Jumping to the Pump

Written in June and September of 1994 in Foster City, California. First published in Northwest Literary Forum, Autumn 1995, page 6. How times have changed!

I spent a large part of my childhood growing up on the Canadian prairies. I came to know Winnipeg as a rich center of culture and commerce, a thriving city of 650,000. In the long, hot summers, when Dad was on vacation from the University of Manitoba, our family often piled into our yellow Buick station-wagon and took long driving trips down through the western states. We visited the Black Hills, the Tetons, Yellowstone, Salt Lake, the mountains of western Montana and Idaho, and the coasts of Oregon, Washington, and California. Curiosity at the license plate on our car (“Land of 100,000 Lakes”) was usually satisfied with “Manitoba? Oh, it’s a province in Canada, almost the size of Texas, just north of Minnesota and North Dakota.”

        As we drove across the prairies, listening to Montovani and André Kostalenetz on the eight-track, Dad would usually pay for our gas with his credit card. All stations pumped the gas for you, washed your windows and headlights, and checked your oil. Those were more conscientious days, and on the credit receipt, station attendants would usually write the state and license plate number of the car receiving fuel. Thanks to the limited geographical awareness of some attendants, it became a running family joke that we were from “Minnesota” or “Manitobia” or “Minnetoba,” or other places too convoluted to imagine.

        Now that I live in California and have become, it seems, a victim of urban sprawl, I still recall those lazy country gas stations and their friendly attentiveness, even if the jump-to-the-pump attendants had no clue where you were from.


smoggy afternoon—

my credit card disappears

into the automated gas pump