Back to the Gas

Last night, shortly after dark, I drove past a small convenience store not far from here. There are many of these stores scattered throughout the hills and hollows of Vermont, and this one is little different from most: Stocked with cheap coffee and mediocre beer, strangely-flavored potato chips and canned soup, chewing tobacco and Slim Jims. There’s a little deli in the back where you can buy a decent-sized sub for four bucks.

On summer afternoons, trucks idle out front while their drivers grab packs of smokes and tall boys. On winter mornings, trucks idle out front while their drivers grab packs of smokes and coffee in styrofoam cups. During hunting season, there’s likely to be a rifle on the passenger seat of these trucks, barrel pointed to the floorboards. During most any season, there’s likely to be a chainsaw in the bed. A tow chain or maybe two, coiled in the corner like dozing snakes.

I like driving past this store. I like to see those trucks idling, imagine the tasks their owners are going to or coming from. I like going in the store, two: There are three women who work there regularly, and they’ve always got the radio on loud, and like or not, at least one of them is singing along at the top of her lungs. When it’s slow, they stand outside and smoke. I buy most of my gas and diesel there, a beer now and then. If I’m with the boys and in a magnanimous mood, I’ll grab a handful of ice cream sandwiches for the road. About once a year, I get one of those four buck subs. I like it loaded right up, everything except mushrooms. Never did like mushrooms on a sandwich.

Anyway. I drove past last night, a cold night, the lights over the gas pumps shining bright over the parking lot. Three trucks, two of them idling. I wanted to pull in, just to linger for a few minutes in the warmth and bustle of the store, and I started to put my foot on the brake. But there was nothing I needed, and I’d left my money at home, anyway. So I put my foot back to the gas and watched the lights fall away in the rear view.



35 thoughts on “Back to the Gas”

  1. Sounds a lot like our local pop ‘n pop store. We can buy a hunting and fishing license, bait, beer and bread, go back to register our deer, moose, turkey and bear, and get a sandwich, hotdog or whatever the hot meal of the day is. And coffee. Need wine? They have it. A stamp? They’ve got that too, and 100 PO boxes even though the post office is long gone. How about a gift? You can surely find something suitable made by a local. You can pay your town taxes, registered your vehicles and get a lottery ticket. Cool place, especially for the middle of nowhere, Maine.

    1. Yes! We have a “Variety” here too. I’m a transplant to Maine from the suburbs of Philadelphia, then Baltimore – such a different experience here!

  2. At Mr. Mike’s, a fine specimen of convenience one mile through the woods from my farm, they’ve got gun posters by the dozens on a rack that spins.

    One poster with a WARNING sign and a closeup of a handgun reads: BEWARE!!! BITTER GUN OWNER CLINGING TO RELIGION.

    Another one, with text similarly wrapped around a pointing hand gun, reads: WARNING!!!! THIS HOUSE IS UNDER THE PROTECTION OF GOD AND A GUN. WOULD YOU LIKE TO MEET THEM BOTH?

      1. I prefer exposed carry myself. Nothing like a S&W 329PD in a cross-draw belt holster to either spark or kill a conversation.

      2. Too funny. IL only has concealed, so I am used to that term. Yes, I meant any carry. Although, I may feel differently about open carry if I was a young black male..

      3. In Lebanon, everyone carries. No surprise there, but 20 yrs ago when I started visiting, going to court etc was like that scene in LOTR where they surrender their weapons to enter the castle- so many guns. They are working on licensing….

      4. According to the FBI, the great majority, around 90%, of homicides occur within racial groups, so that young black man has a lot more to be nervous about from his peers than from any other ethnic group, even from this old white guy who like to exercise his 2nd Amendment Rights.

    1. The last time that I was in Lebanon, 41 unforgettable days in 12/83 and 01/84, it seemed like everybody was shooting at us with rifles, machine guns, RPGs, and mortars.

      1. Well, question is, what exactly were *you* doing to get shot at in ’83? I think I know, but yeah- those were bad times. That generation still feels safer armed to the teeth. I can’t say I blame them….

      2. I was in Beirut as a member of the Multi National Force (MNF) that was sent to help keep Lebanon from devolving into Civil War. I still have a piece of steel about one-half the size of a U.S. one cent coin embedded near the top of my right tibia, just below my knee. It still bothers me when I have an MRI on that leg, as it gets uncomfortably hot when the magnet is on.

  3. Man. You nailed the look, feeling and experience of these small convenience stores. I also drive past one or two these from our farm out west. We also stop for ice cream in summer and maybe 1 or 6 Rainiers…..Love it

  4. You could also go for the title “Everything but the Mushrooms,” however mine would be everything but the onions as I somehow find raw onions to be an acquired taste that I still haven’t quite acquired.

  5. Learned recently that in certain states you can be ticketed if you let your vehicle idle with the keys in the ignition, even just to warm it up while it sits in your driveway. It’s law in our state. Vermont is on the list as well. You should bring it up to your gun toting, chainsaw wielding buddies, see what they think. 🙂

  6. Despite everything that is going on in the country, in our neck of the woods, anyway, we are still holding the door for each other at the convenience store.

