|Minivans Are Not Me|
|Written by Gil Gildner|
|Saturday, 24 April 2010 12:11|
The sun nears the horizon, dull and burning after a day-long trek across the sky. The cracked and shimmering asphalt is flecked by the shadows of weak, horizontal rays. I pull up, set my parking brake, and switch off the ignition. A few more spastic cylinder firings, and the engine slowly shudders to a silent stop.
I step out onto the asphalt. It’s still searing hot from the day’s sun. It’s the type of hot that seeps through the soles of my shoes and makes me yearn for winter. It can’t come too soon. Summer around here is hellish, and autumn is acceptable, but winter’s the best. I don’t have anything against winter. One can always layer.
The worst thing about summer is that it makes enjoying black coffee just a little bit too difficult. I normally bypass it altogether and get something chilled and sweet. The black must wait, till winter.
The remnants of dusty pollen and rotted dead leaves litter the sidewalk, and it’s a welcome entrance into the gas station. Artificially cold air ripe with the smell of refrigerant hits me in the face. There is just something about gas stations that is both intrinsically curious and shockingly abhorrent. They’re pretty much the basis of our society. Here, in the lower midwest, where towns sprawl and are far between, without gas stations there would be no business or travel or sightseeing or road trips. They also make good locations for robberies. It seems to happen a lot. As a general rule, the later you enter a gas station the more interesting it becomes. Eventually, when late becomes early, it morphs again into a decent, god-fearing place. Nobody sprays the bathroom with graffiti at 10:30 in the morning. At least I don’t think so.
And when the late becomes early, I attempt to tie together a few points from across the expanse of history. In times past there were hubs of culture, where lives intersected and departed. It was the forum of the ancients, it was the mead halls of the Norse, it was the public houses of the later reformatory years. At some point, when history moved across the sea and into the twentieth century, it became the diners and, even later, the coffeeshops. And somewhere in there, for a particular type of person, it was the gas station. The type that opens at 5 in the morning, with a couple tables where they serve sausage and gravy. The type that plays the worst country music ever recorded.
Then, as history (and the time of day) proceeds further along, the old men leave the gas station. New shifts come and go. And late in the night, when the unsavory characters prowl the town, more graffiti is added on the walls of the decrepit bathroom.
I peel away two 20s from my wallet and hand them over in exchange for a liquid that has been squeezed from the earth and purified. This liquid has stained my hand with the aroma of diesel. It doesn’t come off with water or soap. It takes something about as potent as rubbing alcohol. Normally, either truckers or sweaty farmers use the diesel pumps. Unless you’re in town, way in town, there’s always diesel spilled all over the concrete and coating the pump.
The interesting thing about this gas station, and most gas stations in general, is the intersections. Other places tend to segregate. I never see the people who exist at the Dungeons & Dragons shop downtown. I think that place went out of business, anyway. I never see the people at the farm supply store. I never see the people at the sports store. They never see me either ... mainly, because I’m about as athletic as a praying mantis.
At the station, however, I see everybody. I see the polished banker drive up in his polished Porsche. I see the battered pickup clamber up and bump into the curb. I see the stressed soccer mom hauling a dog-ugly minivan full of screaming children. I see the college student in the antique import. I see the trucker with a trailer full of chickens crammed into cages.
I start the car once more. My 26-year-old stereo warps into full volume, and the speaker cones vibrate and shudder as I play Comfortably Numb as loudly as possible without audible distortion. These old sound systems were meant for Bach or Pachelbel, I think. Not David Gilmour or Jimmy Page. This sound system was meant for older men with grey wool suits.
I pull away from the sweltering gas station and minutes later pull up into a small parking lot off Race, sheltered from the burning sunlight by a scattering of gigantic oaks. Here, with the sun disappearing over the horizon dotted by tin buildings and dead trees and scrambled powerlines, I order a chilled sweet drink in a coffeeshop insulated and segregated from the rest of the world. There is not a lot of variety here. It’s OK in it’s own way, but it’s a world apart from the gas station. At least here, they play my type of music.