I’m not referring to the new trend in gas stations where they’ve installed real restaurants with professional chefs. Such places have sprung up in Texas and reportedly have lines out the door waiting on gourmet meals that rival five star restaurants.
But what I crave — only every now and then, I promise, is the salty, crispy, greasy decadence only found under the heat lamp at Paw-Paw’s Gas-N-Go.
I’m honestly not nearly as persnickety as my friends think, but why bother them with my secret of driving down to Magnolia Springs to a secluded station where on Fridays I can get a tank of gas, fried catfish and wash it down with a cold Yoo-Hoo? In-between jaunts to scoop up Styrofoam cups full of addictive “redneck crack” (boiled peanuts), I offer penance for my sins by eating healthy. I really and truly drink smoothies made of beets, pineapple and spinach, so indulging every now and then on a taquito that’s been basking beneath the glow of an orange light isn’t so bad, is it?
Human nature makes us all thrill seekers on one level or the other and since I’ll never fling myself out of an airplane, risking my life on a sausage that’s been spinning on metal rollers gives me just the sense of boldness I need. There’s also the added peril of running into a fellow member of the Committee for the Preservation of Loveliness, which would be utterly horrifying. If any of themcaught me hiding behind the hot nacho display, dabbing chemically manufactured cheese sauce from the corner of my mouth, I’d never live it down. They would be forced to discuss me and take action at the next meeting.
Since everyone has to have standards of some sort, even I’ve learned to draw the line at the big jar of pickled eggs next to the cash register. First of all, the only time I tried one, it turned my mouth inside out and sucked the breath out of me. Next of all, I’m suspicious of just how long they’ve been floating around in that brine. The day I heard Andy Griffith died, I had just pulled into the station, and when I relayed the news to the girl who was filling the jar, she went into some sort of shock and plopped the eggs down in there all at once, causing a few to get dinged-up, and to this very day, I can recognize them as the same eggs from all those years ago because I noticed one had a mark on it that looked like Barney Fife. Spooky coincidence if you ask me.
The other problem about eating gas station food, is the high turn-over rate of the employees, who can be very temperamental. Just when you think you’ve found a good gas station, the cook will up and leave and the entire groove will be thrown off. A few months ago, I stopped at a place on my “favorites” list, somewhere near Prattville, and thought I was getting my beloved chicken fingers, but when I took the first bite, I knew something was amiss. Come to find out, the long-time cook had quit that Tuesday because the owner decided to spiff things up and add a little cup of edamame to the menu, and the cook said there was no way she was working under such new-aged conditions. By Saturday, she had found a better job cooking down at the Flora-Bama where she was also crowned Miss February Beach Babe. It worked out well for her, but I was left with dry, bland chicken that I tossed out the window to be discovered later by some unfortunate raccoons.
What I’m trying to tell you, is if you run into me down at the Fuel-A-Rama and I don’t speak, just know it’s because I’m ashamed and probably hiding a bag of fried macaroni and cheese bites. Peace be with me and Lord have mercy on my stomach.
This story first appeared on al.com and in the Press-Register, Birmingham News and Huntsville Times.