My neighborhood has one independently owned gas station not selling gas. The gas pumps at this independently owned station are now covered with hand-written NO GAS signs.
These signs first appeared several winters ago when market-crash-panic forced the hand of retailers and wholesalers around the world. “Terms” were no longer a given for anything purchased or sold. Businesses paid up front with credit cards or cash on delivery or there was no delivery.
Unable to pay cash up front, our neighborhood independently owned gas station shut the pumps down and did repairs and inspections instead.
It was one of the few full-service stations in Portland and a place I should have supported more often when it was still selling gas, but I had grown so accustomed to self-service that I was embarrassed to have the very nice man who ran the station pump my gas. I had the urge to tip him after he washed my car windshields both front and back.
“You don’t have to wash this dirty heap.”
“Really, I don’t deserve your kindness.”
“And please, pay no attention to the past-due inspection sticker and the smashed right rear blinker unless you can give me a really good deal on fixing all the things that need to be fixed and then issue this heap a new sticker.”
“I promise I won’t tell anyone where I got it.” I thought.
Inclined to avoid uncomfortable situations, I gassed up at the Mobile Mart down the street where no one cared who I was or how many empty coffee cups were loose in the back of my car.
In 2006, we began building a house in that same neighborhood. Two years later, with the help of dozens of friends and family members who were tired of listening to us whine, we moved in. For several weeks after, too exhausted to drive the extra mile to a real food store, I shopped at the same Mobile Mart as if it were my personal Whole Foods.
We called it the alternative store. I bought toilet paper, milk, cheese, eggs, beer, a 50-cent banana now and then, dish soap, dog food and wine. Our sommelier was the guy behind the counter in the blue shirt with a Mobile patch. If we felt like Mexican there was always medium-hot salsa, a dozen varieties of chips and Dos Equis.
One day, the man behind the counter looked me right in the eyes and said, “Are you avoiding the grocery store?”
“It was time,” I thought. I needed to leave the comfort of our alternative store and shop like a normal person.
In 2009, the independently owned gas-station, not selling gas, started selling Lobster. Lobster is so important in Maine that I’ve decided I will no longer lowercase it: God, Christmas, the President, July and Lobster.
NO GAS signs, weathered from several years of hard times, were overshadowed by a big bright red Fresh Local Lobster sign.
Selling Lobster at a gas station seems normal in Maine, at least to me. We do what we do to pay the rent. In the late ’70s, my parents bought a gas station and general store on a pond in West Pittsfield. Full service gas and Lobster were the backbone of the business.
Last week a friend told me that Cumberland Farms may start serving brick oven pizza. Lobsters at gas stations, brick oven pizza at Cumbys? Why does one seem quaint and the other seem wrong.
I remember when gas stations became convenience stores. Their signature move was to start selling gourmet coffee. At first, I was glad to get a cup of French roast or even hazelnut (it was the ’80s) but after a while it all tasted the same: not sweet, not bitter, not fresh, not hot.
Brick oven pizza will surely go the way of the fancy coffee. After a while, the flavor will evaporate, leaving behind carbs on paper.
Last weekend, my friends and I walked down to the independently owned gas station, not selling gas, and bought six 1¼-pound lobsters. Gas Station Lobster we now call it. Local Lobster sold locally.
Walking eliminated the potential embarrassment associated with my car, but the experience was the same: kind, personal, full service contact from the same very nice man.
Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at: