Monday, October 20, 2008

The Most Beautiful Gas Station in America

It seems that I can never leave well enough alone.

Just when I'm starting to get comfortable at home, it's time to hit the road again. This time, I'm in the trusty GMC Sonoma and we're whizzing through the Pennsylvania countryside somewhere around 72 mph. Why 72? Because it's faster than the 65mph speed limit and still a few miles below the ten miles per hour over imaginary cutoff that we believe law enforcement uses as the threshold to stop speeders.

In other words: I'm an outlaw. A man with a casual disregard for authority. A wise-cracking raconteur and general scoundrel. A modern-day Han Solo (minus Chewbacca).

I'm on the way to Montreal for the annual Canadian Barista Championship where I'll be serving as the co-emcee for the events. At first, I thought I might be judging but the judges workshop was yesterday and there was just no way I could break away from the home front before today. Oh well, at least there's Au Pied du Cochon.

A Road Trip is a rare event for me and America looks grand from the view through the windshield as opposed to the view though the window at 35,000 feet. As we whiz though the Delaware River Valley, sharp rock formations jut out amongst the rapidly turning fall foliage. It's been unseasonably warm these past couple of weeks but today is starting to get crispy. There's a chill in the air that's just conducive to this kind of driving.

The crisp weather means that the windows are slightly cracked and the heater is set to low, counterbalancing the crispy cold air. In my hand, I've got a fine Paul Garmirian cigar, some Turkey Hill Orange Tea in my cup and the images of Sting's young teacher the subject of schoolgirl fantasy cooing through the ipod connected to the stereo. There's a warm feeling in my soul when I realize I've made the wrong turn and ended up in rural north New Jersey.

Luckily, I've got my trusty iPhone and after a quick consultation (and the decision to avoid tracking back across the Delaware River and paying the bridge toll), I'm on backcountry roads winding my way north where I decide to make a gas, bathroom and stretch break in the small hamlet of Blairstown. A place where I inadvertently find The Most Beautiful Gas Station in America.

For all the crap that it has to take as the state living in the shadow of New York, New Jersey's greatest secret is that the general public is outlawed from pumping their own gas. Know how you gotta stand out there in rain or cold, pumping your own gas? Not in New Jersey. While it's not the full service of my youth where the attendants checked your engine fluids and tire pressures, in Jersey they pump the gas for you while you can remain comfy in the safety of your own vehicle.

Maybe there just isn't any guys left in Blairstown. Maybe they're in the fields, or off to the Big City seeking their fortunes. Whatever the case may be, it's to my advantage: the girls pumping the gas at the Sunoco are downright hotties.

As I pull in and jump out of the Sonoma, the hottest one comes up to start filling my tank. She's about 5'3", blonde hair, blue eyes and just gorgeous. The tank is only half full but it's time for a fill-up. Another cute blonde is working the other side of the island and a third girl with sandy hair tucked under a floppy hat, wearing dark sunglasses is sitting outside of the station building smoking a cigarette and looking generally cool, she directs me to the restroom.

Somehow, someway, I've stumbled upon New Jersey's best kept secret: The Most Beautiful Gas Station in America. Who knew?

We chat and banter for a bit and I ask for directions to Stillwater Road. My girl has seen it but can't remember how to tell me to get there - even though she lives near it. The other girls laugh and point out that Stillwater is just down the road. Simply go straight and turn left at the stop light.

I would have chatted with them a bit more but I'm on a schedule for dinner and I don't know if I'll ever make it back this way again. After a few more minutes chat, I'm back on the road and on my way to dinner in Saratoga Springs.

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