FORT WAYNE – Editor’s note: Morning Observations is a new column appearing in The Journal Gazette. Features writer Steve Warden will be sharing slice-of-life stories from various locations.
As convenience stores go, there’s not much variation really. Seen one, seen ’em all: Up front near the register, a small barricade of lottery tickets under plastic – four rows of eight across. The smokes are behind the counter, next to the chews and the dips. There’s a refrigerated wall of milk and soda and energy drinks and bottled water. It has, as the saying goes, everything from soup (Campbell’s in Aisle 2) to nuts (Planter’s around the corner).
But Marathon Gas, 1202 E. State Blvd., has a twist; a feature unto itself. There are two doors a few feet apart, but on the corner of the building. There’s a door on the State Boulevard side, and next to that is a door on the Crescent side. Be aware that one isn’t an entrance and the other isn’t an exit. Both are accessible, no matter which way you’re headed. And yet as busy as the morning was, there were no pedestrian collisions, either coming or going.
It’s a gorgeous, sunny morning in the city; what mid-April is supposed to look like and feel like. Cool, with a promise of better.
Because the store is open 24/7, there is no rush to open the doors – either one – so early-risers might beat the crowd. Mornings are a steady stream of women, men, old, young. Twenty dollars of regular on Pump 2, a couple packs of Marlboros, Cheetos, Red Bull, Ding Dongs, a doughnut, coffee refills. The length of the line varies – sometimes two deep, or three. Sometimes a straight shot to check-out clerk Safina, who was behind the counter and thanked each customer with a smile.
The early-morning group brings the most traffic. These are the commuters rushing to work; moms holding on to the hands of children who hungrily eye the gum that is displayed at the little ones’ waist level. Not now, the mother says. Or the candy. We’ve got that at home.
Now one understands why this place has two doors and not one. One would be worn from its hinges. No one stays long. No one lingers. It’s a Slim Jim, a scratch-off, and out door No. 2.
Except there is Jerry McGill.
McGill stays longer than most.
Waiting for the bus, he says.
Maybe you’ve seen McGill around. He is the older man who stands at bus stops and carries a white cane because he is blind.
He opens the door, taps his way to the first booth on the right side of the store, then slides in.
Without having to be asked, Safina brings him a small foam cup of black coffee and a cup of water. It’s his usual.
I’ll be 76 on Friday, May 2, McGill says. And I’ve got invitations from two different women to take me out for my birthday. I need to synchronize things. Nobody knows about the other, if you know what I’m talkin’ about.
He says he’s waiting for the bus that stops directly in front of the store. Sometimes he has things to do. Today, not so much.
A lot of times, I just ride the bus, he says. I like to ride the bus, because I know a lot of people and they know me. I’m retired, and now I can do this kinda stuff.
He says he was born with sight, but not much. He went to Chicago to have surgery on his eyes, but when he came back to Fort Wayne, an eye hemorrhage set in. Don’t know why. It was just a medical, catastrophic event. It was one of those unfortunate things that happened.
But he found a job at Parkview Hospital on Randallia Drive, typing transcriptions, then retired after 41 years.
I’m totally blind now, he says. It doesn’t bother me at all.
He mentions his family; that he’s been without his wife for more than a dozen years. He reaches with his right hand and takes his coffee.
He opens his watch and feels the hands. It’s a little past 9 a.m.
Well, I better get out there, he says. So he grabs his cane and walks to the bus stop. At 9:27, bus No. 1247, the Canterbury via IPFW, rolls to a stop and opens its doors, and Jerry McGill steps on.