Welcome to Bucky’s

“Welcome to Bucky’s.”

I heard the greeting from a voice that sounded ragged but sincere behind a partition as I walked into a Mobil gas station on a warm Friday night. It’s not every day that you get welcomed to a gas station. I glanced over to the partition.

A tired, rumpled looking man with a creased forehead smiled at me. He looked to be in his sixties. I thought of Ned Beatty counting change greeting customers. I smiled back and muttered a thank you before heading to the bathroom. My family and I had a long night of driving ahead of us and we’d stopped at this gas station that doubled as a convenience store for all the usual reasons.

The inside of the bathroom was small but spotless. More like what you’d expect in an upscale restaurant without any fancy ambience. And the convenience store itself was tidy and well organized.

“May I suggest something?” the Ned Beatty manager asked as I wandered listlessly through the aisles, slowly collecting candy bars and cans of soda. “Those candy bars you’re thinking of buying — you can save more if you take advantage of our two for one special for the next size up.”

Was this guy for real?

He smiled. “Crazy, isn’t it? Some of the specials you can find.”

I scooped up the candy bars he suggested and walked over to the counter. I hardly ever bother to notice anyone standing behind the counter of a convenience mart. These are just places to grab what you need and leave. But I studied his face again as he regarded me from behind thick glasses and a sweaty brow, making eye contact and flashing the smallest of smiles. He wore a short-sleeved blue shirt, a little wrinkled but clean. I pictured him younger, in a suit and tie, walking into an office each day and holding down a white-colla job before somehow ending up here.

“I need the soda pop for the caffeine,” I mumbled. “Long drive coming up.”

He nodded.  “I know what you mean.”

I collected my stuff and turned to head out. I wondered if I’d be found behind a counter like this some day, past retirement age, still working to make ends meet.

“Hey,” I said. “You have a nice night.”

“And you have a better one.”

Welcome to Bucky’s.