Men Look for Conversation at the Corner Shell
I am trying to explain to myself why a man older than I am is sitting on a bucket in the corner of the Shell Station at Third and Muskegon Streets, Downtown Muskegon. His beard cascades from his chin to his knees, bent up because he is sitting on a bucket turned upside down. Is this how a man of his age should be expected to get through the night?
The Shell stays open around the clock and is the only place to buy eggs, bacon, cheese and milk in the wee hours of Sunday.
I decided to talk to him. I had noticed he wore no socks and his Sperry topsiders had the shine of leather shoes treated with waterproofing.
So I opened awkwardly, "Does the Shell stay open all night"?
He answered, a bit stunned to be addressed by me, "Yes, it stays open around the clock".
"That's good to know. It's the only place for something like groceries in downtown. Might I ask you an awkward question"?
"Do you have a home to go to tonight"?
"Oh, sh*&^t. I just like to talk to Bob the clerk between customers. I like to talk to Mike, too".
"Oh, sorry. It's just like hanging out at the country store. I get it".
"Yep, I don't sleep well".
"Have a good night. Hope you get some rest".
I might have guessed. I had noticed him talking to a pair of passengers in the back seat of a sedan while the driver was inside buying smokes. This wasn't the first time I had noticed a man older than me hanging out at a Shell station for a slice of conversation between customers.
Almost four years ago, Bernie, a neighbor, I spotted time and time again, leaning on the red Formica counter of the Shell on Old Grand Haven Road, next door to Goober Doughnuts. Bernie hung out there when he wasn't giving friends rides or serving as the chaplain for more than one local post, Veterans of Foreign Wars. He served his country in the Air Force. Last time I saw Bernie, he spun a story of the day the VFW in North Muskegon discovered a potentially unstable grenade from World War II on a shelf of artifacts. The county sheriff dispatched the bomb squad to handle that mess.
I wonder when I'll hang out late hours at a gas station, looking for conversation? Maybe I must move to a town with at least one twenty-four hour diner now.