Isn't it funny how something that is part of your routine life can change suddenly without any warning? Just recently, my regular gas station disappeared. Well, not the whole place -- the pumps and the garage are still there. But the place is vacant. Empty. The price signs are blank; the cars usually parked all over the place for repairs, gone.
Where did everybody go? I called the station's number only to hear the phone company's recorded message "The number you have called . . . has been disconnected." No referral to another location or new number, just disconnected.
I thought back several weeks. I had stopped for gas as I usually do and noticed oil drums and some empty vehicles blocking the pumps. There were notes on the pumps, which I didn't stop to read. I assumedthey were having problems with their new gas pumps and that they were inoperable.
So I went elsewhere. A few days later, when driving by, I saw the pumps were still blocked. I didn't think any more aboutit, dismissing it to continued electronic maladies. Thinking now, the blocked pumps were probably of a more serious nature.
To me, this was not your ordinary gas station. I stumbled across it several years ago just after we had moved back to Ellicott City. I was driving up Route 40 when I noticed a familiar vehicle parked at the Normandy Mobil station. Could that be my old car? I had traded in a 1969 BMW 1600 in 1982 for a new car. The old car sat in the dealer's storage lotfor a while, then disappeared.
I had purchased the car new, and it was one of the only BMWs in the area at the time. This was before the Yuppies latched onto them as status symbols. BMWs actually were affordable then.
No one except car guys knew what they were. I remember checking in to a motel once and when the clerk read the register,she said "What kind of car is this, a VW? I never heard of a BMW."
So, stopping at the station, I inquired about the ownership of the vehicle. One of the mechanics, whose name was Sal, informed me that he had received the BMW as a payment for some work. He planned to restore it for himself.
Sal and his brother Paul purchased the Mobil station shortly after I met them and continued using it for a repair facility with no shortage of customers that I could see. I became a regular.
The owners came through for me on several occasions. Once, one of our cars developed a split in the exhaust system. The part I needed was one piece and carried a price of $800 through the dealer. Having just bought a house, we were in no shape to lay out this kind of money.
After examining the problem, Sal was able to weld the split and save me considerable expense. I usually do all my own car maintenance and repair work, but on one occasion this year, I was unable to remove an inspection/filler plug from the transmission of my truck. After much frustration, skinned knuckles and a cut finger, I decided to go to a higher power: my friends at the Mobil station.
One ofthe owners, Paul, had at the plug for quite a while, using a varietyof tools, finally removing it. I figured he was probably on his way home for dinner, but he stayed and helped me out. Not a whole lot of gas stations will give you this kind of service any more.
I liked their employees too. One part-timer would frequently chat with me about one of my loves -- dirt track racing.
With the vacant garage, now all this is gone, and I didn't even get to say good-bye. It's likelosing a friend. Did they go bankrupt? Did the company close down the franchise for some reason? It's sad when a neighborhood business that cares for its customers leaves. I hope the former owners can find success in another endeavor.