Gas Station Magic
In Sam’s second adventure he finds himself running a service station when a vagrant magician, possessing powers that not even he himself can entirely control, comes in for gas. This story, completed on 9/7/77, was inspirational in at least three later paintings— Gas Station Magic (same title but entirely different realization); Car Series, Tanks Up; and Car Series, Manna.

THE magician pulled up to the pumps in his shiny new car.

“Fill ’er up?” asked Sam.

“Yes, please. With Regular.”

Sam started pumping the gas, then turned to wash the windshield. Suddenly the ground began to shake. Cracks formed in the pavement around the pumps. “Better move your car!” he yelled to the magician. Sam yanked out the dripping nozzle, and the magician drove his car away from the pump area. The ground was shaking all over, but the cracking in the concrete was just around the pumps.

The magician got out of his car and ran over to where Sam was standing, safely out of the way of the cracks. “What’s happening?”

“Beats me. It’s not like any earthquake I’ve ever seen. Something is happening to the ground around the pumps.” The pavement was breaking up, and the ground underneath liquifying. Large pieces of concrete up-ended and sank into the boiling earth. Then the pumps themselves leaned over and sank out of sight. Would-be customers stopped their cars, looking with dismay at the bubbling wound in the pavement.

A large, black cylindrical object emerged out of the depths and floated lengthwise on the surface. It was quickly joined by an identical companion. “What are those?” someone asked.

“The tanks,” said Sam. The two tanks frothed and rolled in the turbulence, clanging merrily together. By now the liquid was beginning to cool and harden into a white, chalk-like substance, with a maze of fine cracks caused by the drying. The steam dissipated, and things quieted down. The tanks were imbedded in the whitish matter, with about a fourth of each tank showing. There was no sign of the pumps.

Sam had been keeping an eye on the magician during all of this. The latter had become increasingly nervous, pacing back and forth and muttering to himself. Finally Sam turned to him. “Am I imagining it or do you know something about this that I don’t?”

“I didn’t mean to do it.”

“Mean to do what?”

“Raise your tanks.”

“You mean you caused all of this?”

“I’m afraid so. But it was an accident. I can’t control it.”

Sam didn’t know what to say. “You’d better start at the beginning.”

The magician lifted his head. “Have you ever heard of telekinesis?”

“That’s mind over matter, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Well I have it. I’ve had it ever since I was a boy. I’d be just walking along, minding my own business, when all of a sudden the ground would start shaking and some object that was buried near where I was walking would rise to the surface. It’s happened at least a hundred times during my life, with all kinds of buried objects. I’ve raised boulders large and small, oaken, iron-bound chests with and without treasure, lots of junky items like broken ax heads and waggon wheel rims. Once, as I drove down a busy city street I brought up the old streetcar tracks that were just under the pavement. This is the first time I’ve raised tanks though, so I was as surprised as you were when they came up.”

“I don’t imagine that raising streetcar tracks makes you too popular with the municipal authorities.”

“No but that only happened once. As a traveling magician I’m seldom in one place long enough to make many enemies. If only I could control my powers! I would be rich. It would be real magic, not the fake stuff I do on the stage. Imagine this heading: ‘The Man Who Can Cause Earthquakes.’”

“So just being near a buried object doesn’t mean you’ll raise that object?” Sam asked.

“No,” the magician answered. “It’s just one object in ten thousand that comes up, usually without my having known that anything was buried there. But if I do know that something is buried at a certain spot, the chances are greater that I will raise it, and greater still if I know exactly what the object is.”

“Have you ever tried going to a spot where you knew something was buried and you knew exactly what it was and what it looked like, and tried concentrating on it as hard as you could to see if you could raise it?”

“No, not that I can recall.”

“I have an idea. Follow me.”

Within walking distance of Sam’s gas station was an abandoned gas station. The building was boarded up and the pumps had been removed. But pipes protruding from the weedy pavement showed the exact locations of two buried tanks. “See if you can raise these tanks,” Sam challenged.

The magician tried concentrating on the unseen tanks, standing by them, standing over them, walking by them, and walking over them. He pretended to drive up in his car, and Sam pretended to give him a fill-up. Nothing happened.

“Well it was an idea anyway,” said Sam at last.

“Maybe something more direct is needed,” said the magician. “Get my magic wand. It’s in the glove compartment of my car.”

Sam got the wand and gave it to the magician. The magician raised it high above his head. “Rise, ye tanks!” he commanded.

This produced results. The ground shook, and cracks began radiating out from the pipes. The pavement caved in as before, and it wasn’t long before the tanks appeared, first one and then the other. These tanks were brown with rust and much smaller than Sam’s, harkening back to an earlier age when our nation’s energy needs were much less. The liquid around the tanks quickly hardened into the same chalk-white substance.

“I did it!” the magician shouted with joy.

Back at his own gas station Sam investigated the chalk-white substance. A chisel hammered into one of the fine cracks caused slight flaking and crumbling, but other than that the stuff seemed to be as hard as the pavement it replaced. “Have you ever tried undoing or reversing any of this?” he asked.

“Yes a few times,” the magician replied, “including the time with the streetcar tracks. No luck though.”

Sam looked with dismay at the steadily increasing line of customers, many of whom were going to a competitor’s gas station across the street. “What am I going to do now?” Sam asked.

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to bob,” said the magician.

“I hate bobbing.”

“You don’t have any choice. Your tanks are up. Your competitor is getting all of your business.”

Sam flashed an accusing scowl at the magician but he knew when he was licked; he made preparations to bob. The magician was good enough to help him drill the row of holes in each tank for the bobbing hoses and label the tanks Regular and Premium. Most of the customers were unfamiliar with bobbing so the magician also helped Sam explain the procedure.

A customer was given a rubber hose about four feet long and three-fourths of an inch in diameter. Kneeling by the tank of his choice with one end of the hose in his mouth, he was to lower the other end through a hole down to the gas. Then he was to imagine that he was the pump over an oil well and move his head up and down in a rhythm. On the down stroke he was to draw as much gas as he could up into the hose. On the up stroke he could breathe, first pinching the hose to keep from releasing the gas. After several strokes the hose would be full and he could empty it into his car gas tank. Premium was three cents a hosefull and Regular was the same price but with one free hosefull for every ten purchased.

Soon a double row of customers was busy bobbing. But Sam saw that his competitor across the street was still getting most of the business. Bobbing was cheap, but it was also slow and degrading.

“I appreciate your help with the bobbing,” Sam told the magician. “But I would like to ask one more favor.”

“What’s that?”

“Could you raise my competitor’s tanks? It’s unfair for me to have to struggle along with my tanks up while my competitor’s tanks are still down where they belong.”

“I guess you’re right.” Once again the magician lifted his wand. “Rise, ye competitor’s tanks!”

Sam felt the ground shake and looked across the street expectantly. His competitor’s pumps sank as customers frantically moved their cars. Sam waited while a great cloud of steam rose. “I don’t see the tanks,” he said.

“Be patient. They’re coming.”

Premium was the first to appear, followed almost immediately by Regular. A few second later a third tank, Unleaded, rose to the surface. The three tanks together made a jolly crew.

The competitor shook his fist angrily at Sam and the magician. But there was nothing he could do but get ready to bob. Meanwhile the magician got in his car to leave. “What do I owe you for the gas?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I didn’t get it off the pumps before they sank, and they could be halfway to China by now.”

“Would five dollars be enough?”

“That would be fine.”

The magician gave Sam a five dollar bill.

“Thank you, and don’t come back,” Sam said.

The magician drove away. WF
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© 2011 Warren Farr, revised 7/16