Gassing up in Twin Valley

Most gas stations around here have cleaned up their act to the point they are antiseptic. Spotless uniforms, clean floors, bright lights, every last bit of wall space covered with "product." It's fun to see well-run businesses, but it is also fun to find a place where the past lives on, like the BP (formerly Amoco) station on the north end of Twin Valley.

Overflowing ash trays. Chairs strewn about. A couple of tables covered with newspapers and cups of cold coffee. A TV blaring. Homey, if off color, sayings posted on the wall--basic message: If you don't like it, go to hell. Through the door by the till, a dark garage. That's where things get fixed. The Man in the greasy canvas jacket who does the oil changes in the dark garage is the same Man who fills your tank.

That's right, he fills your tank. Although the pump is self-serve, the Man doesn't let you fill it yourself. Locals know this, but travelers don't. When you first see the big burly guy with a beard down to his belly amble out the door towards the pump, you wonder what you've done wrong.

The Man owns the station. He wasn't there last night, and I didn't see anybody else around, so I put the nozzle in the tank and started pushing the buttons on the pump--only to have a kid who looked about sixteen race out the door, around my pickup, and reach in front of me to push the "start" button on the pump. "How much you want?" he said, and I said fill 'er up. He took over from there.

We both went inside. The kid had enough of the features of the Man to make me think he was his son. I wanted to pay by check, so I asked if they took a check from Fertile. The kid snorted, which I took to mean don't be ridiculous, of course we do. I asked if I could get $20 cash, and he waved his hand in disgust, which I didn't know how to interpret. "Do you know if the Gophers won?" he asked, as if to get us off the filthy topic of money.

After a few drags from his cigarette, the kid went out to top the tank off and came back in with a total of $46. I assumed that this included the cash. He pulled out a crumpled new peach-colored twenty from the till. I hadn't heard if the Gophers won, so I asked if he knew who they were playing. "Indiana," he said, "who they should beat but probably won't." I gave him the check, took the cash, and was off.

The Man, when he's in, doesn't mess around with small talk about the Gophers. A friend who stopped there once said the Man asked him gruffly, "where you from?" My friend said Moorhead. The Man said, "what do you do there?" Professor of religion, my friend said, worried he had wandered a little far into redneck-ville. "So," said the Man, after a pause, "what's the meaning of life?"

I think the Man at the station has a definite philosophy of life: He doesn't take guff from the higher ups at BP who might pressure him to clean up his station. But he helps and he trusts, something the higher ups don't seem to care about--and don't act surprised when he does. Helping and trusting should be normal behavior, is the message I get from his gruffness, which he obviously passed on to his son. If you don't like it, you can go to hell.