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Retirement’s Comic Relief: Take time for time travel

Before leaving town on 100-mile trips to Grandma’s house during each summer in the 1950s, we always stopped at the gas station first. Someone emerged from the station wiping dirty hands with a rag as Dad rolled the window down. “Fill ‘er up with regular,” Dad said. We stayed in the car. The fellow pumped gas, cleaned the windshield and sometimes popped the hood to check the oil. All for 17.9 cents a gallon.

Doing 70 mph on the highway, we each strained to hear the AM radio over the noise of wind blowing past open windows as we sweltered in summer heat. Mom and Dad expected us to entertain ourselves with a book or a word game in the back seat – like I’m going to the grocery store to buy some [letter of the alphabet]. Sis was better at the game than I was – although she gave up when I went to buy some celery. I was sure it started with the letter “s.”

More often than not, I fell asleep on the floorboard, in the back seat or on the rear deck behind it. No need for a seat belt. In 1960, Etch A Sketch invented the first “screen time” known to mankind that enabled fighting over whose turn it was to use it. We disputed Mom’s assertion turning its knobs should be limited. Traveling on hot days, sis and I sometimes faced opposite directions laying down on the back seat with bare feet stuck out rolled down windows. She has never forgiven me for laughing the day Dad cleared his throat, then sent contents out the driver’s window, dousing her stubby little toes with mucous.

Sixty-five years later, things are different. Now we are the ones arguing with our kids that screen time should be limited – while they claim it helps with hand/eye coordination. We don’t need to turn up the radio, but wish the car alongside would turn theirs down at the stoplight. Air conditioning eliminates noise from open windows as well as the need for a shower when we arrive, whatever the reason. There are far fewer oil checks, naps on the rear deck or two-year-olds standing on the front seat alongside the driver (as did I) with expectation that an arm will be thrown up in time to prevent flying through the windshield. Kids now are straightjacketed into a car seat somewhere in the back and dashboard electronics provide a reminder not to leave them there when we get out.

For something different, the next time you pass through Bottineau, N.D., resist pulling in somewhere for a 72-ounce soda, rotisserie dog, bag of chips and Twizzlers. Instead consider time travel back to the 1950s – like Rita and I did last summer. We eased into Bottineau’s Mobil station on the north side of Highway 5 in search of fuel. Before my seatbelt could be released and car door opened, a fellow emerged from inside the station wiping dirty hands on a rag. I rolled down the window. “Can I help you?” the gentleman inquired.

“We just stopped for gas,” I said.

Lifting a nozzle from the pump, he asked, “How much?”

“Fill ‘er up with regular.” Dad’s words coming from my mouth surprised me. We stayed in the car. As gas flowed, electronic numbers alongside the pump’s dollar sign blurred and were unreadable. The attendant headed to the windshield with a clean rag and spray bottle to remove all grime and splattered insects. Returning the nozzle to the pump, he offered to check the oil, then made conversation about the weather and explained where to find the best place in town for small engine repair. He finished up with “Thanks,” then trundled back inside with the dirty rag hanging out his hip pocket.

Time travel can be quite refreshing. You’ll need a credit card, but not Doc Brown and Marty McFly’s DeLorean (“Back to the Future”-1985) or anything close to 1.21 gigawatts of power, in Bottineau anyway.

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