My parents retired to a small town several years ago. This town has three stop lights at three intersections within four blocks of each other. One would suffice but I guess it’s showier to be a three stop light town rather than a one. A weekly newspaper that you can purchase for 25 cents is still published like it has been for the last one hundred years. There is never any earth shattering news in it; Ms. Gentry continues her 35 year streak of teaching Sunday school, and the former Mayor is out of the hospital and recovering well from hip replacement. The only lasting impression is the ink left on your fingers from reading it.
The town has a grocery store, a liquor store, a beer and wine shop, lots of tourist Knick-Knack shops, a couple of decent restaurants and a full-service, service station. An extinct dinosaur in my part of the world.
I grew-up just on the edge of service station era. There were still a few around when I was a driving teenager in the late 70’s and early 80’s but they were on the way out. Those valuable corners at busy intersections became convenience stores with self-service gas pumps, fast food restaurants and now drug stores and banks.
My mom used the Phillips 66 at the corner leading into our neighborhood. Once a week (she didn’t drive much) she would get gas, her oil checked, air in the tires, windshields washed, and receive whatever gift they were giving away for a full tank of gas, typically very unfashionable drinking glasses. The old man who owned the station knew my mother by name. The high school kid scurrying around checking the air did as well.
When I think back I recall it as a simpler time bouncing on that long vinyl bench seat with no seat-belt to restrain me. But when I really examine the moment it was simpler because the choices were simpler or a better way of phrasing it, fewer. Think about it, when my wife sends me to the grocery store to buy something as simple as salsa I am overwhelmed with selection. The complication isn’t in the product, it’s just freaking salsa; the complication is in the assortment. I freeze, I text asking for help sending pictures of jar labels requesting guidance. How different can 200 varieties really be (I now know not to buy the brand with the skull and cross-bones on the label no matter how cool it looks).
Just as I was on the edge of the service station era I was also on the edge of the milkman, egg and butter man and Wise Potato Chip man eras. I vaguely remember the insulated steel box on our front porch for milk but not much more. I recall going with my mother to the bakery, and to the butcher all things we do now under one 50,000 square foot roof.
It was a simpler time, sure we can remember it that way. But it was simpler because we perceive it now as being less complicated. What I deem complicated today, salsa for instants, is normal for my children. They love the idea of choices, new things, and funky labels. It’s easy for them to navigate. It’s the way they are wired. But just as it has for me, those wires will unravel when they have kids and they too will long for their simpler days. I can only imagine what the future holds for my grandchildren. MORE FREAKING SALSA!