  19. I never had those memories but you put me there so I can feel it. Almost nostalgic for something I never experienced. Is that possible?

    If you are feeling nostalgic you can go to Oregon or New Jersey.They pump gas there. I know they do on the NJTP but they sort of run out and run in, not rally the atmosphere you described....maybe try Oregon.

  20. So let me get this stopped at a service station. HA! I'm kidding. Good post. You really did describe the service station. I could picture it!

  21. I'm so girly, I want someone to pump my gas for me. I also want a driver- I'm a horrible driver. That doesn't have anything to do with me being girly, I just have never liked driving. I should have been born during the time of real service stations and chauffeurs.