The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

The Last Gas Station

“Yaknow, for a place where you’re lucky to see more than one car for every 10 miles of road on the surrounding highways this gas station sure got busy all the sudden”.  

I spoke from behind a gas nozzle, seated on my Road King at a pump that had been empty of waiting cars when I had arrive just a few minutes ago.  Now, three cars waited behind me, and two on the other side behind one filling opposite the divider.  He was filling both the tank and the extra in the bed of his pickup – this might take a while. Five pairs of eyes burrowed into the back of my skull.

“It’s the only pump in town”, injected the man with the other nozzle, wide-brimmed straw cowboy hat pushed back on his head while he looked down into his rear tank.

“I think it’s the only one in the county”, chimed the passenger, standing behind him, elbows resting on the pickup bed side-rail.  “Isn’t that right, Bob?!”, he hollered back towards one of the waiting cars.

The door to an aged 60s El Camino opened behind them in their line.  Dust, rust, and a flattened can of Hamm’s announced the debarking of a grizzled, bent codger held together by nothing but boots, hat, and a belt.  Against long odds, it was all bound up in a bundle with a streak of orneriness sticking out like an unkempt shirt tail.

Bob struggled up out of the drivers side.  The thirty seconds it took him to exit, walk around, and hold his peace till he arrived on station felt like a time warp.  My gas meter clicked off, but I was duty-bound to give the man the time he needed for a question I had instigated, but was now inextricably bound to.  

My head had been full of highway-speed just a few minutes ago, and it screamed to be back to it.  I watched those boots slowly shuffle up, drinking in fully the juxtaposition to my road-rushed state of mind.

I took a deep breath, and accepted the moment.  I immersed myself in the slowest shamble I had ever witnessed.  I embraced it.  I vowed to myself to learn the secrets of this wondrous tool, this terrible weapon.

“Isn’t that right, this is the only gas station in the county, isn’t it?  Elbow-resting Passenger repeated himself as he stood up respectfully, giving the Village Elder space to step through.

I surreptitiously slid the expended nozzle back into its holster while the old man got his speaking voice warmed up, and reviewed his memory of 7 decades occupying the region. Briefly he began to speak, but then went back to his sagacious reverie.

I imagined him driving, in his mind’s eye, to different stations that may have been open at one time around the sparse county.  They seemed to briefly flashed, one by one, expressed beneath the deep bushy brows that loomed over his eyes.  His gnarled hands fumbled for his pockets, and he shifted gradually from pedestrian to orator.   

Bob himself had only started using cars when he had bought the El Camino, and couldn’t recollect any stations before that.  But he did remember the birth of one of the future owners of a gas station to his own nephew back in ’57 he could recall,  and then an untimely death and the closing of the station in ’86.  There were two brothers some miles out who thought they’d have a go at running a pump up at the county line, but ranchers couldn’t get up there in winter, and locals never traveled that way normally, so it too had shut down oh, heck, sometime before Bob’s wife had passed 20 years ago.  

All the facts were there, they just needed a little chronological sorting.  And maybe a push start.

I glanced over during the recitation at the lifted pickup behind me carried a strapping young man and his girl, towing a horse trailer and unable to squeeze in on the other side even if they wanted.  Anywhere else that face would be flushed and angry, the girl might have been hurling unladylike expletives at the holdup.  But not here – not now. The stout man behind Them in the big Dodge with an ATV in the back sat patiently while Bob worked it out.  

He made a final conferral with his inner self, agreed, and drew himself up to the task of speaking.

“Yep”, he rasped in the strongest voice his aged body could work up.  He swung his head, neck, and body around towards me for a moment, in a stiff nod of acknowledgement that I was the instigator of this speculation.  

“Yep”, he reaffirmed thoughtfully, “I think that’s right”.  And so it was a consensus.  All agreed that if Bob couldn’t remember any other gas stations in the county, then by golly there were none to be found.

I glanced up the street at the dilapidated tire store across the way, still announcing tire brands from 30 years ago.  What with the line behind me, I changed my mind about leaving the bike clogging the lane to the pump.  A sarcastic statement about the condition of the town urged me to speak it, mirth all around its edges, goading me into a smile.   Almost a smile. 

Instead, I mashed the helmet back on my head as Bob worked his way around to his car door.

“I guess it’s a good thing I stopped, then”.  I filled in the remaining empty sound-space with the machine’s engine.  I nodded to the two men still pumping diesel, smiled and nodded again to Bob, and pulled back onto the highway to lose myself again in the wide landscape of Montana.

To the good people of Jordan, Montana, I apologize for what I almost said, but didn’t.  It would have been rude.  

Funny, but still rude. 

 

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