Since moving from New York, I’ve lived in five towns in North Carolina and South Carolina and noticed the same dreary predicament.
There is a gas station on nearly every corner.
I can see why. Gas stations in the South boast entire lines of grocery items. First, these places are huge and shaped like urgent care centers. Brightly-lit coolers illuminated by fluorescent lights like all-night caskets line the insides of these places. Sometimes, it’s too bright to find the restroom, which is unfortunate if you go grocery shopping after eating Hot Pockets.It’s likely those who pick up their groceries at these gas stations eat multiple Hot Pockets multiple times per day.
Second, these gas stations also serve as restaurants. And if you’re thinking of using your food stamps card to buy your children hot dogs for dinner, the home computer-generated sign typed in all capital letters taped to the glass partition separating you from the cashier/cook/lottery ticket specialist will remind you that’s prohibited.
“EBT CARD’S ARE NOT EXCEPTED TO PAY FOR DELHI FOOD.”
While gas stations in the South sell 47 varieties of cigars and a smorgasbord of headache powder, they do not have a deli or food from Delhi.
My wisest of readers may offer that since many gas stations are operated by Indians, there might be Indian food that could be from Delhi. They would be wrong. Of the 412 gas stations in my current county of residence, I’ve seen two occupied by Indians. The majority are managed, patronized and occupied by the same red-blooded Americans who’ve clearly never left the state.
Which could be why they’re so particular about the lottery tickets.
Ah, the lottery tickets. In most places, these are a mere complement to the cash register, which should be used quickly and efficiently to complete gas and single beverage purchases. Not in the South.
Here, lottery tickets are not a game of chance that may pad a person’s wallet for a week, but the foundation of a man’s livelihood. Apparently money earned through work is allotted for headache powder and Delhi food because winning big on “Wild Cherry Doubler” or “Garnet Red 7s” is the only way to pay bills. It’s a passion so intense, it seems, that lottery ticket buyers often move out of line and to the side of the Plexiglas ticket case to A) view the entire, luscious vertical landscape of the ticket selection, or B) take an extra long time choosing a winner. If the customer in line behind them moves forward so they can complete their purchase in the meantime, they’ll say something lethargic such as “You can go ahead” while waving their chubby hand toward the register or “I ain’t ready.”
Because, folks, the eight minutes standing in line to reach the ticket case was spent staring at the cigarette display while their children fingerprinted the glass and ran around the store like wild banshees. Of course they ain’t ready by the time they’re face-to-face with the lottery tickets … it could be the biggest decision they make all day.
Gas stations in the South also serve as places of worship. As a person who does not attend church regularly or ever, it’s mildly accurate to state my trips inside the gas station are the only times I hear church hymns or shout-outs to Jesus for successful lottery ticket selections or gratitude to Jesus by the manager when she’s on the store phone with her sister. Of course, gas station patrons also praise Jesus to one another as they block the register talking about sick parents and incarcerated cousins.
There’s one gas station in particular near my employer that’s home to a man with no legs. He wears one of those Muslim hats some days and occasionally changes bumper stickers on his wheelchair, but he’s always parked close enough to the cash register that I can hear him panting. That’s always seemed mysterious to me, as his wheelchair is electric. Someone once told me he’s been charged with DUI; I’ve never had a reason to question that.
There are loiterers with legs, too. In fact, gas stations in the South do not seem to frown upon folks who’ve come with no intention to make a purchase. These folks treat the places like a relative’s home, chatting with the cashier and making comments about what people are buying. These folks make me uncomfortable.
My enemies, meanwhile, may dispute these claims. They may say I’m being unfair or I’m just jealous of the South’s wealth of gas stations. They may even say I can’t spell “eccepted” correctly.
But they’ve never seen gas stations in the purest of forms: a place someone goes to buy a drink while they’re waiting for their vehicle to fill with fuel, which is purchased using a debit card at the pump.
And that is all I have to say about gas stations in the South.