On the way to work, I pass a gas station.  I pass that same gas station every day on the way home.  I get gas at this gas station every two days (I drive 240 miles in those two days).

Except about six weeks ago, the gas station placed orange traffic cones next to the pumps, and put signs marked “Pumps Not Working” over the credit card readers at each pump.  The pumps have been out of order for over a month now.

This is not a little gas station.  They have 12 gas pumps at this station, and it was often full, with 12 cars pumping gas at the same time.  It is located on a busy corner, on a main road in my area.

They have a mini-market at this gas station, but there aren’t a lot of cars stopping there anymore.  There are lots of other gas stations with mini markets in our area, so they are losing more business every day.

I don’t know why, but this gas station fascinates me, in a morbid way.  Every time I pass it, I look over to see if they have resolved the issue with the gas pumps. I have the same reaction with this gas station as I do when I pass a car accident.  I can’t help looking at the wreckage.

How does a gas station go without gas pumps for six weeks?  I’ve been tempted to walk in and ask “what is going on here?” but I haven’t had the nerve.

What happened?

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It’s not just my local gas station that’s slowly sinking.  Retail stores are closing all around.  I’ve read several articles recently about mall and chain stores closing for good.  The list includes brands like Radio Shack, Payless Shoes, HH Gregg, American Apparel, The Limited, bebe, and Rue21.

—–

We went to one of our favorite restaurants a few weeks ago.  It is a wonderful little Italian place.  We usually get there early to beat the rush.  Normally by the time we are done our meal, the place is full, and there is a line for a table.

But this time, no one came in.  We kept waiting for the crowds to come, but no crowds came.  I had this uneasy feeling that ours was the only meal that they were going to prepare that night.

What happened?

—–

There is something really unsettling to me about driving by a gas station without gas, or going into a restaurant without any other diners.  It feels like failure and death to me.  There are two businesses that are failing in my community, and I don’t know why.  People still need gas, and people still go out to eat, but they aren’t getting gas at this gas station, and they aren’t eating at this restaurant.

What happened?