Meet Your Merchant: Shifting gears at Donner Gate Chevron
TRUCKEE, Calif. andamp;#8212; The Donner Gate Chevron gas station off Interstate 80 is one of the first sights coming from Sacramento. The station’s large and lighted sign towers above the highway, declaring Chevron in red, white and blue. Colors unquestionably American, yet most often seen as a refuge, as a market place, as a visitor center for the tired and wheel-gripped traveler. The station is modernized to top company specs. Its neon blue rooftop shines and shelters passing mini vans, motorcyclists, truckers and the constant caravan of stop-and-go cars, seven days a week, 24-hours a day.Joel Williams has owned the little gas station for 41 years, and he’s been with Chevron for 50. He wears jeans and a gray flannel shirt, has a short cropped beard, white like his brows that shelter eyes that have been witness to countless night shifts, morning shifts, shifts lasting 12, to 14, to 16 hours at times.He’s had a good run, and now he’s ready to turn the station over to his daughter, Ashley Manos.andamp;#8220;It might sound corny to say, but Chevron is a really good company to work for. They’ve provided me with a pretty good life,andamp;#8221; Williams said. andamp;#8220;I think we’re ready for a new generation now.andamp;#8221;Williams was a high schooler when he started working for the company. He still remembers the old andamp;#8220;Leave it to Beaverandamp;#8221; style uniforms too: white slacks and dress shirt, black shoes, belt and bow tie all topped off with a white overseas cap andamp;#8212; think Navy cap, circa WWII.andamp;#8220;These uniforms were starched so heavily that you literally had to force the legs open by shoving your legs through the pant legs. It could be 110 degrees and you still had to wear the bow tie buttoned up like that,andamp;#8221; said Williams.The only service in those days was full service andamp;#8212; two men on a car, labor intensive, with one guy to put gas in, check water, oil, window wash. Then the second man to check tire pressure and offer to sweep floor mats and empty ash trays.All this, of course, for 29 cents a gallon.andamp;#8220;That’s what it was when I started in 1961,andamp;#8221; he said.Raised in Auburn and then working as a Chevron representative for nine years, Williams eventually opted to take a gamble owning a gas station. Truckee was close to home, and he preferred the mountains to a corporate move into San Francisco. So he made a go of it.andamp;#8220;I came up here in the middle of December. It was a snowstorm and all the guys were putting on chains … I took a look and asked myself what am I getting myself into,andamp;#8221; Williams said with a laugh. andamp;#8220;Back then when it was slow, there was nothing, nothing out there, you could shoot a cannon down Interstate 80 and not hit anything for miles.andamp;#8221;
Most days you can see her at the counter behind the Aloe Gator lip balms, credit card machine, Slim Jims, 5-hour Energy Drinks, Mandamp;M’s, Trident Gum and of course the California Lotto counter mat that reads, in bright green, andamp;#8220;250 Million Cash Spectacularandamp;#8221; and andamp;#8220;It’s a Whole Lot of Cash.andamp;#8221;Above her is the paneled ceiling, multiple cameras andamp;#8212; the station was robbed twice in the 70s andamp;#8212; and a wall sign over the sodas, energy drinks and beer that reads in white andamp;#8220;Cold Refreshments.andamp;#8221;If the cameras can catch her, though, it’s a wonder. She’s constantly moving. She could be at the register or stocking Doritos, Red Bull, Coca Cola, or just about to head to the bank or outside speaking with wary truckers attempting a truck campout.She gives directions, lots of directions. andamp;#8220;How do I get to Reno?andamp;#8221; they ask. andamp;#8220;Am I in Truckee?andamp;#8221; they ask. andamp;#8220;Where do I buy chains?andamp;#8221; andamp;#8220;Where’s the air pump?andamp;#8221; andamp;#8220;At what time will it stop snowing?andamp;#8221; andamp;#8220;Do you have a bathroom?andamp;#8221; andamp;#8220;I’m stuck, you have a phone?andamp;#8221;And then there’s her all-time favorite, andamp;#8220;Why does it snow in town and not just at the ski resorts?andamp;#8221; The list goes on and on.But this is the routine. And it’s been the routine for Ashley Manos ever since she was little girl handling ice for her dad at 10 cents a bag.andamp;#8220;I used to fall into the ice maker andamp;#8212; I was too short and the lid would close on me and I would go over yelling for help,andamp;#8221; Manos laughs.Originally, Manos wanted to work in psychology. And like many Tahoe-Truckee kids, she always envisioned herself moving out to the bigger cities. But the recession has been surly, and her field of study andamp;#8212; psychology andamp;#8212; can be a tough trade to break into. So after finishing up her service at a home for autistic patients, Ashley decided to take her Dad’s offer.andamp;#8220;My Dad said, andamp;#8216;You come try it out for a year, no strings attached. Let’s try it before I sell it to somebody else,’andamp;#8221; Manos said.Manos said her mom, Diana Williams, had her doubts, as her tenacious spirit is so much like her father’s. They weren’t allowed to play board games together when she was growing up, Manos said smiling. It was family rule.andamp;#8220;I always knew she was capable andamp;#8212; I was just always worried about the rub,andamp;#8221; said Diana. andamp;#8220;No business, job or money or anything like that is worth losing that family dynamic.andamp;#8221;But the year is gone and all is well, Manos handling the spring and summer traffic, the fall and winter traffic, directing customers, maintaining the pumps, the market, calming down crowds shivering in the bathroom line andamp;#8212; a line sometimes going out the door, a line totaling more than a 100 people during winter road closures.Eventually, Manos eyes using the business to spearhead charitable programs in the community, perhaps helping children, perhaps working in the arts. andamp;#8220;I said to myself I could learn this, and I could do this, and then I could provide something eventually for the community for free,andamp;#8221; she said. andamp;#8220;I still hope I can get to that place.andamp;#8221;
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