An ode to the gas pump

When I was a kid we had three horses behind the house … a spotted mare and her foal, and a bright red horse that flew. Some of us are old enough to remember Mobil Oil’s “Flying Red Horse,” the symbol of the company. Ours was displayed on the front of an old gas pump in the back yard and until the federal government asked Dad to remove it, it still displayed the price of twenty-five cents a gallon. Ah, the days!

Today I try to buy my fuel in Arenzville whenever I can. It’s more expensive than filling up in Jacksonville, but I was taught that you buy your gas and groceries and do your banking in the school district that employs you, and although I no longer teach at Triopia, it’s good to return to the old roots. I still bank there, but there’s no longer a place to buy anything but convenience store groceries. The truth is, I’d pull up to the Arenzville pumps even if I’d spent my career teaching at Routt or Franklin. The reason is simple: the pumps are easy.

Finding easy pumps is no simple task these days. I filled up in one Jacksonville station and was treated to a TV screen blaring CNN. Darn it, one of the reasons I left the house was to get away from national news, and the lady at the next pump was watching another station on her pump. Pumps are made to pump gas, dog-gone it! Don’t pester me with wiper ads, offers to join your company’s rewards club, and certainly not Wolf Blitzer blitzkrieg–ing away at me. Come on, guys, I just want gasoline.

I stopped to get gas at a Springfield station. Five grades of gasoline. Who needs five choices of gasoline? How did my ‘67 Mustang run on only one? Who has the time to even read the specs on five grades of gas? I was reminded of the night I pulled into Pittsfield with a Honda full of scenery while my cast was awaiting me just down the block. I filled my tank and went in to pay and the lady behind the counter said, “That’ll be 17 dollars in diesel.” Diesel? My car burns gas! She said, “No, that was the diesel pump.” I told her that it most certainly was not and that it was labeled gasoline. “I know,” she said, “but everybody around here knows that’s the diesel pump.” Huh! Duh! What?

A quick call to my father and we found that I could load 12 wooden platforms into his Buick and make the show in time. Meanwhile, I got to pay for a tow and tank draining. Why can’t life just be simple again?

The Arenzville gas station has four stations and each has three pump handles. Making things even easier, the middle pump has nothing attached, leaving even incompetents like me with a choice of two handles. Two choices: good gas and better gas, so either nozzle will get you down the road.

But at some of these places, picking the grade of gas is the easy part. Choosing your method of payment is akin to making the financial arrangement for buying the Trump Tower. You stand there in the heat or the cold reading the scrolling digital choices … “Pay outside with credit card … Pay inside with credit card … Pay with debit card … Pay with our special rewards cards … Pay with the birth certificate of your firstborn child … Slit a vein and deposit two pints of your blood into the slot provided.” Just let give you a credit card, okay?

Some of the gas depots in the tougher part of our cities require you to get an okay from the clerk inside. “You are now permitted to fuel on pump 145!” Well, that’s nice. In fact, that’s why I stopped, but if I’d known I was in that part of town, then I’d gone on to New Berlin.

Willy Peck was the gas man in Arenzville. Red-headed and well into his elder years, Willy would slowly step out of his station, ask what you wanted, then he’d clean the windshield while he filled your tank. If you were in a hurry, too bad. Willy’s slow, measured strokes with his rubber squeegee took exactly the amount of time that he required and there was no hurrying him. Rain, sleet, snow … he’d drag his instrument across your windshield, carefully wipe off the residue with his red shop rag, then repeat the process about twenty more times. When he was done you’d either hand him the cash or go into his tiny shop which was actually the front room of his house where wife, Dot, would take your money and remind you that the Lutherans were having a soup supper that night. The only choice of liquid you had to make was Pepsi or Bubble Up.

I miss the old single pump.

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About the author

Ken Bradbury is an adjunct instructor of theatre at LLLC after retiring from Triopia. He entertains on the Spirit of Peoria riverboat and is the author of over 300 published plays. Website:

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