My daughter needed a ride into school today so she could be on time for an AP test, a test which no longer seems an honor but a requirement for college entry.
My car was at a quarter tank, and this was a big driving day, so I pulled into a local Shell, a behemoth of a station: At least six bays of three pumps each. There was a hand-lettered sign taped to the pump I pulled up to: “Super (93) Only." I pulled away and drove into another bay. Same thing. Every single pump was labeled Super (93) Only.
“Be right back,” I told Squints.
I swiped my debit card and hooked the nozzle into my tank.
Everett had knifed his name into the thick plastic above the message screen that I used to communicate with the computer, but if I squinted just right, I could make out the words: “Debit or Credit.”
I punched in debit and waited.
“Please enter PIN.”
I punched in my pin and waited.
That felt like an unnecessary question. I punched the button on the pump anyway: Super (93). I call tell you this: There’s nothing super (93) about paying $4.29 for a gallon of gas.
The station had television screens mounted on every pump. They were big screens, nearly as big as my family’s (admittedly small) television set. People laughed inanely on the screen and served up Cap’n Crunch news, prattling on and on about Justin Beiber, probably trying to distract me from the fact that I was about to put over fifty dollars of gasoline into my economy car.
The pump, thank God, finally clicked off. I squinted through Everett’s name.
“Car wash today? Yes. No.”
I looked for the hell no button, but couldn’t find it.
“Receipt? Yes. No.”
I waited for the tiny slip of paper to slide out. “Please see attendant.”
I sighed and knocked on the window of the car and wished I’d had my coffee before driving my daughter to school. “Be right back,” I told Squints.
The cashier looked exhausted and harried. A few more hand-lettered signs of Super (93) Only littered the desk, under which was an impressive array of brightly-colored candy. Overhead were displayed all manner of cigarettes and in the corner, pots of thick sludge dispensed coffee. The woman looked at me. I looked for a button to press before remembering my voice. “Could I get a receipt, please?”
I’m only in my forties, but I find I’m longing for the good old days, and if that makes me an old fogey, so be it. I remember when there was a two-pump gas station right on Main Street in the tiny Ohio town where we lived. There was a rubber hose across the entrance that set off a ding inside the station to alert the employees that someone had driven in. Bob, the owner’s son attended the local high school and I—and quite possibly my sisters as well—had a huge crush on him. When the bell rang, he would emerge from the station, pulling a red rag from the back pocket of his coveralls. He’d wipe the motor oil from his hands and lean in the window of my mom’s VW.
I remember the oil embedded around his fingernails. Here was a real worker. Someone with skill and knowledge.
Bob would talk with my mom as he filled the tank (89 cents a gallon!) and take her cash and draw out a thick wad of money to peel off a few dollars. I remember a change belt from which Bob would punch out pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters.
There was likely a cigarette machine in the station and a pop machine as well. Across the street, you could wash your car for seventy-five cents at the two-bay car wash that Bob’s dad also owned. For an extra quarter, you could use the vacuum, too.
I know this longing for the good old days, when things were simple and kind and right and true is symbolic of the passing of the torch from one generation to the next. But I often wonder: when my own children long for the good old days, what will they look back upon with fondness? Will they remember cramming for five AP exams? Rushing to school only to rush home in order to rush to work? Will they remember expensive gasoline and communicating via push buttons? What stories of the past will they hold up to their children? What symbols of their past will stand as things simple and kind and right and true?
Labels: Community, Growing up, Ohio, Stories