Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Forget Playstations, We Had Napkin Pigs to Draw

You know that "this isn't gonna be good" feeling? I experienced that one blustery Tuesday morning as I nonchalantly smiled and carefully maneuvered past the old men gathered in the seating area at Jax's convenience store in Russell Springs. This is the same gas station where I stop every Tuesday and Thursday around 6:00 am to pay tribute to my diet dr. pepper addiction, and on those days when Lucy and Willie plan to patron puppy day care, their own sausage biscuit affinities. There hasn't been one morning that the jolly gentleman who sits in front of the DDP cooler with his coffee (black; my 1/2 coffee, 1/2 vanilla spiced rum or pumpkin spiced coffeemate would likely invite scoffing) or tenderloin biscuit in hand, has offered to move his chair while saying something along the lines of, "excuse me, little lady." He isn't rude at all, I think just probably preoccupied with the duties at hand: eat, converse, piddle.

Okay, back to that funny feeling. As I weaved through the maze of storytellers and pretend listeners who were in fact only waiting for that brief break in conversation so they could start their own tale, I quickly glanced out the glass front and noticed that Lucy was in the front seat. It was a cold morning so I had left my car running, planning to simply hop back in, turn the volume up (a mix CD I believe - Avett Brothers, November Blue playing), resume the dancing that makes the 3 hours seem less boring, and continue my journey to UK. Well, I did hop back in...15 minutes, and a visit from a local police officer, later. My "funny feeling" was validated. Lucy is a special dog.

This story, though, really has nothing to do with my dog locking me out of my car. As I stood outside Jax's on a 32 degree morning in my mom's grey sweater dress and knee-high black boots waiting for the officer (who, by the way, was incredibly helpful without being condescending), I intently kept my eyes on the parking lot. For I knew that a quarter turn to the left would mean staring into 12 pairs of eyes, eyes becoming more almond-shaped by the minute (let the snickering commence). I couldn't blame them, though. This was ridiculousness at its finest. I did not expect any of them to have door unlocking kits in their mid-to-late 90s Chevrolets or more importantly, the desire to fight off Willie, who by this point, had realized that we were at the biscuit shop. I needed neither pity nor help. Go ahead, old men, laugh.

When I think about this particular day, the collection of years, stories, adventures, and knowledge - embodied in what I would put money on being good, honest men - is the part of the story that intrigues me. What do men do at gas stations for hours? What is the spectrum of conversation on any given day? What is the appeal of sitting in uncomfortable chairs and eating crap? Why are women rarely seen in glass front gas station windows laughing at 30-ish year old women who get locked out of their cars by an animal?

Now, I will say that to some extent, I do personally understand the lure of the convenience store. Growing up in rural, southern Kentucky (and being a tom boy to boot), I vividly remember going with my dad to various country stores in the area. He'd get us (my older sister and I) healthy treats that mom refused to keep at our house - cokes, candy bars and/or Little Debbie cakes, ham & cheese loaf sandwiches. I remember sitting down at a table in Marrowbone (beside the post office, across from where the Feed Shed used to be - by the way, why doesn't someone restore these?) and giggling as Pearl showed Leigh and me how to use letters - M, E, W, W, and S - to draw a pig (on a napkin of course). Therefore, while I may not remember the conversations that Dad would have or really the reason we had even gone there in the first place, I sit here right now, some 25 years later, and continue to feel a sense of simplicity and comfort and happiness. That's probably a good sign.

But, I want to go back to the questions. Why do all of my memories involve my dad taking me? Why are gas stations, seemingly much more commercial and less authentic to a local setting, the modern gathering place country store? Why won't the overalls guy move when I'm trying to reach into the soda cooler?

I have some ideas. First and foremost, I've come to learn (and I understand that I am inviting critiques from those with academic backgrounds in gender and womens studies - heck, I am that person) that men are better (or at least more carefree) piddlers than women. The idea of spending and hour or two in the morning - when household responsibilities loom large - to drink coffee and chat is a foreign concept. Guilt gets the best of women; don't think CLT ever feels this as he eats his nabs at the Marrowbone Marathon. This isn't to suggest that women somehow are above such foolishness or that we don't waste time. I am a pretty phenomenal piddler in fact. But I digress. Secondly, (and continuing with the politically incorrect gender characterizations), it has been my experience that the men in my family are the storytellers. They are the ones who like to entertain via reflection and the occasional exaggeration. Admirable, quite funny, and honest, yet not above spotlight cravings. Maybe the gas station is the most accessible and inviting stage in those instances when no one at home is listening? Thirdly, and I think most intriguingly, in an age of technology, standardization, and macrosociety, particular gas stations can be the place of community, the local, the familiar. While the notion of "community" seemed to be inadvertently built in past decades (and this may be a romanticized assumption), maybe the gas station breakfast area, even with its mass marketing and standardized product lines, is the equivalent of urban farmers' markets - a conscious attempt to build or rekindle community. While few "country stores" remain (even in those rural communities where they were once a staple), gas stations, particularly those that employ local workers, can potentially create or foster those emotions that I had as I drew pigs on napkins many years ago - simplicity, comfort, happiness.

Or, maybe as the gentlemen told me today when I went to the Marrowbone Marathon to informally interview and take pictures, gas stations are simply a place to "get the morning news" and "lie.":)


I am so happy to be home.

p.s. When out for a drive, you might want to consider stopping in Hunley's Grocery in Metcalfe County. Formerly owned by my great grandparents and now owned and operated by my great uncle, it is one of the few shops in the surrounding area that I would still consider a "country store." You can also become a fan on facebook (kind of an oxymoron I know; nonetheless, it has 723 fans - a testament to the kindness, honesty, and humor you can find there).


  1. Liza -- I LOVE this!! I hate it that you were locked of your car without offer of help from the guys at the store, but this story is so fascinating and so true! I can vividly picture all those men sitting at Marrowbone Marathon (including my Granddad). And of course, thank you for the insight on drawing a pig! LOVE IT!!

    Great job on the blog! Can't wait to read more!!

  2. Great places of "higher learning" where most opinions were respected and all bad habits
    tolerated. Thanks for making me smile this morning, Liza.

  3. Also true of local barber shops, where women tend to be an even rarer sight. The one I've frequented since...well...forever is always full of grumpy old men discussing fishing, politics, and high-school basketball. I've been told there, whilst getting my standard haircut, that cranberries can give you cancer, cigarettes probably won't ("but don't start smoking, kid"), and that people need guns for the inevitable Chinese takeover. I love it so. Good folk.

    And gads, is that a picture of Formi at the end?

  4. Thanks, Misty, Linda, and Stephen for the comments:)!

    Misty, maybe you and I can be a part of the revitalize Marrowbone initiative and open a place for the esteemed ladies of Marrowbone & Dubre;).

    Linda, no, thank you for making me smile. What a clever response:)

    Stephen, this is the kind of thing I want to write about. Whaddaya say we scrap Know-Nothings and free-thinking suffragists and do a joint dissertation on the oral histories coming out of barber shops and gas stations? And, my gosh, that does look like Formi.

  5. I will be one of those old men one day. One could only postulate the sorts of nonsense I'll be talking. And of course I'll be eating a fried pie, drinking an orange soda.

  6. Can we use the pig picture for the cover of our joint dissertation?