Saturday, June 9, 2012

They Paved Paradise And Put Up A Mickey D's.

I missed writing about it by a month, but May 15, 1972, was a red-letter day in my life.

On that Monday morning at 7am Daddy opened Berry's Amoco Service Center.

It was on the corner of Forsyth Street and College Drive.  The other three corners were occupied by the US Post Office, Milam's Gulf Station, and Swint's Standard Oil Station.

I'm not sure our little town needed three "full-service" gas stations, but we had 'em.  And as far as I was concerned we sure needed one--the one Daddy owned.

I'd been buying "White Gas" (Amoco Premium) for as long as I could remember.  It powered everything from lawn mowers to Coleman stoves, which is what you used outside to cook fish on.  Fish caught from all over the place--Mr. Smith's private pond down off Highway 41 towards Forsyth (where he would make a special place for my Granny, who was in a wheelchair, to fish;  she always caught more that the rest of us combined) to Johnnie Caldwell's pond outside Thomaston, where my buddy Frankie Rogers lost his Senior ring when a channel cat yanked it off his finger.  I am not making this up.

But...back to what we all just called "The Station".

Mr. Nelson Newton owned the place before Daddy bought it, and it was a...mess to clean up.  Apparently he had sold moonshine out of the back room and who knows what else.  We cleaned up for a month, every day after Daddy left the Ford Place, until it was ready to open for business.

It was at The Station that I did my first oil change.  Daddy asked if I was sure I knew how to do one, and me being me, I assured him I did.  I'd seen him do it enough.  I could handle it.

I stood under the car and loosened the oil pan drain plug, looking straight up at it, until it popped out and five quarts of black, used oil covered me from head to toe, as well as the floor of the service bay, which Daddy was proud to say was "clean enough to eat off of".  Just not that day.

It was at the station that I detailed my first car (Mr. Smith's '65 Mustang coupe, and I loved Mustangs, so I offered to do it for free).  Once I finished I showed Daddy what a good job I did.  He pointed out the glass wasn't clean, so I cleaned it again.  And showed him again.  Whereupon he showed me that the tires weren't clean either.  After going through this for the glass, tires, chrome, wheel covers, the list goes on, I finally said in exasperation, "But, Daddy, I'm doing it for nothing!"  He replied, "Even if it's free it needs to be right."  He was right.

It was at The Station where in December every little old lady in town would drive through and get her box of Chocolate-Covered Cherries, Daddy's "present" to his elderly female customers.  I didn't realize until later how much that little box of candy meant to those women.

Christmas also brought Mama's potent Egg-Nog, emphasis on the Nog.  Nobody left unsatisfied or thirsty.

It was at The Station where I learned that the secret to having a good business was to be honest, treat people fairly, and believe in what you sell.

We had the most expensive gas in town and were the first station where gas hit $1.00 a gallon.  One of our "credit" customers pulled in one morning and Daddy went out, removed the gas cap, and started to put gas in his truck.  "Humph," he said.  "I ain't ever gonna pay a dollar for a gallon of gas."  Daddy stopped pumping, removed the nozzle, and said "You'll be walking in a few days, then."  The man stuttered and stammered until Daddy told him to come in and pay his bill for the month to that point, because he'd never buy another gallon of gas from Roscoe Berry again.

It was at The Station that I learned that sometimes in business you have to "push back", not be intimidated, and be unafraid to say "You can't have that".

It was at The Station that I had the best time of my life restoring a 1955 Crown Victoria that I thought we'd never finish but once we did it outran everything in town. It starred in a movie, Return to Macon County, and allowed me to get into a fight with Don Johnson.  He was a Hollywood Wuss.

It was at The Station I learned about character and integrity firsthand.  Daddy used to say he slept well at night because he didn't lie in the daytime.  I use that phrase almost daily.

Once he passed away The Station meandered on for a while, I guess until it outlived its usefulness.  While I was in Florida they tore it down and built a McDonald's on that corner.

Somehow "Would you like to SuperSize that?" doesn't have the same ring to it as "Welcome to Berry's Amoco.  How can I help you?"

Paradise paved.  It's everywhere.  And once the paving's done, the paradise can't be found again.