Capital “S” in 10 inches or less…

At Poynter we talked a lot about writing stories. Not just stories, but Story. Capital “S.” Big picture, “what does it say about life and the times we live in” stuff.

Yesterday I reported on one of the last “full service” filling stations in town. I hung out with them all morning, took photos, talked to customers and really got a good feel for the place. I was really inspired by them, and the experience made me nostalgic for life in a time that I never even experienced first hand. But I grasped the essence, and I was ready to lay it out in full-on inspirational narrative Storytelling detail.

I had 12 inches on the page, and was just getting started when my editor asked me to keep the story to 10 inches because the paper was tight.

“Uhhhh…sure…piece of cake…”

Internally I was having one of those “ohhhh crap” moments. As I looked at the screen, my eyes simultaneously crossed and went out of focus and my mind went spiraling off in another direction entirely. (That has been happening to me a lot recently.)

As a writer, it’s quite the interesting challenge to tell a Story in 10 inches. I had to distill this thing down to the essence, and really find a way to make the words work overtime. I’m not sure how well I did, I’ll let y’all be the judge. Here’s how it ran:

Ivey’s at your service

Nine Mile Road filling station keeps tradition alive and customers satisfied

Ivey’s service station owner Wayne Ivey, 65, replaces the battery in a customer’s car. “It’s hard competing with the name-brand places,” Ivey said. “But you see all those cars out there. We must be doing something right.” (Travis Griggs/tgriggs@pnj.com)

A bell dings as a car pulls up to the pumps at Ivey’s service station on Nine Mile Road. Moments later, an attendant comes out to pump gas, clean the windshield and chat while waiting for the tank to fill.

That bell has been calling attendants to the pumps at Ivey’s for 46 years, and if Wayne Ivey, 65, has his way, it will keep ringing for many more.

As other gas stations have expanded to sell junk food and magazines to stay in business, Ivey has focused on taking care of his customers and their cars, in that order.

“It’s a people business. I’ve had almost four generations trading with me,” Ivey said.

Trading. That’s what he calls it. It’s an attitude toward business that’s earned him a loyal following among his customers and his employees. Almost all of his customers are regulars, and all of his employees are long-term. His son, Doug Ivey, 45, has been working with him for 30 years. His dad, John Ivey, opened the first Ivey’s on Cervantes Street in the 1940s.

“There are not too many small, personal, businesses anymore,” Ivey said. “They’re just about a thing of the past. But we’re all going to keep on doing it as long as they’ll let us.”

When longtime customer Eva Carr, 76, pulled in with her blue Chevrolet Impala complaining of a “flapping sound,” Ivey jumped in and took off around the block to investigate.

A few minutes later, he pulled back in and took the car straight to a maintenance bay. It had a bad rear tire that needed to be replaced. Ivey got one of the mechanics to give Carr a ride home — a courtesy for a loyal customer.

“I love it,” Carr said. “I love the people who work here. It’s like a home to me.”

Ivey said when the station opened on Nine Mile Road, it was the only filling station for miles. Now, gas stations, lube shops and tire shops are a part of the landscape, and Ivey has felt the crunch from the competition.

“It’s a hard way to make a living, but it’s a good living,” Ivey said, nodding at a parking lot filled with his customers’ cars. “It’s hard to compete with the name-brand places “» but you see all those cars out there? We must be doing something right.”

Reading it, it doesn’t feel tight, but writing it sure did. Maybe I’m getting better at this stuff. I still think I fell short of the capital s. We’ll get there…

Here are the rest of the unpublished photos I took at Ivey’s. The cutlines are pretty raw, but I think they get the point across.

Ivey’s Service, Inc at 216 East Nine Mile Rd. has been in operation for 46 years. It is one of the last remaining “full service” filling stations in Pensacola.

Shop Owner Wayne Ivey, 65, (right) and son Doug Ivey, 45, (left) stand in front of the mechanic’s bays at Ivey’s. The Ivey family has run filling stations for three generations. Their father opened the first Ivey’s on Cervantes in the 1940’s

Station attendant Phil Burchett, 65, talks to a customer at Ivey’s. Burchett has worked at Ivey’s for 15 years. “I’ve really met some nice people,” he said.

A view inside the shop at Ivey’s. Ivey prefers to make his living fixing cars instead of by selling snacks and drinks.

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