It's only mine because it holds my suitcase.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Observations of a Convenience Store

Each one comes with a self serve coffee bar, a time lock safe which employees cannot open, and a maximum of 20 dollars in the register at any time. The parking lot features a phone booth, some decrepit shrubbery, and a complimentary beggar. The Indians run most of them because they’re among the few people who are still willing to put in an honest day’s work and have the endurance required to communicate daily with the public at large.

A fat woman runs across the street in a red t-shirt and stretch pants. Her hair is bright orange and she pulls behind her a white metal cart with a rose clipping in it. The crosswalk light just turned green and she runs as if panicked, across the busy street towards the Seven Eleven. Her body jiggles back and forth as she runs, her layers of fat out of sync with her step. Her free arm flails alongside her like a limp prop appendage.

Pedestrians are considered an nuisance in the suburbs. Intrepid teams of bureaucrats, funded by taxpayer dollars, spare time nor effort to work up new ways to inconvenience them. Sidewalks are narrow and uneven, crossing lights stay green for mere seconds, never enough to cross the eight lanes of traffic that stand between the pedestrian and his Slurpee. Maybe people would be a little more indulgent of the carless if they all put on a little show like the fat lady.

A man in a light blue shirt, straw hat, and a huge white beard sits at the stop light in an aging pickup truck of indeterminate color. He watches the woman run across the street without displaying emotion or even acknowledgement. When the light turns green he drives off to a place east of the convenience store. A place where aging fat cowboys fit in.

The main roads are lined with retail, one after the other in semi-random procession. Signs advertising the presence of Shell, Target, and McDonald’s assault the senses. Every time we drive down these streets we are reminded to consume. Every trip to anywhere is a bizarre blur of colors and slogans and branding. By the time we arrive at our destination our head is thumping and our eyes hurt. We need gas. We need burgers. We need cellphones. Need and Want have become indistinguishable in our minds.

Behind the main roads, even one street back, the clash of the commerces eases up. Apartment complexes with soothing names, garages, offices and meeting halls are much more down to earth. Here there are places where people belong. Veterans of foreign wars have their hall next to the place where the wives of the alcoholics meet in the same room where the Tupperware ladies practice their sales pitches every Wednesday night. Buildings house people who believe in a specific version of the story of the death of a Jewish carpenter 2000 years ago. But they don’t share their halls. If your interpretation of this poor artisan’s demise differs you need to have your own building. Mysterious names adorn ordinary buildings. Eagle Eyries, Oddfellows lounges, and Mason lodges are for rent for anniversaries, dances, and Bar mitzvahs. Somewhere down that way there’s a hall for people in light blue shirts, straw hats, and huge white beards. Everybody belongs somewhere.