My dad had just done a fuel run to Thorne Bay a couple weeks before this trip to fetch my mom's antique rocker, getting a month's supply of gas for the outboard. But we still needed to replace the fuel that we'd used in crossing the strait and that we'd need to get back. Plus, he'd brought along a five gallon propane tank to fill as back-up in case my parents ran out of propane before he could do a propane trip.
The fuel station's dock is only yards from the barge line so we headed for it next. It's also where floatplanes stop to pick up and offload passengers and mail, since the small convenience store, known as The Port, at the head of the fuel dock, also houses the town's post office.
My dad drew up next to the pumps, rusted from the salt air, under a small awning attached to a shed on the tire-studded float. I hopped out and hiked up the ramp to go in the back door of the convenience store/post office. I passed a couple women who were smoking at the porch rail, luggage at their feet, obviously waiting for a floatplane to arrive. They preferred the shade to the line of seats out on the deck next to a huge, weathered and rotting spool.
I hurried, since we still had several more stops to make before we could head for home. The strait could change it's mood at any second.
There were several people inside the store, chatting with the woman behind the counter. A couple sat off to one side enjoying coffee and donuts, while one woman sat at the back table across from the post office counter getting her mail ready. The ones at the store counter stepped aside for me, recognizing a customer. I asked for the keycard to the dock's fuel pumps. It was handed over with only one question, "Do you know how it works?"
I gave an affirmative and carried off the keycard attached to a grubby rectangle of Styrofoam. I guessed that at some point the card had been dropped and it had slipped through the planks in the dock. The discovery had probably been made that keycards don't float very well on their own.
I remembered, as I carried it down the ramp outside, that I'd once driven off in the skiff with it in my pocket and only discovered it when I went to the grocery store at the other end of town. I'd handed it to the cashier and asked her if she'd drop it off at some point in the day, which she'd agreed to do. I wasn't the first person, and probably not the last, who'd made that request. Despite the fact that the keycard would have given me access to unlimited fuel, no one had panicked when it had been carried off and wasn't immediately returned.
Back down at the float my dad, in the skiff, had added oil to the tank and had it and the jug ready to be filled. I slipped the card in the slot and my dad told me what number to input for gas, since I'd forgotten it. After it activated the pump, I handed the pump to my dad and he filled a five gallon jerry jug and the spare six gallon tank we'd need to re-cross the strait. I read the numbers off to him, since the pumps, oddly, didn't face where the boats had to tie up. Once he was done, I headed back up to the store and reported to the woman behind the counter that we'd pumped eleven gallons of gas. The fuel dock operates on the honor system, it's up to the customer to report honestly, and obviously it works because it's been this way for years.
A couple years ago when the store was breaking in new help the cashier would accidentally record the wrong numbers to our huge advantage. (She would mistake the gallon number for the price.) We'd have to correct her almost every time. Once, we only found out later when we got home and went through our receipts. On our next trip to Thorne Bay, weeks later, we righted it with the owner who said several other people had done the same thing. It actually works to our advantage not to take advantage, since fuel stations are few and far between out here. If they went out of business, we'd all be in trouble.
The eleven gallons of gas came to over thirty-seven dollars. Ouch!
Since we were in a hurry to beat both the weather and the tide, I didn't get to spend time at the bookshelves at the back of the store where people were invited to leave a book and/or take a book. Above the bookshelves is a bulletin board of local news and items for sale, but I didn't get a chance to browse through local events, either.
Our next stop was The Tackle Shack, a sporting goods store where the propane station is located. When I was a kid the original Tackle Shack was on a raft tied to the city float. It has passed through many hands since then and is now situated on land fill to the left of the city float, with its own private dock. As we approached it, I saw and heard a floatplane drop out of the sky and head for The Port to pick up the passengers I'd seen waiting there.
The tide was high enough for my dad to take a shortcut through a few small islands and rocks. I wouldn't have tried it, but he was more familiar with the area, and had first hand acquaintance with one particular rock that the town had promised to name after him for reasons that need not be gone into here.
While my dad tied the skiff to the dock I carried the wonderfully light, aluminum propane tank up the ramp and found the manager outside chatting with customers, or just people who had stopped by. He saw the propane tank and immediately went inside to grab the key for the large white tank in its cradle, that looked like a giant Tylenol pill, alongside the store.
It only took a couple minutes to fill my dad's small tank, but he wasn't satisfied and kept lifting it. "I don't want to overfill it...." he muttered.
"It probably feels light because it's aluminum," I offered. Most propane tanks around here are steel and very heavy.
He laughed. "Yeah, I should have realized that. Too bad you can't see how full a tank is when you're filling it. I've seen some composite fiberglass ones where you can see how full they are."
"I have one," I said as we headed into the cool and dim store that was full of sport fishing clothes and tackle. It was mostly geared toward the summer tourist trade. "And I love it."
He looked impressed. "They're kind of expensive, I heard."
"Probably, but mine was a gift." My youngest brother, Chris, had kindly sent it out to me and I very much appreciated it. Not only for being able to see how much propane was in it, but because it was much lighter than my previous steel one.
As we crossed to the counter I mentioned how the store had been changed around, and he agreed, explaining that he was the new owner with new ideas, and introduced himself. "So, are you here for the summer...?" he asked in a friendly tone as he rang it up.
"No, I'm from across the strait, a full-time resident."
"No you're not," he said with confidence. "I know everyone from over there."
"You probably know my dad and my oldest brother." I named them.
He got it then, recognizing both of them as fairly frequent customers, and finally allowed that I probably was from where I'd said I was from. After chatting about the unseasonably warm weather and paying fourteen dollars for the five gallons of propane, I carried the tank back down to the skiff.
A breeze was definitely picking up, the water in the bay was dark and choppy looking, and we still had one last stop at the grocery store before we could head home.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)