Folks don't fret over price spikes, hectic lifestyles or suburban angst at this gas station. They're too busy enjoying each other's company. 

Full Service

It feels funny having someone pump your gas for you, and kind of nice. Like if Bill Stilley's pumping it — the way he has for 50 years (since he was 14, you reckon, if he's telling the truth about being 64 years old, which is kind of doubtful, seeing as how he moves so quickly) — while you sit in the car. He's nice and he wipes the window, too, getting up the little bit that doesn't come clean off with a rag in his other hand, and Bill Stilley asks, "Like me to check under the hood?"

It's nice, sure enough, and you begin to understand why everybody around here is smiling all the time, even when they pay $1.79 for regular at Carle's Texaco. Sometimes they're practically laughing.

They wave when they pull in at the two mechanical gas pumps with the fluorescent light for a canopy and the small, green "Full Serve" sign. They wave when they pull out, even if they have to make a three-point turn in the small lot, so as to wiggle their way back on to busy Forest Avenue, halfway between Patterson Avenue and River Road.

"It's like a little Mayberry here," explains Richard Carle of his Tuckahoe neighborhood service station. "Everybody knows each other. Real friendly."

You hear a lot of folks griping about gas prices these days, but you don't hear it here. They're too busy discussing more important things, such as the rain and their grandkids and when they can get to planting some flowers. Maybe that's what's kept Stilley and the rest of the folks here so nice while the rest of us go on griping down the road.

Anyway, right now Carle's fixing a tire in the garage bay, having found the leak in a tub of water. In the lounge waits Mrs. Vonda C. Thomson, who says her husband — she was a widow and he a widower before they met, you learn — just insists they patronize Carle's. So she has, for five years now.

"They really treat us right," she says. "Just above board, and beyond."

She is sitting on a chair with her ankles crossed, waiting with her check book in her hands, the check mostly filled out, as Carle fixes her tire. "I do come a few blocks out of my way to come here. It's just a good community service." And she lets on as to how she suspects Carle undercharges customers sometimes, to be nice.

She watches him fix her tire. It takes the service station owner less than half an hour, from start to finish, to get Mrs. Thomson back on the road. Then he murmurs something to her and she finishes making out the check.

Twelve dollars and two cents.

It's gray and threatening to come on wet. Bill Stilley banters with the mothers walking their children home from Tuckahoe Elementary School next door as he waits for $32.10 worth of gas to finish filling a big blue Cadillac.

Then he goes back to the building to get a puff off his cigar and check on the battery under the hood of a car in the little lot on the side of Carle's Texaco, where a charger is bringing it back to life. "Getting a lot of 'em this week." Then he sets his moist cigar on the building's moist brick window ledge and heads out to greet the next customer, who is waving to Stilley as she pulls her green van in.

By the time Nancy Sizemore's come to a complete stop, Stilley's got the nozzle in hand. He knows she's a premium person and a regular "fill 'er up"-er. He doesn't have to ask.

Instead, they talk about her kids, his grandson and what he jokes will be his wife's present for their upcoming 40th anniversary.

"What'd you get her?" Sizemore asks, looking like she's about to get tickled.

"Oh, that new shower head she's been getting on me about getting," Stilley says.

Sizemore walks right into the trap. "What's it like?" she asks. "How's it work?"

Stilley gives a shrug as if to say, "Hell if I know."

But he really says, "She's the one who wanted it. I got it for her. She can put it up."

Sizemore squints her eyes and tosses her head back in happy little hiccups as she hands him the money. He turns to a bystander, his mild, mischievous eyes gleaming, and says something funny about women's lib and all.

"Very reliable. He gets along real well with the customers," Carle says about Stilley, quiet-like, so Stilley won't hear.

Stilley says, "We have to try a little harder." He is a good-sized fellow with white hair, a tan face and a funny smile. Cigars have gotten some of his teeth. His eyes look out mild and decent from behind small, thick glasses.

"We're gonna get a new look." He means the service station, which, Carle says, Texaco has insisted install new pumps with all three grades of gas, and a bigger canopy. But the station will remain full-serve only and the main building won't change, which is good.

Carle, who owned an Amoco for 23 years at Three Chopt and Parham before moving here five years ago, says he's not interested in the increased traffic that a self-serve station would create. It'd mean more money, but more hassle and the loss of the quiet, manageable outfit he's created here, with two mechanics who've been with him about 14 years each. No point in changing much if you don't have to.

"You'd probably mess up what it is," he says.

Up drives Sean Miller, an elegant woman in a red BMW convertible who is on her way to meet one of her commercial interior design clients. "Sometimes I'll pump my own gas, but you can't do that when you're all dressed up." You figure she's dressed up a lot.

Miller's a 15-year customer and a regular since Stilley went out to charge up a dead battery at her house a few years ago. "It's nice to have somebody who knows who you are," she says.

Stilley reminds her to turn off her engine, but doesn't say anything about the cigarette she's smoking, elegantly, while he puts some extra air in one of her tires.

Stilley tells her he's going to retire in June — first or second week, probably. He and his wife, Joyce, have been living near Lake Anna since they moved from the Pittsburgh area about 13 years ago. It's a 110-mile commute both ways. His wife has been dropping him off here before heading to her job in the city.

He likes it here, but after 50 years of work, he's ready to retire. That's what he says, at least.

"How about that," Miller replies, and pauses, holding her cigarette and smiling a little frown, before driving off into the rain.


Latest in Miscellany


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Connect with Style Weekly

Most Popular Stories

  • Palms on the Potomac

    Palms on the Potomac

    Our day trip series heads to charming Colonial Beach, a relaxed small town featuring the second-longest beach in Virginia.
    • Sep 7, 2021
  • Co-working Co-conspirators

    Co-working Co-conspirators

    Richmond’s first Black- and queer-owned co-working space is open for business.
    • Aug 31, 2021
  • Deciding Factors

    Deciding Factors

    A close governor’s race between two wealthy Virginia businessmen could set the tone for broader national elections, but this time it’s not business as usual.
    • Aug 24, 2021
  • Fall Arts Preview

    Fall Arts Preview

    • Aug 31, 2021
  • More »

Copyright © 2021 Style Weekly
Richmond's alternative for news, arts, culture and opinion
All rights reserved
Powered by Foundation