Chances are you knew the place. Maybe you’d wandered in lost, looking for the way to Route 1 or I-95. Or maybe you were a regular, who buzzed in and out several times a week. Part of the routine.
No one is ever going to call a gas station a landmark, but Stan’s Mobil came close. The business, located at West Lincoln Highway and Hulmeville Avenue in Penndel, was open 24/7 for at least 25 years — or as long as Stan Przybylowicz owned it, before he died Feb. 26 at 58. Perhaps because it hunkered down near the borders of about four different municipalities police could often be seen making a quick stop for morning coffee.
And maybe that’s why employees at Stan’s knew what was going on in the neighborhood. They knew — day after day, decade after decade. One mechanic stayed with Stan 23 years. Kay Dibble, who ran the counter, was with him 18. You know the kind of work we’re talking about. That, in itself, gives you a hint of what sort of man Stan Przybylowicz was.
Some of us who are not teary-eyed relatives, friends, and employees, have only the hints to go by. I was a customer — nothing more. I’d been going to him with my mystifying transmissions, mutinous radiators, and just about everything else that can drive you crazy about a car since I’d moved to Bucks County about 10 years ago.
“He really cared about his customers,” Stan’s widow, Sharon Przybylowicz, said. “He was honest.”
Perhaps, from my impatient vantage, too honest. A reputation for being a square shooter sinks as deeply into the fabric of a neighborhood as tree roots. Stan was often overbooked. But you waited. Because you trusted.
He reminded you of your father, or at least like a father should be: decent, hardworking, understated. He worked six days a week. Gave about as much as an owner of a small business could give, and then gave some more. A man whose quiet strength is often only registered by its sudden absence. Then, a world collapses.
Stan’s Mobil closed March 31. People wandered by and asked for directions right to the end. And Dibble was there to help, or at least steer them to someone who could help.
If you’ve ever stopped there, there’s a chance that you met Dibble. For a good portion of the time she worked at Stan’s she was the guardian for her two grandchildren.
Many a Saturday afternoon, you’d run by and one or both would be in a corner with coloring books and crayons.
Dibble doesn’t quite know what she’ll do now. Probably take a month off. Then, back to work. But not at a gas station. Never again at a gas station.
“I wouldn’t work for anyone else,” she said, as she stood outside the door on that last day and flicked her cigarette into the damp air. Just then two more people, floral arrangement in hand, stopped by to say farewell.
Sure, many employees came and went over the years. People who had been laid off from other jobs could often find stopgap employment at Stan’s. This might just have been a case of supply holding hands with demand, or it might have been a case that Stan was willing to help someone out.
“This was like family,” Sharon Przybylowicz said. She doesn’t quite know what Mobil plans to do with the property. She does know that Stan’s will be a tough act to follow.
“Places never establish that kind of rapport,” she said. “This was like a Mom and Pop operation. People drive up. Kay’s got their cigarettes pulled. She knows who’s coming in for a pack of Marlboro’s.”
In “Death of a Salesman,” Linda Loman upbraids one of her sons in defending her husband, Willy. “Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.”
Of course, in Willy’s case, such attention does not flatter uncovering, as it does, the selfish acts of a narcissistic character.
Attention must also be paid the quiet, decent guys in life. Sharon said that Stan was laid out on March 1 and 2 in the outfit he’d spent so much of life in: his work cloths. Dungarees, a mechanic’s shirt, and a cap. His glasses dangled on a chain to his chest.
“If we dressed him in a suit, nobody would have recognized him,” Sharon said.
Unlike Willy, who had few mourners, hundreds turned out. Maybe even you.