Brownsburg friends Louren Jones and Al Ray encourage gas station customers
By Stephanie Dolan
Walk into the Speedway gas station on U.S. 136 in Brownsburg to grab a morning coffee or pay for a fill up, and customers will get a warm smile and greeting from Louren Jones and Al Ray and maybe a few of their friends.
The Brownsburg pair are revitalizing the lost art of being nice. These men meet each morning (Monday through Saturday, because they attend church on Sundays) at the Speedway gas station on the corner of Hornaday Road and U.S. 136 to simply greet patrons as they walk into the store.
“We’ve had people come in there with no gas money, and we’ll put gas in their car,” Jones said. “We have so many people come in and say ‘thank you so much’ and ‘it’s so awesome.’ We just want to do something to make them smile and brighten their day.”
They open doors for people, pat them on the back, smile at them, encourage them and pray with them. Sometimes they buy customers a coffee or fountain drink.
This has been going on for nearly nine years, and both men see no end in sight.
“It all started as an accidental thing,” Jones said. “We’d go in there to get coffee, and we’d say good morning to people. Then we’d stop and chat a bit and end up telling people goodbye.”
Jones, 71, now always adds his trademark “keep smiling” to the end of each sendoff even if he hasn’t had a conversation with the customers.
“It’s so much fun,” he said. “We have some people who used to go to the station at the north end of town, and now they come to our gas station. It’s interesting. People like being greeted.”
But patrons shouldn’t base their wardrobe on Jones’ fashion choices, his friend joked.
“Louren wears shorts and flip flops all year long,” Ray said.
He might add a hoodie in the cooler months.
“They call me ‘flip-flop guy,’” Jones said. “If it’s 90 degrees outside, I got this on. If it’s 20 below outside, I got this on.”
The pair met 25 years ago at Brownsburg Baptist Church and have been friends ever since. They organically spread a positive message and even turn a frown upside down.
“We’ve found that a lot of people need to be brightened up occasionally,” said Ray, 64. “We try to cheer them up, and sometimes we’ll buy them a cup of coffee.”
Even during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, the duo still met each morning for their coffee and community greeting.
“We would go in, and some people liked it, and there were a couple people that didn’t,” Jones said. “There were some ups and downs, but we tried to accommodate whatever anyone wanted. We just tried to make people smile during the height of it. We tried to keep people smiling, and it’s amazing the response that we’ve gotten over the years.”
Jones can only remember two different people in the nine years they’ve been doing this who didn’t appreciate their friendliness.
“Their friendliness is especially appreciated in these dark days we have experienced the last few months with the threat of the virus and unrest,” patron Bee Jones said.
The Speedway management also appreciates the volunteer acts.
“They put a smile on everyone’s face when they come in the door as they’re greeted,” said station manager Dennis Clark. “The employees really like them as well. They assist the customers at the coffee machines, and they really help them out a lot. It’s just somebody saying ‘welcome’ as soon as they come in the door.”
The Speedway company also featured Jones and Ray in their company newsletter.
“It went all through the organization about the guys that stood at the door doing this,” Jones said. “They really kind of liked it, and it’s kind of blossomed from there on out.”
Jones and Ray have many stories of the people they’ve spoken to over the years, many they see each morning, and some are just one-time visitors.
“We’re standing there one day, and this van pulls up out front,” Jones said. “There were four ladies in the van and two come in. We said hello, and one yells ‘STOP!’ and goes to get the other two women waiting in the van to tell them they’d been greeted at the door. Apparently they were all from New York and thought it was the best thing ever.”
The duo say some people come in happy, and they have fun encounters. Others come in sad. Those are the people Ray and Jones often end up spending some time with.
“You get to know people, and how they are and how they act,” Jones said. “You can tell when people come in and if they’re sad. I had one lady come in, and you could tell she was very sad. She said it was the one-year anniversary of the death of her son. I prayed with her that morning. She came back the next day to tell me how much that helped her.”
Jones and Ray have every intention of continuing this morning tradition indefinitely, but they might have an obstacle. 7-Eleven recently bought Speedway. They’re hoping to continue their tradition even after the changeover occurs.
“As far as I know, I’m going to do it until I die,” Jones said. “Check back with us in January or February to make sure we’re still here.”
It’s a joy for them to help people this way.
“When someone is sad, we feel bad for them, but we don’t let us bring it down,” Jones said. “It’s amazing what God allows us to do, and that’s what we have to focus on. Thank God that we were there and were able to help them. It’s been amazing. I hope 7-Eleven doesn’t change it, but you never know how it’s going to go around.”
The pair also wish to thank Speedway for allowing them to come in each day and spread a little sunshine.
“They don’t have to, and it’s heart-filling to know that they don’t have a problem with this,” Jones said. “That’s awesome I think. I don’t know how many places would allow that to happen.”