Country Service Station

SG | You don’t go for the gas,
offered from two pumps
bleached by decades of sun
the handles thick with grease,
the corroded metal lever that makes the gas come
a mystery.
You’re unsure if it would even shut off automatically,
or if gasoline would spill out
while you’re inside,
stammering an archaic-feeling
“Fill-up on 2, please,”
as the gas pools along the roadside
and the little square numbers race skyward.
No, you go for the restroom,
a crapshoot of quality
revealed by a key taped to a spoon.
You go for the grill at the back
serving up daily specials
like hamburger steak with onions.
You go for the sausage biscuit,
or the sandwich with too much mayo,
the pot of boiled peanuts
portioned out in paper bags,
or the “piece of cheese” my mother used to crave
from such highway-side purveyors.
You go for the Mountain Dew you need
to keep awake
for just a few more hours,
or the half-gallon of milk in a yellow plastic jug
to get you through the morning.
Some go for pickled things
in great ancient jars,
likely placed on the counter
sometime during the Carter Administration.
My grandfather would go for a fried cherry pie
and a tub of nightcrawlers
or a handful of crickets
to see if the fish were biting up at the lake.
You go for all these things
that aren’t quite the same from the big gas stations,
where the shelves are too orderly,
the lights too bright,
the floors too clean.
Where the pumps all take credit
and shut off before making you a fool.
Where you won’t find the old man behind the counter
who’s seen it all
and knows whose crops will fail this year.
Or the two lively women
cutting up at the register
laughing about the mullet you just missed
as you pay for your Styrofoam cup of coffee.
You don’t go for the gas,
but you can rise to the occasion.
You can prepay inside,
you can work the pump mechanism
and avoid using the hose labeled “kerosene.”
You can take a few extra minutes
to stop at that service station
out on a country road.

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