I stopped for gas at the Citgo Station on Route 73 in Maple Shade Township.
It’s an unremarkable place on an unremarkable stretch of a highway that extends 35 miles north from Camden.
The station currently charges $1.98 for regular, which is why I pulled over.
A review on the Internet describes the place this way: “Rude service. Bossing customers around like they don’t want your business. Don’t go there. Cheaper across the street.”
You can’t pump your own gas in New Jersey. It’s all full service. So there wasn’t anything to do but sit in the car and wait for the attendant.
Through the front windshield I noticed a guy sitting in front of a dilapidated Food Mart. It didn’t seem like anything could get him out of his chair.
Something to the left caught my eye. I couldn’t immediately put my finger on it. But gradually it dawned on me.
Above the air conditioner, ice machine and a sign thanking me for my business, there was a small vineyard.
I got out of the car to investigate.
There they were, four healthy vines climbing the building and stretching out over a lattice. The scene of of green leaves and dark purple grapes was unexpectedly bucolic.
It was a small miracle in a sea of concrete.
And it sparked an obvious question: grape vines don’t climb the wall of a Citgo gas station by accident. Someone had to plant and tend these.
And it turned out it was the guy lounging in the chair.
He came over to to see what I wanted.
I pointed to the grapes hanging on the vine.
He explained that he planted the bushes two years ago and now they were bearing fruit. He said he has harvested grapes and made his own wine.
I gave him a disbelieving look.
“It’s true,” he said. He smiled, proud and happy. He went on to say it was much better than drinking processed wine.
“I’ve planted several more bushes this year that will also grow.”
He was clearly from somewhere else. An immigrant who brought his grapes to America and planted them against all odds in a wasteland of asphalt.
I wondered if he was the one the reviewer cited for “rude service.”
We stood there for a few minutes, making small talk and admiring the grapes. They appeared large against the blue, end-of-summer sky.
It was one of those rare occasions when you really notice and appreciate something while traveling between places.
And for a few moments we were both somewhere else, thousands of miles away from from the sound of cars rushing behind us.
**Published by Ted Merz Sep 17, 2016**