Monday, September 9, 2013

Gas, Graciousness, and Blueberry Peach Crumble Bars


The yellow gas light flicked on, and I may have cursed under my breath.  That light never goes on, because I am slightly obsessed with keeping my tank at least half full, certain that some day I will forget, and get stranded with an empty tank at dusk in the Sourland Mountains, where I will be eaten by wild turkeys or possessed by the ghost of John Hart.  My commute takes me through long stretches of nothing, which is beautiful, but also a little inconvenient.

I was grateful to see the gas station at the bottom of the hill, where I'd half-remembered passing one in that subconscious driving state you hit mid-way through a commute, and pulled in, kicking myself for not filling up at the ExxonMobil with my husband's company discount Speedpass.

"Hallo, ma'am," the attendant greeted me.  (I can not seem to get used to being ma'am.)

"Hi, there.  Fill it with regular, please?"  I always use my 'cheerful' voice for the gas attendant.  I imagine--perhaps naively--that life gets pretty boring at the pump.

He nodded.  I fiddled with my iPhone, responding to the five email messages that had come in during the twenty minute drive to this point in my commute.

"Ma'am?" He cranes his neck slightly to see me, nozzle in his hand.

I reel myself back out from email.  Yes, sonny? I think.  "Hm?  Oh ... yes?"

"You know, if you ever need your iPhone fixed, I fix them."

The unsolicited advertisement takes me a little by surprise.  I don't expect my gas attendants to be engineers.  "Wow.  Really?"

He proudly holds up his iPhone.  "Cracked screen, new button, I do anything.  See this one?  I did it myself.  I like the black button with the white background.  Better contrast. Like it?"  He has an audience now, captive by the hose connecting me to the pump, and tells me how difficult it is to take the front off, how comparatively easy it is to take the back off, how long it takes him now that he knows how to do it (20 minutes, instead of the four hours it took him the first time).  I listen, admittedly rapt, and assure him that I'll remember him if I ever need his help.

There have been other memorable gas stops: the night I discussed New Jersey politics with the surprisingly informed balding attendant who welcomed me from his lawn chair, feet propped on an overturned plastic bucket, before he said "have a good night, sweetheart."  The night I worried over the attendant who clutched at his chest and braced himself against my car, and asked him repeatedly if I could call someone for him, concerned that I might be leaving him alone in the middle of what looked to my untrained eye like a heart attack.

And yet, there's also this no-touch rule at the gas station.  I give the attendant the SpeedPass (or my credit card, or whatever), which he (because it's rarely a she) gingerly removes from my hand, swipes, and returns with as little human contact as possible.  The odd mix of anonymous potential intimacy and complete disconnect, which happens only in New Jersey, home of the full serve.

It's sort of like blogging, isn't it?  Because naked as we are, our patrons still drive away at the end of the night, after we've handed back the SpeedPass, touching them, and yet not touching them at all.  And if we're not terribly good at promoting ourselves, they might not travel that highway again.  Graciousness.  Intimacy without actually touching.

I have a number of friends from the American South who excel at hospitality, in the broadest sense of that word; they come from a culture that cultivates graciousness.  I have other, more suspicious friends who are uncomfortable with graciousness, who worry what they'd find under the veneer if they stuck around long enough.  For me, graciousness springs from the instant when you look someone in the eye, recognize their humanity, and decide to be kind and compassionate, just for that brief time.  Once, long ago, that bothered me.  Now?  Not so much.  Because honestly?  I don't think I feel too badly about the drive-by nature of the beast, as long as the conversation was real.

Blueberry Peach Crumble Bars
If I were Southern, graciousness and hospitality might involve peach pie.  But my husband is a Yankee, so we are also a blueberry and crumble kind of family.

1 c. white sugar
1 t. baking powder
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. dried lavender
1 c. cold unsalted butter
1 egg
1/4 t. salt
Zest and juice of one lemon
2 c. fresh blueberries
2 c. peaches, peeled and diced
1/2 c. white sugar
4 t. cornstarch
1/4 to 1/2 t. cinnamon
1/3 c. rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 375F and grease a 9×13 inch pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together 1 c. sugar, flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Crumble in lavender.  Cut in the butter and egg with a pastry blender, and pat 2/3 of dough into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and lemon juice. Gently mix in the blueberries and peaches. Spread the fruit mixture over the crust.

Add the rolled oats to the remaining dough and mix with a pastry blender (or your fingers).  Crumble the dough over the fruit.

Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares.
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  1. I read this post at 5 am this morning and was rendered speechless by it and 12 hours later, I'm kind of in the same state, except to say, I get this in my bones. And I too, have had awesome political conversations at the pump. Damn the self server of the south. This is a really really really good post. Like VOTY good. xxxoo

  2. Lovely post. And those bars look delicious!

  3. You are also a Yankee, just for the record. But I'm sure any southerner would be happy to share this crumble. Yummy.

  4. I have always found the full serve thing a bit odd, but hadn't thought about the potential for human connection. Now I wish we had full service too!

  5. Interesting experiences for sure. Here in the midwest I haven't seen a full service station in many years, interesting how much little things like this vary in different parts of the country!

  6. Wow! I didn't know (or remember) that NJ was full service... But as Sara said, it is definitely interesting to think about the potential for human connection.

    I love that you wrote a slice of life post about some of your pump side interactions and this really moved me,

    "Intimacy without actually touching."

    Love that and feeling moved and inspired by reading and commenting on your posts tonight. Better late than never, right?! Sending lots of graciousness and compassion your way tonight (or whenever you read this), my dear friend. xoxo


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