A Sad Day For Eastern Washington


There’s a small town in eastern Washington called Vantage that sits where the interstate between Seattle and Spokane crosses the Columbia River. It has two mediocre restaurants, one general store, and a campground located right next to the freeway. And until recently it had two gas station/food marts.

The Spirit Mart was one of those gas stations and it was a required stop whenever you went through Vantage. Its food area was primarily a wall of beer and the place was always good for a surprise. For instance, one time I zipped into the Spirit Mart and bought some Pop Tarts for the sole purpose of using their rest room. I found the Men’s room closed for repairs, so I went over to the Ladies room. It was closed as well.

That’s how the Spirit Mart rolled. Something was always broken and awaiting repair. Another time I tried to use my debit card at the gas pump. The machine wouldn’t accept my card, so I went in to the guy behind the counter. He took my card back out to the pump, rubbing it against his leg. He swiped the card and then punched the pump three times hard, in the middle of its body, while cursing at the machine. Then he handed me my card, said “You’re all set”, and walked back inside.

Turnover at the Spirit Mart was high and most of the employees were grumblers. It was ironic that they worked where they did because they had no spirit. But not Drama Dan (also known as D-Day). He was always good for a dramatic tale, whether it was the record-setting number of rattle snake dens in the area (“Dude, stay on the pavement!”) or the high fire dangers (“If someone drops a cigarette this whole area will go up in flames in seconds!”). Once when as I was pulling in to the Spirit Mart I saw Drama Dan flick an unfinished cigarette into the weeds. But that was fine. My mood always inched up whenever I saw Dan behind the counter. He was the spirit behind Spirit Mart, the candle in the darkness.

My last visit to the Spirit Mart was this past summer. At 9:00am I got a cup of coffee and brought it up to the counter. When I took a sip my face scrunched up – the coffee was ice cold. The guy behind the counter apparently couldn’t be bothered to make coffee given the morning rush, which was probably two people. So I was sipping last night’s brew. The guy looked at me, shrugged, and then said “Coffee’s on the house”.

Yes, being in the Spirit Mart was like being on the set of a Coen Brothers film. Unlike the efficient, well-run mini-mart across the street that survived, the Spirit Mart was fun. But when I drove into town last week there was just bare dirt where the Spirit Mart used to be. One of two things must’ve happened: someone bought the place and tore it down, or one of the gas pumps malfunctioned and burned it down. I’m betting on the latter scenario because it’s the better one.

The Spirit Mart will be missed.

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