In January 2018, a new law took effect in Oregon allowing motorists in rural counties to pump their own gas.
According to an article by NPR, Oregon law had previously required all gas stations to have attendants—with the exception of hubs in certain rural counties, between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., when very few people, if any, were filling up tanks.
Now, there’s one more sizable exception, and this viral social media post indicated that many Oregonians were a bit ruffled.
Like this woman worried about the transients:
Since this all exploded, I began to pay more attention to the brief moments I spend filling my car’s tank, and I’ve noticed that gas stations are extraordinary places.
They are the airport terminals of the road.
Prime locations for people watching.
Better for people watching than airport terminals because gas stations are so much more ingrained in the daily grind; many people will wander into or near a gas station who will never travel by air.
Almost everyone visits gas stations.
Even if one doesn’t drive a motorized vehicle constantly requiring a re-fuel, one might still visit a gas station to buy a Big Gulp, a scratch-off, a pack of Marlboros, a gluttonous bag of ice.
Teenagers buy Monsters and Rockstars and bags of Flaming Cheetos at gas stations. Adults fill up tanks on morning commutes and buy cheap, surprisingly satisfactory cups of coffee. Senior citizens top off tanks on the way to Thursday morning tee time. I’m being stereotypical, but the idea is:
Many people from many different walks of life going in many different directions all congregate at gas stations. Gas stations are where lives intersect, ever so briefly, before going back out into the world.
I wish I paid more attention.
That’s my goal in life, right now—to pay more attention.
At the start of the new year, I began recording at least one memory from each day. The habit was kind of forced upon me when my coworker bought me a one-line-a-day journal, but I’m thankful for the practice. It makes me think.
I like to believe that each day, no matter how ordinary it may seem, is full of wonder and potential, but I don’t often live that way. Somehow, when I’m trying to remember my day, they become a blur of the mundane in my memory. Days are full of crawling commutes. Leftovers. Dirty dishes in the sink. Gas station pumps. Things I’m trying to get through to get to something else—which is, admittedly, sometimes just the end of the day.
Something tells me, however, that every moment matters.
Every moment is full of wonder and potential.
And all I need to do is get out of the car, get my hands on the grimy pump, breathe in the smell of gasoline, and pay attention to all the extraordinary people whose lives are intersecting, ever so briefly, before going back out into the world.
Cassie Westrate (’14) graduated with a double major in writing and international development studies. She currently lives in West Michigan, where she works as a writer, hangs out with her pet bird, and fights crime by night. Just kidding about the crime.