The last thing you want to read about is a gas station. I know that. So, instead I’ll tell you about an old man who once owned one. I’ll call him Mister Peters, though that’s not his name.
Peters was the sponsor of our Little League team, and no matter how old you get, you don’t forget things like that. Our T-shirts and caps bore his name.
Peters and his wife were salt-of-the-earth people. Their shop was out in the sticks, off the highway. The gas pumps were the original kind, with the spinning numbers.
Whenever you wheeled into his station, one of Peters’ boys would wander out, usually covered in grease. He’d fill up your car, then wipe your windshield with a squeegee. You paid cash, and let him keep the change.
Peters’ place was only miles from my home. Often we’d hike to it, through the woods. Past the creek; where we caught crawfish. Past the clearing; where the wild strawberries grew.
It was Peters who once let us boys buy a package of Red Man chew, on the condition we took a chaw right there, in front of him. Which everyone was afraid to do, except Kevin — who got as sick as a dog. We had to drag him home.
Over time, regulations made it too difficult for little stations to stay in business. At least, that’s what Peters said while he wiped my windshield.
“It’s big businesses,” he said. “They’re shutting us little fellas down. Pretty soon, you won’t see side-of-the-road stations like this anymore. I’m sick about it. I’ve sank my life into this place. But they’re going to have to take it from me. I’m gonna hang on until my fingernails quit growing.”
Last time I saw it, Peters’ station had plywood over the windows. There were no tire-stacks out front, no drums of oil. The tall sign had been taken down.
Listen, I’m no dummy. I know our world is only going to keep getting bigger. But I don’t have to like it. Each year, there are more Walmarts, Best Buys, and Taco Bells; fewer general stores, and no-name burger joints.
But I still have my Little League ball cap. And I’m going to keep it.
Until my fingernails quit growing.