I had to get rid of a lot of things when I downsized from a house in suburban Maryland to an apartment in Washington, DC. Rooms’ worth. Years’ worth. Over the 20-plus years we had lived there a lot more had gone in than had gone out. But what to do with it all? Go from room to room, one book advised. Decide what to keep, what to sell, what to give away and what to throw away, then start over again. Keep going until you’ve let go of everything you can live without.
I did this for weeks, spiraling from bedroom to living room to kitchen. In the “save” box went the dolls my mother-in-law had sewn for the children, in the “ditch” box the cracking plastic ones; in the “save” box the Cuisinart, in the “ditch” box the bread maker. And the ice cream maker. And all the other makers. I arranged for trucks to come to take things for charity, sold tables and chairs on Craigslist and set up a giveaway room, where friends were invited to take what ever they wanted. Sometimes I snuck into the giveaway room and took stuff back, thinking I might want a certain bowl or tablecloth after all.
“I think you’ll see it’s the nicest, prettiest store around. It’s very sharp looking,” Aplin told the Brazosport Facts on the store’s opening day. “I believe everyone who comes in will be in awe over the way it looks.” He made clear his ambitions were bigger than that one location. “If this one goes like we hope it will, you never can tell, we might have a chain of Buc-ee’s.”
If he dreamed that one day his creation might become a Texas icon, a temple of roadside convenience and everything’s-bigger abundance, and that it would even reach a point, in 2019, when it would outgrow Texas, he certainly didn’t share the thought at the time. He was just a kid from Lake Jackson following in his family’s footsteps.
On a drizzly day, Britain isn’t looking – or tasting – its best. I’m at Watford Gap services on the M1, the country’s first service station on the country’s first motorway, both 60 this year (although the restaurant opened in 1960). “If you want to see Britain, go to Watford Gap,” David Lawrence had told me. “If you want to taste Britain, go to Watford Gap.” I want to do both of those things.
Lawrence is an associate professor at Kingston University whose PhD was Motorway Service Areas, Their History and Culture. He has written two books about them as well. I think you could safely describe him as Mr Service Station. “Dr Service Station,” he corrects me, before I head to Watford Gap.
Unflashy almost to the point of comedy, happy to include humdrum dialogue about, say, weather or food seasoning, the novel’s round-robin mode nonetheless accumulates a kind of revelatory power, setting aside top-down commentary in favour of side-by-side juxtaposition – a narrative style that ultimately functions as a plea for more listening, as well as highlighting the quiet irony of the title, which ends up being hard to read as anything more than just “Americans”.
We could have been mistaken for a married couple
riding on the train from Manhattan to Chicago
that last time we were together. I remember
looking out the window and praising the beauty
of the ordinary: the in-between places, the world