Friday, April 12, 2024

PHALON’S FILE: Bells Ringing From Way Back

I was making my world-famous macaroni salad one fine afternoon recently, when I had one of those strange flashbacks triggered by an unusual source. Ordinarily I would make my treat in a Tupperware-type container, as it would probably end up there anyway.

Finding none clean this time, I used a metal bowl. I scooped out a spoonful of mayonnaise and tapped the spoon on the side of the bowl.

Then there was a sound that jolted me. It was the exact same ringing sound a bell at a gas station once made. “Ding…ding, ding.” I did it again. “Ding…ding, ding.” Way cool!

Sometimes senses other than sight can bring back much more dramatic and specific memories, and this was one of those times.

While I am sure they still exist, I haven’t heard a gas station bell in a long time. For those of you under 40, the bells were used to alert employees at a gas station that a car had arrived at the pump.

A black hose would be laid out a few feet from the pumps, and each time a car drove over it, air in the hose would cause the bell to ring. Usually two dings, one for each axle.

Either the mechanic would crawl out from under a transmission job wiping his hands on a maroon hand rag (they were always maroon) or an attendant would be awakened from his catnap.

This was in the day gas stations were called “service stations,” and when I heard that faux bell on the macaroni salad bowl, I immediately thought of the service station near where I grew up. It was an Esso station around the corner from my house.

It’s a Quickie-Mart or something now. But the building I remember dated back at least to the 1930s, and probably earlier, when motoring by the masses was in its infancy.

It had four repair bays, and a rack outside. The right side of the building housed the office and had an apartment up above. Not a great place to live if you worked nights.

We’d ride our bikes there to use the soda machine or put air in our tires. If you had gotten a flat, you wouldn’t take it to the bike store. You patched the inner tube yourself and filled the tire at the gas station’s air pump. Which was free.

It was almost a requirement that you rode over the hoses to make the bell ring. The station owner was usually tolerant for a ring or two, but we didn’t want to push our luck.

Besides, he was a good friend to have. Once my brother cracked the frame of his bike. We didn’t drag our parents to Target to burn another hole in the credit card.

We brought it to the station and Bob—they were always named Bob then, or Gus or Lou—welded the crack for him.

These kinds of places are still around, but more service stations have become convenience stores, especially now that most cars come with service plans and apparently there’s more money to be made selling chips and burritos than fixing cars.

I might go on e-Bay to look for a bell and a hose to put in my own driveway, but I’m sure the neighbors would prefer that I just make more macaroni salad.

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.