I fell into a time warp. I can’t remember how it happened. But it did. I was sucked backward 53 years.
I pulled off State Highway 160 in Hayden, Alabama. I wheeled into a sleepy Sunoco gas station. The parking lot was full of mud-caked Fords, and guys in work clothes drinking Gatorades. The front window of the convenience store said, “Ice Cold Coca-Cola Sold Here.”
I pushed the door open and walked inside the old country store. And I fell into the 1960s.
The smell of fried chicken hit me like a groundswell. The gal behind the sneeze-guard was selling 8-piece meals, fried potato wedges, Mexican rice, and some kind of fruit cobbler so good it’s probably illegal in three states.
The menu on the wall was an old lightbox menu. There was a wait.
The men in line for lunch were the prototypical blue-collars I come from. They wore steel-toes and ratty denim. They had black smears on their faces, and dirty hands. They looked like they had just gotten out of the mines, just left the steel mill, or just finished laying beads on column splices.
On my way to the bathroom, I realized this was not just a convenience store. Not in the sense that we know them today.
Today, you walk into a gas-station store littered with futuristic slushy machines and those roller grills turning sausages and eggrolls which predate the Carter administration.
This wasn’t a place like that. This was a sure-enough general store. This place was more akin to the mercantile your mama sent you to, riding on your bicycle, whenever she was out of cornmeal.
This was the kind of place that could cover all your domestic needs in one fell swoop. You could buy a pound of roofing nails, a Stoffeur’s lasagna, a squeegee, and a Baby Ruth, all in the same trip. Throw in some Navy plug for your old man and you were good to go.
I passed fully-stocked grocery aisles, full of random items like Spic and Span, wooden mousetraps, and of course, Dude pickled quail eggs.
I saw an old woman in overalls buying a can of Raid, a Dean’s Italian Cream cake, and a Phillips head screwdriver.
There was a young man buying a Monster Energy drink, a bag of okra, and some frozen field peas.
I stopped at the coffee machine and waited in a three-person line. I was waiting behind men who smelled of hard labor and long hours. Not a single man touched the cream or sugar.
There were a few kids wandering the store. They were covered in little-kid sweat and smatterings of freckles. The boys browsed the shelves of candy, bringing to mind my own feckless youth.
The days when I used to save all my dimes to buy Mister Goodbars, Fun Dip, candy cigarettes, Big League Chew, or the mother of all confectionaries, a Payday.
At the register, I waited behind an elderly man at the front counter. His hair was white, and he was walking on unsteady legs. His voice was weak and he had the shakes. He was prepaying for his gas. Cash.
The young man behind the register took the man’s money and said, “You want help pumping your gas, sir?”
What year was I in? Young men offering to pump gas for their elders?
“Nah,” said the old man in a thick, mountain drawl. “I can do it. But thank you for the offer.”
“You sure?” said the kid. “I don’t mind.”
“I’m sure,” he said.
I paid for my wares. A gal behind the counter was restocking pouches of Red Man. There was an old pocketknife display case beside the register.
I met a man leaning on the counter as I paid. He was dressed in work clothes and a film of grime, wearing boots that were older than I am. He was shooting the breeze with the cashier, smiling, even though there wasn’t anything noticeable to be smiling about.
“How you doing today?” the man asked
“Okay,” I said. “How’re you?”
He smiled bigger. “If I was any better, I wouldn’t be able to stand myself.”
I returned his smile.
They bid me goodbye. I pushed the door open and left the 1960s. And I was immediately back in the real world again.
A world of interstates, dinging phones, tight schedules and text messages. A place where motorists see a yellow light and speed up instead of slowing down. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind living in the modern world. Honest, I don’t.
But I can guarantee you, I’ll be going back to Logan’s General Store again.