What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Why Is Somebody Trying To Steal A Moonshiner’s Land? January – March 2019.


If you’re looking for plot recaps for Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, and it’s later than about June 2019, this essay is probably out of date. There should be a more current one here. There’s also my complete back catalogue, so you can see what was going on in months gone by, including during the long Centennial celebration. If you just want to understand the first three months of 2019, in the context of this one serial comedy strip, this is a correct place.

And if you’d like to read a discussion of the mathematical content of three comic strips featuring a bear, please consider this link. Thank you.

Gasoline Alley.

7 January – 31 March 2019.

We were near the start of the story, as the year got started. It was about Rufus, who’s got a job as City Hall janitor. He’s smitten with Mayor Melba Rose, who doesn’t notice this smittening.

Joel gives Rufus advice. None of it involves the 2017 storyline where Rufus courted the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. Rufus was set up for heartbreak there, averted when The Widow turned down rival Elam Jackson’s proposal. But the strip went into reruns and I guess we’re dropping that thread now that it’s out again. In the current storyline, Rufus faces heartbreak when Melba Rose won’t acknowledge him. Anyway, Joel’s advice is to stop feebly asking out Rose and tell her he’s taking her out. This is because Joel and Rufus come from a world where it’s still a 1940s radio sitcom. Or a 1920s Harold Lloyd movie. This advice fails, as it always has. The next day Rufus doesn’t even recognize Rose, who’s dressed up and has different hair and also a boyfriend.

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 28th of January, 2019. I feel like Bertie needs to listen to a true-financial-crimes podcast. I mean if someone ever starts one. (I don’t know the true-crime podcast genre. I just make jokes about it.)

She’s dating Major “Buy-Buy” Bertie. She’s impressed with him. Bella, one of the cleaning women, isn’t impressed. She explains Bertie’s nickname comes from his land speculations, but that he’s not honest. He’s not even an actual Army major; that’s his middle name. (This reminds me of President James Garfield’s doctor. Garfield’s doctor was named Doctor Bliss. Like, Doctor was his first name. Doctor Bliss had a medical degree too. But, tragically, it was in 19th century medicine. This in turn reminds me of why everybody treated me like that in middle school.) Rufus rushes back to Joel with the news; Joel already knows. Everybody who knows Bertie, except for Rose, knows he’s a fraud.

Joel leads Rufus over to Zeb, a local moonshiner. Joel and Rufus need more of what they term medicine. While there, Bertie drives up to see Zeb. Bertie’s carrying a million-dollar check and a contract to buy Zeb’s land off him. Or so he says; he breaks Zeb’s glasses before he could read anything. Bertie gets Zeb to sign the contract, and then whites out part of it. Zeb doesn’t notice this. Rufus and Joel, standing by the window, do.

Zeb: 'OK, Major! Lemme see the contrack! Befo' I signs anythin', I likes t'know what I'se readin' an' vice-versa!' (Rufus and Joel watch this from outside the window.) 'Now where's my glasses? I can't see nuthin' without 'em!' Bertie, stomping on Zeb's glasses: 'Nothing? Oh, good! Here they are!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 8th of February, 2019. It’s startling that a guy who’d drive out to buy a moonshiner’s farm at 3 am would be underhanded in his dealings, but, what the heck.

After Bertie leaves Rufus and Joel ask Zeb what’s this all about. Like, selling twenty acres to someone for a million dollars is fine, but the contract’s been whited out to make it a sale for a thousand dollars instead. Zeb is offended by this double-dealing. The check still says it’s for a million dollars, though. What if they get to the bank before Zeb can stop payment?

Now at this point you’re either going along with it, appreciating its slightly dopey old-time sitcom plotting. Or you’re tearing your hair out because of its slightly dopey old-time sitcom plotting. It’s a Rufus and Joel story. It’s going to be like this. At this point the story gets really old-time sitcommy. If you’re not liking this, you might want to bail of the rest of this summary.

Bertie: 'Nice doin' business with you, Mr Zeb! There is one more thing. I expect you to vacate the premises by next week!' Zeb: 'But how can I move all my equipment in such a short time?' Bertie: 'That's your problem!' Meanwhile a dog growls and bits at Bertie's leg.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 15th of February, 2019. It didn’t fit the main recap, but the dog leaves with Bertie. Joel and Rufus think, on top of everything else, that Bertie has stolen Zeb’s dog. No; it’s Bertie’s dog. I can’t say I laughed at the joke, but I admired its construction. Anyway, bigger plotting problems: granted Bertie is trying to buy Zeb’s land with a bad check. Why is he being nasty now, before it’s clear the check is bad? Wouldn’t Bertie be wiser to play friendly? Pass off a line about how yes, Zeb has to get his equipment off the land, but we’ll work out something practical? Build up enough goodwill that when the check bounces, Zeb will give Bertie the time whatever scam he’s pulling needs to become irreversible? Bertie wants to delay Zeb from going to the cops, the courts, or his shotgun, after all, and too fast a heel turn lets you know what you’re in for.

