Seeking a self-sustaining life outside the city and a new start for her marriage, this twenty-five-year old woman boldly embarks on proprietorship of a full-service gas station along a highway in rural Arkansas. Her hope to live and work at her own place of business soon encounters not only the end of her marriage but also the entrenched conservatism of the rural South. Joyful in recounting her experiences with an endlessly astonishing parade of human nature, Campbell portrays a unique slice of American life at a pivotal time with the fall of Richard Nixon’s presidency and the end of the Vietnam War. Buoyed by a wellspring of support and companionship, Campbell struggles to hang on to her dream of independence.
At that time, the University of Arkansas split its football season between the Fayetteville campus and War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, a concession to the Little Rock elite who considered it their prerogative to host ‘home’ games. So on the three weekends that Fayetteville hosted the games, traffic from Central Arkansas and elsewhere backed up for miles along Highway 71 as game time approached. After the game, the Conoco could count on plenty of sales as the out-of-town football fans headed home.
We stayed open late on those nights, bugs flying into the lights shining down from their high perch over the gas pumps, the steady hum of traffic on the road. If the Razorbacks had lost the game, the line of taillights carried with them a somber quiet acceptance that not every game in life is a win. If the team won, the nighttime traffic diminished as rowdy fans lingered in town to celebrate in the raucous bars along Dickson Street, guitar licks and drum beats echoing into the night. George’s, the Swingin’ Door, The Library and more were standing room only, their floors sticky with spilled drink.
I recruited helpers from Cousin Dave’s gang although Dave himself wasn’t having any of it. He’d worked enough for his folks when they owned the Conoco, he said. One of the friends I hired for a late night of football traffic was Mark Y. His lanky frame stood well over six feet tall, his twenty-year-old body filled out with field work on his family’s farm. Despite a thicket of light blond hair and a handsome face, he was miserably shy, but he needed money, and so that night and several other times, he forced himself into the public eye. Dave, JR, and the rest of the gang encouraged him to do the work—none of the rest of them wanted to pump gas until ten p.m.
One of those nights, the guys were watching television with me in the apartment when Mark suddenly appeared at the door, a red flush on his cheeks.
“There’s a woman out there,” he gasped. “Big fancy Continental. She’s… she…”
We all sprang up and crowded around Mark, trying to guess the crisis.
“What? Is she sick? Hurt?” I said.
“No, she…” He glanced around at the guys standing there, waiting to hear then his gaze came back to me. His head dropped forward as he looked down. “Lordie,” he muttered.
He stammered more then finally got a few words out. “I…I walked up to the window and the window was down, and… Well, first, she smiled at me.”
“She smiled at you?” Dave bent over laughing. “What the hell?”
“No, she, uh, she… her skirt was pulled up and I could see…Lord help me.”
“What?” JR demanded. “Could you see her panties?”
Another uproarious surge of laughter poured out the open door into the night. Mark’s face had turned beet red.
“No, damn it,” he said, jaw twitching. “There weren’t no panties.” …
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