The second Mr. Pretty and I walked into the gas station, a hush fell over the place. We were specimens to be studied. Strangers. An entire table full of working men stopped what they were doing and stared–hard.
Maybe I don’t blame them. I mean, we were in Hvammstangi, a town with a population of just under 600 people. By Icelandic standards that’s practically a major metro, but I can only imagine how few strangers roll through town, especially in early March. Hvammstangi is off the ring road by about half an hour, up route 72. Things probably pick up in the spring and summer since Hvammstangi has a grocery store, a gas station, a seasonal coffee shop, and a restaurant that overlooks a very pretty fjord (not to mention the Hvammstangi Cottages, where we stayed overnight), but strangers are likely still a novelty.
It was early in Hvammstangi. Too early for lunch at the restaurant, which–to be fair–offered to rustle us up a cup of coffee and a plate of fish when we walked in at the time it was supposed to be open. That’s how we ended up at the gas station, ordering a hamburger and fishburger from the amused young woman at the counter. “That comes with fries,” she said, smiling widely. “I’ll deliver your food to your table.”
Yes, the gas station was also a small restaurant. More of a diner, really. Clearly a favorite among the locals, by the stunned expressions on their faces as we took our seats. We were crossing a line, invading their space. I was almost sorry for it, if not for my rumbling stomach. I grew up in a rural town in Pennsylvania (although not nearly as small as Hvammstangi) and know what it’s like to have a place that feels like yours. Even as someone who has lived and worked in Philadelphia, so often you feel on display when the tourists roll into town. There goes a tourist trolley down the street, and you half expect to hear the guide say, “And on your left you’ll see a short blonde woman in her natural habitat. See how she shows aggression to strangers?”
Conversation resumed in the gas station diner after it was clear that we weren’t planning to study the table of men like zoo animals. They went back to their lunch, and we waited for ours. I will say that it ended up being a really good fishburger, and the view of the fjord was nice, too.