Five years ago I was meandering around Maine in January and stepped back in time.
It was damn cold, as Maine in January can be. I had wound my way up from Florida, hugging the Atlantic coastline. The occasion was my second granddaughter’s upcoming birth in Connecticut and I was to be on hand to look after the first granddaughter, Margeaux, because her parents would be understandably distracted.
I had made it all the way up to Bar Harbor (which is a fine place without all its summer visitors) and had turned inland to make a big circle to the north and west and head back to brother Rick’s house in New Hampshire on my way down to Hartford for the birth.
My route north from Bar Harbor took me up to the area in Maine where one runs out of major roads so I turned west at Dover-Foxcroft and followed a nice highway parallel to the Piscataquis River.
I needed gas when I got to Guilford and I was not looking forward to it. The car’s thermometer showed minus 3. Self-service gas is not fun in the winter.
This was my first cold-weather road trip since I was about 30 and I had quickly learned that a heavy winter coat was too bulky for lengthy driving. So I used just a hooded sweatshirt. I had a long scarf and stocking cap ready for when I had to get out.
When I pulled up to the pumps at the Shell Station at the intersection of Water Street and Blaine Avenue in Guilford, I zipped up the sweatshirt and started wrapping the scarf around my neck, getting prepared to face the cold.
Just then a middle-aged man appeared next to my car and looked at me expectantly.
I rolled the window down a bit.
“Fill ‘er up?” he asked.
“Sure,” I replied, fully expecting the Candid Camera folks to appear any minute.
I offered him my credit card, figuring he’d need it to get the pump going, like they do in New Jersey, the only other place I’d experienced full-service in decades. Then I noticed that there were no credit card slots on these pumps.
“Later,” he said, and proceeded to fill up the tank. He came back to my window and I handed over the card. I half expected him to disappear with it down some dark alley, never to be seen again.
He headed to the office. Soon he came back with a plastic clipboard and a pen. The clipboard had a slot that held my credit card and clipped to the board was one of those multi-page, carbon paper things from the good old days. The kind you put into a machine on top of the card and pulled a roller over to imprint the card info on the forms.
I signed it. He handed me my card and one of the copies.
As I drove away the Twilight Zone thoughts began. Tiny Guilford is, after all, an important setting for prolific science fiction writer Harry Turtledove’s Supervolcano Trilogy.
Had I driven into another dimension to get the tank filled up? I looked into the rear view mirror. Yes, the station was still there. If I come back tomorrow will I have the same experience?
I never did go back there on that trip. I was a hundred miles away from the place by evening and needed to keep heading toward Connecticut so I’d be there in time for the baby’s arrival. (As it turned out it was good that I kept moving. I stopped in Guilford on January 23 and granddaughter Simone made her appearance just two days later.)
But I did go back to Guilford last weekend, after a meeting in St. George with my colleagues on the Sierra Club Awards Committee.
And I found that gas station.
When I pulled up to the pump a young man came out of the office.
“Fill ‘er up, please,” I asked, and he did so. I handed him my card and off he went to the office.
But some things have changed.
It’s no longer a Shell outlet, for one thing. It’s now a Gulf station.
And when the young man came back with my credit card he had one of those modern, cash-register-like receipts on the clipboard for me to sign, not one of the old fashioned carbon paper ones.
Now that’s progress!
Shell Station in 2013:
Gulf Station in 2018: