In Passing

Yesterday, on my way home from work, I stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. It was at a crossroad, where the secondary highway upon which I was traveling was intersected by an even more secondary road, designed for very local travel. You just knew that the smaller road had a sign with an arrow that merely said “Town 15 miles,” because if you were on THAT road you were either from there, and therefore knew which town they meant, or you were lost and just needed to know which way to go to get out of there.

According to the sign the gas station was called “The Whitehall Mall”. I assumed it had been named by a very hopeful sort of person. It was situated invitingly in a large dirt parking lot. Since it has been raining here for about 3 weeks, this was now an enormous mud hole. Waves lapped gently against the gas pumps. I parked carefully in a spot that promised to allow me reasonably dry access to the building (i.e. I probably wouldn’t have to roll up my pants legs and wade).

As I approached the front door, I saw that there was an actual hitching rail on the far end of the building. I was sure that’s what it was because there was a horse tied to it. There were 5 or 6 people sitting on benches under the awning (it was a bit drier there) chatting. An old man, a young man (he looked like he might have come on the horse) a couple of middle aged women and some dude that looked like he’d just crawled out of the swamp. They all waved.

Inside was amazing. The restroom was so clean you could’ve eaten off the floor. The items for sale were so varied that I’m sure I missed some things, but they included; every sort of beverage that comes in a can, many bottled ones too, kitchen equipment, camping supplies, groceries (even a meat counter of sorts) socks, boots, snacks, ammo, and an entire wall of fishing lures. Along one side were a few booths and I noticed the doorway to a kitchen. It was open so the cook could talk to her customers. The live bait container was situated at the end of the row of booths next to the kitchen door. I kind of hoped the cook was not also the bait dispenser, but if she was I’m sure she washed her hands. Behind the meat counter the wall was decorated with a variety of merchandise (license plate covers, Indian peace pipes, plastic dolls, etc.) that were evidence that the proprietor was an easy mark for an industrious salesman.

At the cash register I asked the bright eyed, cheerful young clerk for some “cheap menthol light 100’s” (cigarettes). She promptly hefted a large cardboard box onto the counter and said “These are leftover and we’re getting shut of them for $2.00 apiece.” I dug around a bit and found something I’d never heard of that looked like it might be appropriate. “Oh, you don’t want those,” said my new friend, “They say those are pretty bad.” So she dug around and held up some others and said “How about these?” We went with her choice. She seemed so helpful that I let her pick out my sandwich too, from a large pile of colorfully wrapped ones inside a warming stand. She said they had “bbq beef, bbq pork, bbq chicken, and it looks like there are some sausage ones too”. “Nothing too drippy” I told her. She didn’t guarantee that.

Since we were buddies I asked her about the name of the place. Why “Mall”? She looked around and said, “Well, it’s as close to a mall as you’re gonna get around here.” I had to admit that that was probably true. The idlers had dissipated by the time I picked my way through the mud to my car. Even the horse was gone. I felt considerably cheered by my visit to the Whitehall Mall, however. Even the windy, rainy, soggy parking lot looked more friendly. I’m pretty sure that places like that are the reason that wars are fought. I believe I’ll stop there again, if I get back that way. The sandwich was delicious.


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