  7. We have a small 2 pump convenience store about two miles down the road from us. It used to be owned and operated by a guy named Mike who looked and sounded exactly (and I mean exactly) like George Carlin though I could never imagine mentioning the likeness to him. He wore Hawaiian shirts every time I went in there regardless of the season . Pretty much everything in there was covered in a fine layer of dust making me wonder just how long those Nabs had been there. He did a brisk business in lottery tickets and, it turns out, some other under-the-table things in the what I and many others thought was a storage building next door. Some drama went down there a couple of years ago and now, Mike and the dust are gone as are the simple 2 pump filling station. The summer, I was saddened (actually, disgusted) to find those old pumps with the black and white numbers which spun around and the handle you had to wrestle into the ON position replaced by new pumps with television screens in them that automatically turn on when you lift the pump handle. I complained to the guy behind the counter (as far from Mike as another human could be) and he said I was not the first person to complain and that he couldn’t do anything about it, being only an employee. Sad. Not progress, in my opinion. There are other places around that, thus far, have resisted or been ignored by this kind of improvement and I will continue to stop and pick up my copy of Steals and Deals (do they have those in Vermont?) whenever the mood strikes.
    Thanks for this story and thanks to your Constant Readers. I love how your writing generates comments as interesting as the posts themselves.

  8. aww… this takes me back. met adam 25 years ago while working at a convenience store his dad owned. i was the girl in the back making the four buck subs and he was the guy up front lending an ear to the tales of early morning hunters, town crew workers, and commuters alike. this was long before you could pay at the pump so everyone came inside to chat. a lot of good memories there.

    1. This particular store doesn’t have pay at the pump, either… it’s a good point that having to pay inside is part of what creates that sense of community. I hadn’t thought of that.


      1. We also have similar village stores- stocking everything. I like the community feeling, but avoid some stores because they are too nosey and gossipy. I guess that’s part of rural living, too. If you have daughters they try to ask about marrying them off, which means my very assertive -not interested girls usually don’t feel like running in for whatever we need. The sense of having time, community, though is something I shouldn’t take for granted.

  9. When I was a kid, I always liked to stop at Coronis Market in Newport, NH, for their “Famous Newport Grinders” whenever we passed that way. Even if it was a little out of the way, those sandwiches were worth stopping for.

    Like you say, those little convenience stores are all over. I haven’t been to any of these in more than a decade, but I well remember similar scenes at the Meriden Deli Mart in Meriden, NH, Powers Store in Cornish Flat, NH, Proctor’s General Store in Enfield Center, NH, Etna General Store in Etna, NH, and my favorite, because of their free range Great Danes, Snowsville General Store in East Braintree, VT.

    Thanks for sparking those memories.

    ‘Hope all is well in Stannard and environs.

  10. I went to a mom ‘n pop hardware store in town the other day. Except it was ran by pop and his son. Well, as I was having my keys made I looked around the store to kill time. I did a double take….what? Half of their inventory was old shit that never sold, old shit from the 1970’s! The boxes were faded, the products old and out of date. What? So as I’m standing in line to check out I see this old guy named Larry. The last time I saw him he had tried to insert himself in the middle of a basketball court in the blackest section of town, where currently about 20 young, athletic black men were in the middle of a basketball game. He must have tried to shoot a basket about 20 times, missing horribly at each attempt. The black dudes were being kind, awkwardly waiting for him to get the fuck off the court. When I say awkward…it could not have been any more. The game resumed when one of his fails hit the rim of the netless basket and bounced far away. By the time he returned the dudes were quickly running wild all over the court, clearly no room for the likes of some old white guy. I kind of respected him for being oblivious and giving us all some contrast. But then, at the counter of the hardware store….Ole ‘pop’ starts telling a racist story about ‘two Black guys and a Puerto Rican’, with Larry listening intently and smiling. So fuck Larry, and fuck that mom ‘n pop hardware store. It was interesting as hell though. This was what your story made me think of. Mmmmm…..ice cream sandwiches! I hate/love those things.

  11. I got hopelessly addicted to $3.25 croissants at Warren VT country store. 🙂 If you do not get there early enough, they are gone. And then you have to remember that they open up at some weird time, like 6.51 am or something, perhaphs to keep Vermont weird. It is a nice one though, for tourists mostly, with Ben and Jerries and little chocolates with Bernie’s face which always made me think of eating Jesus faces in small wafers during Catholic mass.
    We enjoyed plenty of those little stores in Waitsfield, Rochester, Pittsville (and oh boy, little stores in Lithuania and Latvia, that is a whole another story!!!!). My 5 year old now searches all floors for pennies or change that he collects. And according to his scientific calculations, Vermont was most profitable in his penny quest among all 20 plus states we visited. It was an interesting observation, I was wondering whether that was because they do not much bother cleaning the floors or because folks more likely to carry cash than plastic.

  12. If you ever travel to Oregon, see the difference in the small mom’n’pop convenience store where, due to state law, you are not allowed to pump your own gasoline. 😛

    PS: Currently live in Dreamland on the Potomac which effectively describes both Federal and city government. 😉

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