So they get to the bank. It’s not open, but there is an ATM. Rufus and Joel and Zeb are characters from a 1968 sitcom at the latest. How can any of them deposit a check in an ATM? They give it their best try, and the machine eats up the check. Zeb takes this as well as you or I might. He goes to apply reason to the machine and also a sledgehammer. Also a crowbar. And some moonshine. They rode their horse cart into town, which is why they have the tools to break into an ATM.

At the ATM. Rufus: 'The ATM won't give you' check back, Zeb!' Joel curses it. Zeb gets a sledgehammer: 'My granny uster say --- what it needs is some encouragin' words!' (Zeb swings the sledgehammer back.) 'Give th'check back if yo' knows what's good fo' you!' Rufus: 'That's encouragin'?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 1st of March, 2019. Fun fact: Zeb is an experienced software engineer and showing off the Best Coding Practices for debugging Javascript. He just does moonshining as a craft hobby, something to feel like he’s doing something of value to the community after a hard day spent trying to get people to click on advertising.

Or to try breaking in. They’ve made no progress getting in when the Gasoline Alley City cops intrude. The cops — one of them named Barney, by the way — are starting to arrest them when bank manager J Thaddeus Pelf stops them. He claims the ATM’s been eating checks and these are the guys hired to fix it. It’s a convenient coincidence, but, you know? I accept it. If the machine’s eating checks, it makes sense it would eat Zeb’s check. It also makes sense that someone would be coming to fix the machine. I understand if you’re not sympathetic to this style of plotting. But it defuses the characters’ crisis in a way that’s believable enough. If you’re a sympathetic reader. I understand if this makes you grumble. (If you do, meet me around back and we’ll say snarky things about Luann some.)

Rufus and Joel and Zeb got the machine open and unclogged. The grateful manager offers to cash Zeb’s check right away, and trusts Rufus and Joel to put the machine back together. There’s the bad news for Zeb you might expect: of course Bertie doesn’t have a million dollars. Or any dollars, as his account’s overdrawn and closed. I’m not sure those are actually logically compatible states. Pelf may be speaking for dramatic emphasis. Sad news. Rufus, Joel, and Zeb head out, in time for the actual ATM repairers to arrive.

Melba Rose, sobbing: 'Rufus! It hurts the most when the person who made you feel so special yesterday makes you feel so unwanted today!' Rufus: 'Gulp! Yesm'! I knows th'feelin'!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of March, 2019. Bet you didn’t know Rufus had such an A-level game in subtweeting.

Back to work. Rufus sees Mayor Rose in City Hall. She’s miserable. Major Bertie’s been arrested, for “falsifying contracts, an’ passing bad checks, an … falsifying his affections to me!” Rufus explains what he knows of Bertie’s attempt to buy Zeb’s land, although I’m not clear that this is part of the rap against Bertie. Or at least isn’t yet. I had thought this came the same day as the ATM shenanigans. But that isn’t explicit, or necessary. Anyway she says the million-dollar check is one of the reasons Bertie’s arrested. This does make the breakup of Bertie and Rose something related to the story. Rufus tries to console Rose. He’s not very good at it, but she does take him up on the offer of a consoling ice-cream sundae.

It’s too soon to make it official. But I suspect we’re at the end of this storyline. Among other things, Bertie’s already been sentenced to “never mention his name again” status. Also ten years in prison, which seems like a pretty speedy trial, considering. But they used to wrap up loose ends fast in old-time sitcoms. I expect a transition over to some other characters in the next week. I mean besides the transition to another comic strip I’ll be making next week.

In short, I have no idea why Bertie wanted to buy Zeb’s land, although I guess if it worked then getting twenty acres for a thousand dollars would be worth the effort.

Next Week!

Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! … Wait, hold on, we’re not there. We’re in the Sonoran Desert! It’s James Allen’s Mark Trail, featuring a gold mine, a new biome, and maybe obscure raccoon-like mammals that live in the desert! We’ll just see.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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